Saskatoon

Sask. woman creates extravagant gingerbread houses for charity

When Michelle MacAuley had her daughter, she switched careers from pastry chef to nurse. Now she auctions off cakes to benefit the hospital where she sees the funds in action.

Michelle MacAuley has baked so many cakes that her daughter asks for pie on her birthday

MacAuley has made all sorts of cakes over the years, including elaborate gingerbread houses that she auctions off for charity. (Supplied by Michelle MacAuley)

Michelle MacAuley's daughter Soleh asks for pie for her birthday instead of cake these days. She's had just about enough of cake.

MacAuley, a nurse and former pastry chef, bakes and creates magnificent gingerbread houses and themed cakes then auctions them off for charity.

Her biggest fundraiser of the year is for the Victoria Hospital in Prince Albert, where she works. She likes to see the proceeds of her donations in action at the hospital.

MacAuley used to work as a chef but a shrimp allergy led her out of the kitchen and into the bakery. She loved her work but needed a change once her daughter was born.

When Soleh turned one, the cake parade began. MacAuley's cakes got more and more extravagant every year as Soleh's requests became more challenging.

One year, Soleh asked for an "under the sea theme" with a princess twist. "I managed to pull that out of the hat," MacAuley said.

Michelle MacAuley's Saskatchewan Roughriders cake is one of her most popular creations. (Submitted by Michelle MacAuley)

She also took commissions, delivering cakes to people throughout Prince Albert.

She doesn't take as many requests these days, though, which is why she enjoys making the gingerbread houses.

"It brings out all that creativity and you're allowed to just kind of go crazy with it," she said.

Michelle MacAuley used to be a pastry chef but wanted a career change so she attended nursing school. She missed baking — so she creates extravagant gingerbread houses and cakes for charity. (Submitted by Michelle MacAuley)

MacAuley said it can take up to three weeks to make a cake from start to finish.

First, she creates a cardboard model — "if it works with cardboard, it works with gingerbread," she said — and then she tests the structure.

Then comes the homemade cookie base.

Roll, bake, assemble, she said.

"You have to go in stages because you have to dry it in between each step. Especially this year because I stacked them and I really want to make sure they were solid."

Then she adds the icing and candy and, eventually, finishing touches like a coloured ribbon.

Michelle MacAuley says it can take up to three weeks to make a cake, which starts with planning the structure by using cardboard boxes. (Supplied by Michelle MacAuley)

She finds inspiration from patterns on the Internet and in other people's work.

Often, she dreams up her own gingerbread ideas, like this year's Dr. Seuss-inspired house, which will be one of the creations auctioned off for this year's hospital fundraiser. 

This gingerbread house lights up, created for a themed fundraiser. (Submitted/Michelle MacAuley)

MacAuley's gingerbread house raffles bring in at least $750 every year.

She can count on at least one big donation each year from the owners of the local McDonald's, who display it in the restaurant.

The houses are edible and completely homemade but they tend to be displayed far past their expiry date.

Michelle MacAuley says she enjoys making the extravagant gingerbread houses because it allows her to get creative. (Supplied by Michelle MacAuley)

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Bridget Yard is a journalist and content creator based in the Greater Toronto Area. Originally from Schumacher, a small mining community in northern Ontario, she spent a decade pursuing a career in journalism close to home, then in New Brunswick and Saskatchewan with CBC.

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