Area pas­try pros cre­ate won­ders in gin­ger­bread

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - Amy Drew Thomp­son OS Foodie

Hey, house hun­ters! Need a break from pe­rus­ing Zil­low in search of a cute, over­priced heap smack dab in the mid­dle of in­sert­pro­gres­sively-gen­tri­fy­ing-Or­lando-neigh­bor­hood here?

Hey, hol­i­day junkies! Ready to jump head­long into the sea­sonal frenzy and add a few hun­dred feet of twin­kling lights to your al­ready sparkling X-mas fac­tor?

Pack the car with loved ones, hit the re­sorts and co­coa-and-carol your way through the gor­geous gin­ger­bread neigh­bor­hoods that some of Or­lando’s most tal­ented de­vel­op­ers (er, pas­try chefs) have been cre­at­ing

for your win­try-hol­i­day plea­sure since you were work­ing on your sum­mer tan.

“There were 39 cast mem­bers in­volved in cre­at­ing our gin­ger­bread dis­play,” says pas­try chef Jeff Barnes, whose team at Dis­ney’s Con­tem­po­rary Re­sort be­gan their hol­i­day home build on July 5. “We work very close with our Imag­i­neers and de­sign teams to col­lab­o­rate on a theme to­gether — and what bet­ter theme than Cin­derella’s Cas­tle?”

This year, the Con­tem­po­rary’s hol­i­day gin­ger­bread dis­play cel­e­brates its 10th an­niver­sary. Beach Club cel­e­brates its 20th. And as Dec. 12 is Na­tional Gin­ger­bread House Day, we fig­ured we’d round up the eight amaz­ing Dis­ney cre­ations you can find around the realm — plus a cou­ple oth­ers you might want to add to your hol­i­day “open house” cel­e­bra­tions.

1. Dis­ney’s Con­tem­po­rary Re­sort

It’s a small world, but not a small cas­tle! And why should Cin­derella and Prince Charm­ing set­tle for less? Their 18-foot-tall dis­play, which fea­tures an “It’s A Small World”-themed back­drop, is crafted from thou­sands of gin­ger­bread blocks, rolled fon­dant and mod­el­ing cho­co­late and fea­tures a fon­dant Fairy God­mother, among other charm­ing fea­tures.

“When [guests] see their fa­vorite char­ac­ter in gin­ger­bread, some ac­tu­ally come to tears,” says Barnes. “But most are just in amaze­ment of what we get to do in gin­ger­bread. That’s the best feel­ing — to see the look in their eyes.”

If you go: Try to spot the cas­tle’s nine “hid­den Mick­eys” and 10 im­ages high­light­ing both “It’s A Small World” and “Frozen 2,” along with a spe­cial tribute to famed Dis­ney artist Mary Blair. Hit up the nearby

Gin­ger­bread Hut for spe­cial treats.

2. Dis­ney’s Wilder­ness Lodge

This prop­erty is a new par­tic­i­pant in the realm of hol­i­day gin­ger­bread and fea­tures a Na­tional Park Lodge-in­spired rus­tic cabin well suited to its Pa­cific-North­west aes­thetic. Chef Keith Hiner, a 29-year Dis­ney vet­eran, was part of the team that cre­ated the very first gin­ger­bread carousel at Dis­ney’s Yacht and Beach Club Re­sorts.

“I was ex­cited to cre­ate new tra­di­tions for cast and guests with this new ad­di­tion,” says Hiner. “I worked with the Hol­i­day Services Team, who had a pic­ture of what they en­vi­sioned, and I de­vel­oped it from there.”

If you go: Hit the lobby, where the cabin sits ad­ja­cent to the re­sort’s mas­sive totem poles and tow­er­ing, seven-story tree. Look closely for hid­den Mick­eys and grab a treat. They even have gluten-friendly gin­ger­bread men.

3. Dis­ney’s Board­Walk Re­sort

Now you can walk the shops and restau­rants of Dis­ney’s Board­Walk to get to the fun shops and restau­rants of Dis­ney’s gin­ger­bread Board­Walk. Nat­u­rally, the bak­ery makes for a rel­e­vant fo­cal point.

If you go: You’ll find it in the re­sort lobby, and of course, sea­sonal treats are nearby. Among them: dec­o­rated Mickey and Min­nie cook­ies, pep­per­mint bark and, for the grownups, gin­ger­bread mar­ti­nis.

4. Dis­ney’s Beach Club Re­sort

It’s huge. It’s happy. And it’s cel­e­brat­ing a whop­ping 20 years in the lobby of this beau­ti­ful prop­erty with its Peter Pan-themed horses and hand­crafted shin­gles and snowflakes.

As­sis­tant Pas­try Chef Jesse Ro­driguez, whose Dis­ney ten­ure is fast ap­proach­ing 20 years, has worked each year at the Beach Club Re­sort. She’s one of a team of 24 who brings the carousel to life come the hol­i­days, start­ing with the honey dough in July.

“I love work­ing on the gin­ger­bread houses each year be­cause it gives the team a chance to be ex­tra cre­ative and col­lab­o­rate with oth­ers be­yond their daily du­ties,” she says.

If you go: Al­lot some time. There are 20 gold hid­den Mickey stamps to find and spe­cial for this year: 2,020 shin­gles for the 20th an­niver­sary.

5. Dis­ney’s Grand Florid­ian Re­sort & Spa

It’s a Grand Florid­ian icon, a mas­sive man­sion of a hol­i­day house that lo­cals put on their hol­i­day to-do list ev­ery year. And 28-year Dis­ney vet­eran, Pas­try Chef Kris­tine Farmer, loves be­ing a part of the process — which takes about 400 hours of bak­ing and 360 hours of dec­o­rat­ing be­fore it’s ready to grace your Christ­mas card or so­cial­me­dia post.

