“(Baking) is kind of a sideline thing I’ve done just to keep the creative juices going.” – Michelle MacAuley
Prince Albert nurse Michelle MacAuley has taken up a unique form of artwork: gingerbread houses.
If you stopped by the Victoria Hospital Foundation’s Give a Little Life Day on Friday, you would have noticed the three-story house standing tall beside the pledges table. The colourful work of art was decorated with candy canes, gum drops and lollipops and wrapped in cellophane topped with large white and green bows.
MacAuley donates an extravagant gingerbread house to the cause every year to be auctioned off.
As of 1 p.m. on Friday, the highest bid was $701. The starting bid was $350.
“The past few years I’ve been doing them and they felt bigger, but then when you photograph them it didn’t seem too impressive so I thought ‘I think I need to go a little more vertical with them.’ I thought ‘What if I stacked them?’” she said.
“It seems to have gone over quite well. They seem quite happy with seeing the height in it.”
The gingerbread mansion contains six kilograms of sugar in the icing alone. That’s not including the gingerbread itself or all of the candy used to decorate it.
Making the house was a three-week process, said MacAuley. She started with making her own template out of cardboard before using them to cut out the dough. The pieces are baked and left to dry for a few days, put together and left to dry again.
“You’ve got to make sure it’s going to hold up, and then after that you’ve just got to go for it and decorate it and let the imagination go wild.”
This isn’t the only time MacAuley has donated gingerbread houses and other cakes. She also uses her talent to support the Calvary United Church, Make a Wish Foundation, École Valois, Vincent Massey Community School and the Mont St. Joseph Home, to name a few.
“I enjoy giving it to a charity more than for profit,” she said.
The most her gingerbread houses have sold for is about $1,000 and the lowest about $450, with all of the money going towards the cause.
MacAuley studied professional cooking at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) and began her career as a chef at Amy’s on Second.
She merged into pastries after a seafood allergy led her out of the cooking scene.
“When my daughter turned one, I made my first fondant cake and 13 years later I’m still doing them. Then her little requests got more and more complex as years went on. That was always a challenge, to kind of meet her needs.”
Soon enough, people started asking her to make cakes for their events.
But MacAuley decided to take a different path and went back to school for nursing. She now works in the therapies department helping people recover from mostly hip and knee surgery.
“(Baking) is kind of a sideline thing I’ve done just to keep the creative juices going and be able to use some of that artistic expression,” she said.
She said donating the gingerbread houses and cakes also helps her to branch out of the norm: “Whatever strikes you…even if it’s something totally different you’ve never done before, it gives you that opportunity to try it out and see how it goes.”