Grown-ups and kids hunker over gingerbread houses, applying gobs of royal icing to roofs and windows. Hershey's Kisses are stuck onto Styrofoam cones to make Christmas trees, and candy canes and gumdrops are turned into reindeer and snowmen.
The holidays are stressful enough without worrying about creating the perfect candy wreath or intricate marzipan sleigh. "It should be fun. It shouldn't be about frustration," she says.
For starters, be realistic, Hoff says. A beautiful photo in a magazine may lend inspiration, but keep in mind that the magazine employed experts -- professional cooks, food stylists and photographers -- whose jobs it is to create works of art.
To improve your chances of creating your own work of art, practice. Write or draw decorations on paper before you attempt to make the same designs with icing on your projects, Hoff says.
Susan Dosier, executive food editor for Southern Living magazine, advises aspiring food artists to be sure they allow enough time to make their craft. Some projects require work to be done in stages over the course of several days to allow icing to dry. Read the directions carefully to plan the time you need.
And because free time is so rare during the holidays, it's a good idea to do craft projects with family or friends. Not only can you share the work, you can share the fun of being together. Just keep in mind to have patience with children who may not have the attention span or the dexterity for some projects.
Here are a few family-friendly projects to get you started. All can be done in less than an hour; some can be completed in minutes. And all can be eaten when you're done looking at them.
1 cup white chocolate chips
8-inch pretzel rods
mini chocolate chips
orange decorator gel
Melt white chocolate chips in the top of a double boiler (see note). One at a time, dip one end of pretzel rod into chocolate and use a knife to spread the chocolate two-thirds of the way down the rod.
Set the pretzels on a sheet of waxed paper and press mini chocolate chips for the eyes and buttons. Use gel to add a carrot nose. When the chocolate has hardened, stand pretzels in a mug or glass. Tie on strips of fruit leather for scarves. For hats, stretch a gummy ring over the narrow end of a gumdrop and secure it on the pretzel rod with a dab of melted chocolate.