Northern Ireland

Belfast City Hall gets Christmas gingerbread treatment

ginger
Image caption Over 1,000 Smarties and 100 candy canes were used to decorate the gingerbread version of Belfast City Hall

Christmas simply would not be complete without plenty of treats and sweets to tuck into, but would you fancy biting into Belfast City Hall?

A Northern Ireland baker has created a totally unique treat just in time for Christmas; a gingerbread version of one of Belfast's best-known buildings.

Alex Begley has made a scale version of Belfast City Hall completely out of gingerbread, decorated with thousands of Smarties, hundreds of candy canes and great dollops of coloured frosting.

The piece even features the building's courtyard and trademark green rooftops and took the talented baker over two weeks to construct.

Architect

Alex, who runs a home bakery in south Belfast, said she loves making cakes and baked desserts that are outrageous and eye-catching.

"I started thinking of something I could do around Christmas, but anything I could think of wasn't going to be wacky enough," she said.

"I eventually thought a gingerbread house might be good and then tried thinking about something unusual. I finally picked one of the most iconic buildings in Belfast because I thought it could work really well."

The finished piece is 15.7 inches (40cm) high and 29.5 inches (74cm) long.

It stands on a board decorated to look like the grounds surrounding the building, with gummy bears placed around the glittery green board to represent people, and is topped off with a large chocolate Christmas tree.

Alex planned out the entire baking process and took sketches of the building to ensure that her piece would be as accurate as possible.

However, nothing prepared her for the amount of time it took to cut out all of the walls and windows from the dough.

"It felt more like I was an architect than a baker for most of the time," she said.

"It required a lot of patience and cutting out each of the walls was a slow process. However, it was also the first time that I have ever tried to make gingerbread and it was surprisingly successful."

Image caption Alex took sketches of Belfast City Hall before making a gingerbread dough and cutting out hundreds of small rectangles for windows.
Image caption She used various colours of frosting and poured them into the window gaps to create the illusion of stained glass.
Image caption The piece took over two weeks to construct and Alex had to be precise when fitting all of the individual sides and doors together.
Image caption The process was messy and Alex had to stick each of the individual slabs together using paste after baking them in the oven for 15 minutes.
Image caption Before she could even begin to decorate the piece, Alex had to ensure that it would not collapse as soon as she let go of it.
Image caption Alex wanted to light up the inside of the piece to make it look even more realistic and eye-catching.
Image caption Traditional gingerbread houses use different coloured frosting for decoration, Alex used blue and green to stay true to the look of the building.
Image caption Lit up like the actual Belfast City Hall at night, the gingerbread masterpiece is a fitting homage to one of Northern Ireland's best-known buildings.

Inspiration

Making a large scale model of Belfast City Hall in gingerbread is not an easy task.

Alex said her father had been the inspiration for her progression into baking full-time.

"When I was young my dad used to make cakes and create original designs all the time, and I really loved it because he would always try doing something a bit different or unusual," she said.

Alex's father has passed away, but she said that a piece of him still lives on through her cakes and baking experiments today.

"I think he'd love this piece. It's definitely different and hopefully a lot of people will enjoy looking at it, I always just try to do things that will surprise people," she said.

Edible art

Alex is not the first baker to construct something far removed from a typical sponge cake.

In November, an amateur baker in England made a 5ft 5in (1.65m) edible version of swashbuckling pirate Jack Sparrow.

Alex said that baking has become extremely popular and because of that, bakers have to go above and beyond with designs now.

"I think people expect so much more from a cake these days. Baking is about so much more than just the final product," she said.

"In a way, it is really a form of edible art and it requires a great deal of creativity, patience, skill and an eye for detail."

Alex has no plans to eat any of the gingerbread city hall herself and said she did not know exactly what to do with it, but hopes that her work will continue to inspire and excite people.

She said: "I just wanted to make something fun for people to look at this Christmas, and I'm going to keep creating the most colourful, amazing things that I can for people to enjoy."

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