By Elizabeth Marie Himchak
If looking for inspiration on how to decorate a small gingerbread house, the Rancho Bernardo Inn has a life-size version that might spark some sweet ideas.
The 9-foot high, 12-foot wide house can be viewed for free in the RB Inn’s lobby, 17550 Bernardo Oaks Drive. It will remain on display through the New Year.
Pastry Chef Margaret Carvallo has led the four-member team for the past four of the five years the inn has had the house as part of its annual holiday decorations. When she joined its staff, Carvallo said the house was one of the first things she was told about.
“I had never made a life-size gingerbread house before,” Carvallo said of her 12 years in the baking industry. The lifelong county resident graduated from the California Culinary Academy.
“I really like that it brings the team together,” she said. “It really does feel like Christmas.”
The team started making the 2,200 gingerbread bricks and roof tiles in late August so there is time for them to dry after baking since initially they are really moist, Carvallo said. They are baked on sheets and cut into similar sizes. Three roof tiles or several bricks can be made per sheet.
“Whenever we get quiet days we work on the house,” she said. All the gingerbread must be baked by the end of October since starting in November the team has to focus on its other holiday-related tasks plus keep up with the inn’s daily baking needs.
While the bakers are busy making bricks and tiles, Carvallo said the inn’s engineering department creates the wood structure. Without it, the house would collapse. Each year the house is made a bit different, so the carpenter works with Carvallo on incorporating various design aspects. For example, this year there is a quatrefoil shaped window above the door. The quatrefoil design is seen throughout the resort’s buildings and has been included in two of its gingerbread houses.
For the “glass” Carvallo said she makes it since the thin, somewhat clear panes are the most fragile component. It is made by liquefying sugar, which is poured onto sheet pans and baked at 345 degrees.
The house was assembled within four days last week, with all gingerbread and other decorations applied by hand in view of RB Inn visitors. Carvallo said one of her favorite aspects is interacting with those of all ages, including families who come back each year to see the work in progress. Their feedback has influenced her design efforts, she said.
“Kids told me they wanted more lollipops and color ... they want it brighter and bigger every year,” Carvallo said.
She said youngsters are also the staunchest believers, while adults often need to be convinced that what they are seeing is a gingerbread house. “Adults never think it’s real,” she said. “Adults want to touch it.”
Adults are most often the ones who cannot resist sampling the house’s candy adornments, she said, so Carvallo has to make daily fixes, replacing gumdrops and other sweets taken as samples. To discourage the practice, the inn has free candy canes on a nearby table and sign requesting no sampling from the house, but that has not deterred everyone.
Carvallo said the team never witnesses the demolishing in January. The engineers scrape off all the gingerbread and throw everything away. Even the frame cannot be saved since the frosting is too stuck on the wood.
* * * * * For those who might like to try making a life-size house next year, be ready for some heavy lifting while gathering the ingredients. This year’s version required 5,760 pounds of ingredients, which does not include the 50-plus pounds of candy, such as lollipops, gumballs, gumdrops and candy canes, that give the house its whimsical flair and fulfill childhood fantasies. To make the gingerbread bricks and roof tiles plus the royal frosting that holds it all together it took: • 1 ton of powdered sugar, • 1,000 pounds of brown sugar, • 750 pounds of granulated sugar, • 750 pounds of cake flour, • 750 pounds of bread flour, • 282 pounds of molasses, • 24 pounds of baking soda, • 20 pounds of cinnamon, • 12 pounds of vanilla extract, • 4 pounds of ginger and • 2,160 eggs (that’s 180 dozen).