St. Nick's place, an assemblage of cookies, stands behind an ice-covered pond. "It's icing, and the girls were pleasantly surprised that it set so smoothly," says Jennifer Richards of Annapolis, Savannah's mom.

Next door, Buddy's Crabs and Ribs features a whimsical barnyard scene created by two families — Tracy Leonard of Bowie and her children Hannes, 8, and Anna, 3, and Jody Bose of Glenn Dale and her daughter Sophie, 7.

It's sturdily made, including a barn with seamless joints, but it's also the kind of work that rewards one's attention. Among the highlights: Two marzipan horses stand inside a fenced pen, one with a trail of droppings behind it.

"Hannes and Sophie added bits of Andes chocolate chips," Tracy Leonard says.

Two independent judges selected a first-place piece in each category, basing their decisions on creativity and technical merit, and were scheduled to announce the result Saturday. Members of the public are also asked to stop by the museum to cast their votes for "People's Choice" champions in each category, with winners to be announced Jan. 2.

The judges praised the originality of this year's pieces.

That includes the work by the Dillenbecks, longtime amateur bakers who lavished their seaside scene with details like two beer cans and a McDonalds wrapper (both of fondant icing) that have washed ashore below their six-sided Thomas Point Lighthouse (gingerbread, royal icing, more hard candy).

"The judges seem to like a sense of humor," Don Dillenbeck says.

Another entry, this one made by five students in the Hotel, Culinary Arts and Tourism Institute at Anne Arundel Community College, shows a greenish-blue Chesapake Bay (hard candy) surrounding a gingerbread-and-icing Eastport Bridge, white waves (more icing) lapping against its pilings.

Such work leaves an impression.

"I've seen plenty of traditional gingerbread houses over the years," says Karen Koch of Miss Nancy's Fancy Bakery, a judge since 2009. "One thing you don't see much is water. That's not easy to make, but these people are creative. And after all, we're talking about Annapolis."

jonathan.pitts@baltsun.com



IF YOU GO



WHAT: Historic Annapolis' Gingerbread House Competition

WHERE: Works are on display at the Historic Annapolis Museum, 99 Main Street, Annapolis, and in seven businesses in town, all within walking distance in the historic district (maps available at the museum)

WHEN: At the Historic Annapolis Museum, Monday through Saturday 9:30-5 and Sunday noon-5 through Jan. 1; in the designated shops, during business hours through Jan. 1.

ADMISSION: free

FOR MORE INFORMATION: call (410) 267-7619 or visit annapolis.org.

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