Pastry chefs at the Ritz-Carlton in the West End got in touch with their inner Martha Stewarts (and Bob Vilas) a few weeks ago as they assembled a life-size gingerbread “boutique” for the hotel. The structure, consisting of 560 “bricks” of gingerbread and 35 pounds of royal icing, was assembled on a temporary frame built inside one of the hotel’s administrative rooms. Freshly baked holiday treats for sale, such as Linzer tortes ($30), stollen bread ($35) and handmade gingerbread houses ($25-$55), line the shelves inside the structure. Those who want to spend more time inside the boutique can dine there; executive chef Yves Samake is serving a special four-course gingerbread-inspired menu for six nightly through Christmas, around the boutique’s festively decorated table ($110 per person).
Gingerbread ‘Bricks’: Executive pastry chef Nelson Paz’s gingerbread recipe includes flour, eggs, honey, shortening, brown sugar, molasses and the hotel’s special mix of spices (cloves, ginger, cinnamon and anise), which provides the structure’s complex, soothing aroma. To create the 8-by-11-by-⅜-inch “bricks,” Paz baked entire sheets of the dough, then cut them with the same electric saw Ritz-Carlton chefs use to cut through meat and bones. (“It’s precise and fast,” he explains.) To create the gingerbread’s varied patterns, textures and colors, Paz baked it on parchment paper. It took six days for Paz and three other pastry chefs to attach the bricks to the temporary frame, and four days for them to decorate with icing and candy.
Candies: All walls inside the boutique are covered from floor to ceiling in completely edible ingredients, including ribbon candies, candy canes and jellybeans. Even though most people won’t be interested in eating anything that’s been hanging on a wall since the boutique opened Dec. 3, Paz jokes that the sweets are irresistible. “I’m sure we’ll be missing some candies soon,” he says.
Icing: As with most gingerbread houses, the Ritz’s boutique is held together by royal icing — a mixture of confectioner’s sugar, egg whites and water. To give the icing a more brick-like color, Paz added coffee extract. He also added a bit of lemon juice, which he says helps the icing dry more quickly. Pastry chefs used the icing (tinted with food coloring) to create designs on each of the walls, including a Christmas tree, a snowman and Snoopy.The Ritz-Carlton, 1150 22nd St. NW; free, 3-5 p.m. daily through early Jan.; call for dining reservations; 202-974-5566. (Foggy Bottom)