Ligonier chef teaches decorating tips

| Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013, 1:48 p.m.

Novice decorators had the opportunity recently to learn how to decorate a gingerbread house from Manfred Sander, a retired chef with nearly 50 years of experience.

Sander grew up in central Germany and attended chef and pastry chef school there. He worked as a chef in London before moving to Ligonier in 1965 to work at a private club.

“Manfred is the professional in town. He trained in Germany. Where else to learn about making a gingerbread house than in Germany,” said Cheryl McMullen, co-chairwoman of the Ligonier Valley Chamber of Commerce Gingerbread Contest. “Manfred has created more than 4,000 gingerbread houses in his lifetime. Who better to teach this class.”

The annual contest marks its ninth year. McMullen is chairing the event with Susan Woolridge.

Hoping to get more people interested in the gingerbread contest, they decided to offer a gingerbread-making class, McMullen said.

“The committee was looking for a new and different thing to do. We came up with the class,” said McMullen.

In the past eight years, the most participation in the contest was 20 entries. They hope the instructional class will result in entries from the class participants.

A basic gingerbread house kit was provided to the 14 participants and Sander worked through the steps to assemble the house using royal icing.

Sander provided a recipe for the icing as well as his personal gingerbread recipe for those wishing to bake it themselves.

“I just want to whet their appetite and introduce them to the process,” Sander said about the class. “Then they can make one from scratch with my European recipe for gingerbread and royal icing.”

Sander retired as an executive chef in 2006. For more than 20 years, he and his wife, Veronica, also operated the Ligonier Sweet Shop and Pathfinder Photo Shop.

“I've always taught classes,” he said. “Just to keep up with it.”

Sander said he conducts a gingerbread house making class with his grandchildren every year just before Christmas.

Sander said piping on the icing takes practice.

“There is a flow to piping,” he said. “To do it takes practice.”

Sander said he prefers a traditional look to the gingerbread houses he creates.

“To me, if it veers away from Hansel and Gretel, it is not a gingerbread house,” he said.

Sander explained the German tradition.

“At this time of year in Germany, bakeries are making figurines and black cats to be placed on the roof in order to adhere to the fairy tale. Every house would have a gingerbread house with wrapped candies glued on with the icing. When a visitor left the home, they would take a piece of the wrapped candy as a symbol of good luck. Here in the U.S., most of the houses are covered with gumdrops, candy canes and other sweet treats.”

As Sander instructed, each class member followed along.

Duncan Foust, 7, attended the class with his grandmother, Amy Leipold. He plans to enter his house in the contest and his grandmother said she will sponsor his entry.

“We've played with kits at home,” said Leipold of Ligonier. “I asked him if he wanted to go to the class to learn how to really make one.”

Monica Mickinak of Greensburg said she read about the class in the newspaper. After making the gingerbread house from the kit, she said she is ready now to go home and make another one for the contest.

One group of five women came to the class looking for a fun outing to share.

Sherri Massung said she called the chamber office during the summer to get information about the contest. She learned about the class and decided to sign herself and a few friends up for the experience.

“We enjoy doing things together,” said Massung of Rector. “It was a group effort to get our creative juices flowing.”

She said they all plan to enter the contest.

Kim Hunter said she makes a gingerbread house every year.

“I wanted to learn how about new ideas and how to put together the houses,” said Hunter of Ligonier.

The categories were changed from professional and amateur in an effort to encourage everyone in the community to participate.

McMullen said while the judges tend to want to see a traditionally decorated house, the committee wanted to offer a category for those who think outside that tradition.

So, they will offer a traditional category and a creative category.

Entrants are eligible for first- and second-place prizes in three categories: traditional, creative and children age 12 and under. A cash prize will be awarded for the best in show, based on the most number of votes.

The houses will be on display at the Ramada Ligonier Dec. 7 through Dec. 15.

Each year the community has the opportunity to vote for a community favorite and place a silent bid to purchase one of the houses. All proceeds benefit the Valley Youth Network this year.

Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or

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