NAME: Amanda Naim | AGE: 25 | HOMETOWN: McAllen | QUALIFICATIONS:Has worked as a pastry cook at the Four Seasons Hotel Austin since 2009
● I baked my first batch of cookies with my mother when I was six. I still have pictures of me stirring the dough. In high school, I started selling cookies to my family and friends, and I made some gift packages for the holidays. The best part about baking is that it always brings a smile to people’s faces.
● You can volunteer to make a gingerbread house for the holidays if you work in the pastry shop at the Four Seasons. This year, I signed up to make the Capitol because of the challenge. I took a ton of pictures of the actual building, then I tried to make it with sugar.
● The process was daunting, so I thought strategically about how I was going to do it. We actually make gingerbread cookie dough and bake it in sheets. Then we cut them into pieces for the walls, the roof, and everything else. After I baked and decorated the sheets, I connected them with royal icing, which gets really hard and lasts for several months. Luckily, the walls all came together.
● The roof is made from Rice Krispies mixed with royal icing, which is covered with a layer of green fondant, a thick icing that you mold in sheets. The windows are made from chocolate fondant. Plain chocolate is too temperamental—the pieces start to fall off.
● I had to find all these different things to mold each piece of the dome so they would stack together. I used a soup bowl for one part and some ring molds and the outside of an ice cream dish for the rest.
● For carving, I used an X-Acto knife and fondant tools, and to make the columns flare at the top, I used a gum-paste tool, which looks like a ball on a stick. They all resemble the instruments you’d find at your dentist’s office.
● You definitely have to have patience, and you can’t do it all at once. I stayed late at work for about three weeks straight to finish it. Physically, it really helps to have a steady hand, and I don’t have a steady hand.
● I worked on the Capitol by myself, and other pastry cooks built the UT Tower, the Alamo, and a football stadium featuring the Dallas Cowboys and the Houston Texans. All of them will be displayed in the lobby of the hotel in December.
● I had to play with the scale a little, and I had to squeeze the sides. The finished product ended up being more than 21 inches long and 19 inches tall.
● Ants aren’t an issue. The Capitol is coated with royal icing, and I think that kind of keeps them away. Of course, it is the Four Seasons—maybe that’s why.