Legolas looked over the kitchen quickly. Two sheets of gingerbread cooling on the racks, two about to come out of the oven, and eight more left to bake. With the last four sheets full of shaped gingerbread cookies, including a dozen perfect rounds in a cupcake tin, he was sure to win this year, especially if Gimli came through on his promise to bring home all of the best assorted candies. A small egg timer chimed, and Legolas quickly shuffled the two still-warm baking sheets to the table, leaving the cooling racks open. He swapped the two sheet pans in the oven with two new ones, and set the hot ones to start cooling.
With the ginger sheets ready to work with, and more due out of the oven over the next couple of hours, his part of the deal was almost finished. The kitchen, however, looked much too clean, the result of a lifetime of tidy habits. A single mixing bowl sat in the sink, full of water and a couple of spoons. The drying rack was full since he’d caught up on the washing while the previous pans baked. He needed to ensure his boyfriend could appreciate how much effort his baking was worth. He carefully scattered a bit of flour across the corner of a counter, and added a light dusting on his cheek. Perfect.
And timely, too. The front door slammed open and Gimli clattered into the sitting room. Never subtle, but Legolas loved him anyway. When he heard several shopping bags rustle to the floor, Legolas couldn’t hide his curiosity any further. Glancing at the egg timer, he had a few minutes to spare so he went out to inspect the goods. Gimli had apparently followed the shopping to the floor and sat in the middle of the room, sorting his purchases. Caramel cubes, butterscotch discs, peppermints, licorice sticks, tiny cinnamon hearts, colorful hard candies, gum drops and jelly beans.
Off to the side, Legolas saw a box of petits fours and packages of animal crackers and gummy bears. He raised an eyebrow at his boyfriend. “Those are for snacks, right? Factory shaped decorations are against the rules.”
“Of course! They were on sale. I couldn’t resist.” Gimli tossed another package onto a growing pile of chocolates, chips, buttons and bars, in a mix of dark and milk chocolate.
Legolas grabbed as much chocolate as he could carry and headed back into the kitchen. He had not only his own double boiler, but in planning ahead had borrowed two more from his mother and a cousin. He quickly arranged pans of dark and milk chocolate to gently melt. The egg timer chimed again and Legolas shuffled the next round of baking pans to the oven and cooling racks, stowing the somewhat cooled ones on top of the refrigerator.
“Hey, love, bring me some caramels?”
Gimli grunted from the other room and soon came in with an armload of candies. He pushed the centerpiece fruit bowl to the far edge and scattered the candy across the middle of the table. The first sheets of gingerbread were set up at the head and foot, to give each of them as much space to work with as possible. Tossing a packet of caramel cubes onto the counter, Gimli promptly resumed the critically important task of sorting the candies.
“Are you done yet?”
“Just another minute, then you can have the counter.” Legolas grinned. Gimli’s royal icing was hard as cement, and would hold everything together better than any mortar. The judges looked for solidity and quality of construction. He stirred the pots and checked the water level one more time before peeking into the oven. Then he yielded the kitchen to his boyfriend and looked over the selection on the dining table.
While the first trays of gingerbread were slightly thicker to provide a sturdy foundation, the second and third trays were of medium thickness for walls and roofs, and the last full trays were thin for decorating. Legolas measured and cut his walls, pulling away the excess gingerbread and leaving his construction materials on the baking sheet. Working quickly, so this would be ready when the egg timer went off again, he measured and cut out all of the windows for his house. Unwrapping several colorful hard candies, he set one into each window cutout. He was just in time. Pans moved once again from cooling rack to the top of the fridge, and from oven to cooling rack. Instead of starting the next set though, he returned his house tray to the oven, to melt the candies. It only took a few minutes, and didn’t disrupt the overall schedule much at all.
When they came out of the oven, the sugar glass windows were gorgeous. Unfortunately, Gimli saw the tray come out of the oven right as he finished up the first batch of royal icing, and immediately began working on his own. Such were the risks of two rivals sharing the same workspace. There was just no privacy for creative control. Instead, there was a lot of bickering.
“That door is too short.”
“Well yours is too tall and narrow.”
“Your windows look funny.” Legolas smirked at two colorful lines of sugar glass triangles, pointing inward between each other like the teeth of two gears.
“Triangles are more creative than squares. Everybody does squares.”
Legolas grimaced at his very traditional square windows. Gimli was right, and it was too late to redraw everything. He glanced over at Gimli, who was already outlining his sugar glass windows in white piping.
“You’re supposed to build, then decorate.”
“It’s easier while they’re flat, and looks better later.”
Three hours later, Legolas smirked as he threaded four roundies from the cupcake tin onto a pair of licorice axles, then arranged a gingerbread box on top of them. Colorful icing, the broken pieces from a crushed up shredded wheat biscuit, and two gingerbread horse cookies painted with melted chocolate completed the vignette. His gingerbread hayride, parked neatly in front of the house on a lovely caramel road, was sure to impress the judges. He carefully used the edge of a dull knife to mark the caramel into flagstones as it cooled, and covered the rest of his lawn in a thin layer of green-dyed royal icing, pressing in crushed green mints for texture and color.
Gimli had finished decorating his house with plenty of time to spare. Very careful construction proved his point as not a single piece of candy fell away. With so much time on his hands, he’d made gumdrop shrubbery, licorice lawn chairs, and fondant for a tidy sidewalk. Finally, he tossed all the discarded bits of gingerbread into a mixing bowl with powdered sugar. After a bit of stirring, the dusted bits showed a delicious range of beiges and browns. He piped a line of royal icing around the edges of his foundation, then pressed on the larger bits. He had enough bits to go around twice more, forming a wall around his entire creation. Looking it over for a minute, he decided he had enough time to make that gorgeous wall even taller, and crumbled several leftover gingerbread cookies, tossing those bits into the bowl as well.
Legolas looked over and snorted. “That looks nothing like brickworks.”
“Well, it’s not. Can’t you see gorgeous natural stone?”
An odd thumping at the door broke through the artists’ fierce concentration. Both competitors had their compositions nearly complete, except for finishing touches. Legolas opened to find Frodo with a large bakery box in his arms, pulling a foot back to kick the door again. He grabbed the box before Frodo could tumble and make a mess of things.
“Thank you!” Frodo recovered himself quickly enough and reclaimed his cake.
Legolas beckoned him in.
“Hullo,” Frodo greeted Gimli as he carefully set his own gingerbread creation on the table. He looked over their efforts and grinned. “Glass windows too? I asked Pippin how he did them last year. I think everyone will have them now.”
Legolas groaned. So much for his brilliant idea.
“Nice wagon, but your hill looks very strange, and your grass is such an odd color.” Frodo gently slid the lid away from his box. “And your doors should be round.”
Legolas blinked at the bright swath of green shards. “Where did you find green licorice sticks?” And how long did it take to run them through a carrot grater? That was a clever technique that Legolas promised himself to remember for next year.
“At the store, marked ‘sour apple’. You didn’t see any?”
Gimli shook his head, and Frodo snickered.
“Of course not. I went shopping yesterday, and bought them out.”