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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Gingerbread teams square off today for charity

Kathy Skomer carefully eyed the massive gingerbread structure, looking for flaws that would escape the detection of most.

“Oh, I got a spot in front,” Skomer said, working out of a Yoke’s Fresh Market bakery. “Sorry, I just gotta fix that.”

She grabbed a bucket of royal icing – “It’s like cement” – and repaired a corner damaged by an errant shopping cart.

Skomer, who has been baking for 30 years, is competing on a team of six in Christ Kitchen’s seventh annual Gingerbread Build-Off today, where culinary professionals team up with architects to design elaborate gingerbread structures.

Jan Martinez, the energetic director of Christ Kitchen, a nonprofit job training program for poor women in Spokane, said it isn’t unusual to hear the buzz of a saw or other tools typically used to build real houses rather than their cookie counterparts.

“It’s just wild,” said Martinez, who made 450 liters of icing with 250 pounds of powdered sugar for the event. “It’s just this fun, chaotic energy. There’s 1,500 children who are eating candy and frosting. It’s a riot.”

All proceeds from the event benefit Christ Kitchen.

Back in the bakery, Skomer said the theme of this year’s competition is family vacation, so she and her teammates are creating a gingerbread version of Jellystone Park, the home of Yogi Bear and Boo-Boo Bear. It will feature chocolate and cotton candy trees, a piping-gel river and glowing fires made of crystallized sugar.

The teams create the sugary components ahead of time – including the base that Skomer patched up on Saturday – and put everything together in the frenzied three-hour competition.

Skomer’s team, largely made up of bakers from Yoke’s, has won the past three years.

“I think the reason we win is we have all of those details,” she said, deftly wielding an airbrush to finish her touch-up of the base. “We pride ourselves in those details.”

The team began brainstorming back in September and at least 200 person-hours – probably more – have gone into the gingerbread structure’s creation, she said. And that’s not including the time it took the volunteers to make more than 1,500 mini-houses for children to decorate.

They’re competitive, but win or lose, they’ll be glad to be done.

“It’s stressful, but it’s a lot of fun,” said team member Wanda Tolley.

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