“Our guests just love it,” she says. “Their fam­ily va­ca­tions are re­volved around see­ing the gin­ger­bread ev­ery year and they love meet­ing the chef and ask­ing lots of ques­tions. Our de­sign is very sim­i­lar each year, but we change the painted im­ages over the win­dows and doors.”

This year, famed prince and princess cou­ples fea­ture promi­nently.

If you go: There are 21 hid­den Mick­eys to find and per­haps, if you’re lucky, you can ask a cast mem­ber for help. They hold dec­o­rat­ing demos in the lobby ev­ery day through Christ­mas.

6. Dis­ney’s Saratoga Springs Re­sort & Spa

An­other new one this year fea­tures a lovely hol­i­day vil­lage themed on — where else? — Saratoga Springs, N.Y.

If you go: Check out the in­tri­ca­cies of the park and carousel fea­tures and buy some su­gar and gin­ger­bread man cook­ies for a snack.

7. Dis­ney Springs’ Amorette’s Patis­serie

A gin­ger­bread house at an ac­tual bak­ery in the mid­dle of all that Dis­ney Springs has to of­fer? With Hol­i­day Petit Cakes, Yule Log Desserts, Or­na­ment Mac­arons (milk cho­co­late and pep­per­mint ganache), this may be your eas­i­est sell on the tour. Be­fore that, check out the store­front dis­play, a minia­ture ver­sion of the shop.

If you go: Desserts! In­clud­ing all the above men­tioned along with bour­bon hot cho­co­late mousse, marsh­mal­low and cho­co­late chif­fon cake.

8. Ep­cot

This is the only one on the list that re­quires park ad­mis­sion, but if you’re headed to Ep­cot any­way, don’t miss this pa­tri­otic take, which fea­tures the U.S. Capi­tol Build­ing, Jef­fer­son and Lin­coln Memo­ri­als and a 7-foot gin­ger­bread ver­sion of the Wash­ing­ton Mon­u­ment. This dis­play is com­prised of more than 50 pounds of gin­ger­bread and 20 pounds of ic­ing.

If you go: Find­ing its six hid­den Mick­eys might be more fun with an Amer­i­can-made craft beer in hand. Or per­haps a fun­nel cake.

9. Ritz-Carl­ton Or­lando, Grande Lakes

It’s a Ritz-Carl­ton tra­di­tion, one that brings sea­sonal cheer to guests and vis­i­tors at prop­er­ties world­wide. Or­lando is no ex­cep­tion.

“We have a phe­nom­e­nal pas­try team, and this re­ally puts them in the fore­front, so guests get to see the peo­ple who are mak­ing the fresh items they en­joy in our din­ing rooms,” says Direc­tor of Pub­lic Re­la­tions Alissa Perez.

Ex­ec­u­tive Chef Stephane Cher­amy leads the charge (check out an early sketch of this year’s in the at­tached gallery), which this year used 750 gin­ger­bread bricks, 400 mac­arons, 100 pounds of but­ter, two pounds of glit­ter and 10 ounces of ed­i­ble gold pow­der (among loads of other as­ton­ish­ingly pro­por­tioned in­gre­di­ents).

“It be­gins by re­search­ing — draw­ing in­spi­ra­tion from our trav­els, so­cial me­dia brows­ing and culi­nary com­pe­ti­tions,” says Cher­amy. “We draft a di­rec­tion we want to go and del­e­gate tasks to ev­ery­one.”

Of course, ev­ery­thing is ed­i­ble.

“We use as many can­dies as pos­si­ble [800, to be pre­cise] while try­ing to keep the house as clean and de­tailed at the same time,” Cher­amy says.

10. Four Sea­sons Re­sort Or­lando at Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort

If gin­ger­bread isn’t your thing, Chef Rabii Saber — a 2019 James Beard Award semi­fi­nal­ist for Out­stand­ing Pas­try Chef — has put his cho­co­late ex­per­tise to work for guests’ en­joy­ment with a whim­si­cal win­try scene fea­tur­ing play­ful pen­guins.

Last year’s set­ting was a cookie-sand Florida beach, but this year, they’re en­joy­ing a cozy cabin set­ting that em­ployed 200 pounds of cho­co­late, 150 pounds of fon­dant and 60 pounds of frost­ing. The en­tire project took three months to plan and ex­e­cute and more than 500 hours of work.

“They wanted a change,” says Saber with a laugh. “Ev­ery­body loves pen­guins! They’re cu­ri­ous, cute birds that bring ev­ery­one joy.”

No word on where they’ll va­ca­tion in 2020, but vis­i­tors can take their own 8-inch, hand­made cho­co­late pen­guin — with a belly full of candy — home for $35.

Want to reach out? Find me on Face­book, Twit­ter or In­sta­gram (@amy­droo) or on the OSFoodie In­sta­gram ac­count (@or­lando.foodie). Email: amthomp­[email protected]­lan­dosen­tinel.com. Want more foodie news? Sign up for the Food & Drink news­let­ter at or­lan­dosen­tinel.com/news­let­ters.

THE RITZ-CARL­TON/COUR­TESY

Life-sized gin­ger­bread houses are fea­tured at Ritz-Carl­ton prop­er­ties around the world this time of year.

WALT DIS­NEY WORLD/COUR­TESY

The Board­Walk’s gin­ger­bread house cap­tures the re­sort’s sea­side feel.

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