A sweet `housing boom'

Gingerbread town models Annapolis

December 14, 2007|By Cassandra A. Fortin | Cassandra A. Fortin,Special to The Sun

There's a lot more to building a shingled roof than you might think.

James Barrett, the executive chef at The Westin Annapolis Hotel, found out recently when he built his first shingled roofs out of cereal.

"It's a lot of work ... every tile on the roof was laid one piece at a time," Barrett said. "It's very hard to get it all perfectly aligned."

The roofs topped houses that are part of a gingerbread village that Barrett built. The village, in the lobby of the Westin Annapolis, will be on display through Jan. 6 at the hotel.

Barrett and his two sous chefs, Troy Jones and Thorin Peugh, spent more than 300 hours creating the village - which is entirely edible - in hopes of starting a tradition among small business owners in Annapolis, he said.

"I hope some of the shop owners down here will come and see my gingerbread village this year and be inspired to create a gingerbread scene in their storefront windows next year," said Barrett, who lives in Crofton. "I hope to start a gingerbread housing boom."

For now, he has started what will be an annual tradition at the hotel, he said.

Made with about 800 pounds of gingerbread, 200 pounds of frosting, a case of Necco Wafers, 40 pounds of hard Christmas candies, about 20 pounds of pretzels, Hershey's Kisses, candy canes and boxes of cereal, the 20-foot long, 10-foot wide village comprises scale representations of the hotel, row houses, St. Anne's Episcopal Church, and various Annapolis houses.

Built in eight sections - in 36 straight hours - the replica of the hotel is the centerpiece of the village. Barrett called an architect to assist with constructing the hotel building, which is 7 feet long and 3 feet tall, he said.

The hotel is designed in a wintry scene. The windows are made from slices of a gelatin sheet for the panes of glass, and a small bar of chocolate is the window sill. Frosting is piled in heaps on each window sill, and a piece of hard peppermint candy is hung below each sill as a wreath.

The lower roof of the structure is covered with marshmallows arranged in straight rows, representing snow. The front circle drive is paved with chocolate bricks. A giant wreath made of gum paste hangs on the exterior of the building above the front door.

The six rowhouses, representative of those on East and Main streets, were created to commemorate the 300th anniversary of Annapolis, Barrett said. Each house is unique.

The roofs were the most difficult part of the houses, said sous chef Jones. Constructed with frosted wheat and crisped rice cereals and chocolate bars, the roofs were tedious, he said.

When Barrett first told him about the idea to build the village, Jones said he thought it was a great idea until he heard how many houses they would be doing.

Eventually the project grew on him, and he said he got excited, but it was a lot of work.

"We had to put the shingles, which were done with cereal, on the buildings one piece at a time," said Jones, who has worked as a sous chef for about 15 years.

The Cinnamon Toast Crunch was bad enough, he said. But the Captain Crunch was even worse.

"Captain Crunch cereal is so small, it took forever to do it," he said. "I got quicker at building the roofs with the larger items like the graham cracker squares."

Several of the single-family dwellings in the village are replicas of homes on East and Maryland streets. The homes include peppermint stick fences, and Christmas trees made using Peppermint Patties as the base, and upside-down sugar cones coated with green frosting as the trees.

Jones said the best part was seeing the excitement of the employees as they walked through the kitchen to see their work.

"It was a lot of fun," Jones said. "We pictured how we wanted it and we did it."

Now that the village has been completed, Barrett said he notices the imperfections in it.

Although he started the project before Thanksgiving, he built the first ones too fast and had to learn by trial and error, said Barrett.

The village was his first big gingerbread project, and he said he had to research ideas online, and then shop around for the best products to use.

Barrett also is seeing things he wants to add to the village next year.

For starters, he plans to begin construction of the village much earlier, he said. He wants to create a pattern for the road, and include people and light poles, he said.

"We are learning as we go," Barrett said. "I am constantly looking at it and saying "Man, if I had only ... "

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