For the 25th year in a row, the Sheraton Seattle Hotel unveils its holiday gingerbread houses today — not homey dining-room-table centerpieces, but over-the-top, insanely detailed works of colossal cookiecraft, designed in partnership with real-live local architecture firms and the Master Builders Association of King and Snohomish Counties.
The theme for this year’s gingerbread village is “25 Years of Cheer: A Celebration of Seattle,” and the display recreates existing landmarks like the Space Needle and the Great Wheel alongside visions of the future. The decadent village opens to the public at City Centre across from the Sheraton on Tuesday, November 21 and lasts through January 1. It’s free to view with a suggested donation to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.
Under the guidance of executive chef John Armstrong, the hotel’s culinary team and a host of volunteers have poured hours (and a staggering supply of sugar) into these candy-coated creations. Here, now, are five tasty tidbits about the culinary process to help readers work up an appetite for all things gingerbread:
1. The ingredients for this gargantuan gingerbread village are measured in hundreds of pounds, not tablespoons or cups.
All said and done, each of the 6 installations can weigh between 1,500 to 2,000 pounds and include hundreds of different types of candies, cereals, and other snacks. Here’s a breakdown by the numbers:
- 1,200 pounds of dough
- More than 500 pounds of sugar dedicated to elaborate sugar crafts
- 400 pounds of fondant for creating detailed sculptures and decorations
- 200 pounds of white chocolate
- 250 pounds of almond paste
2. The gingerbread in question is actually based on a honey dough.
This recipe yields a sturdy dough, perfect for building structures that need to stay up for weeks on end. Extra reinforcement comes from rolling the dough thicker than usual and increasing the bake time.
3. No, it’s not all edible.
Because the structures have to stay intact through the beginning of January, the builders must rely on the durability of a few inedible components including, but not limited to, hot glue, papier mache, and chicken wire — not to mention motors and other mechanical bits that animate moving parts.
4. Heat and humidity are a gingerbread village's greatest foes (aside from naughty candy thieves).
That's why all the lights illuminating the displays must be LEDs, which don't get as hot. It’s also why licorice, although featured across many of the designs, is a tricky ingredient to work with: Too much humidity can make the candy slippery and prone to falling off.
5. The baking magic happens in a truly massive oven.
Apart from being able to cook upwards of 2,000 perfectly medium-rare steaks in one go (not an ingredient in this year's exhibit), this oven — 11 feet long, 12 feet wide, and 10 feet high — can hold 70 commercial baking trays full of gingerbread. That’s a lot of holiday cheer.
Gingerbread Village at City Centre, 1420 Fifth Ave, Ste 450, Seattle, website. Viewing hours of the display are Monday through Thursday 6:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday 6:30 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., Saturday 8:00 a.m. to 12:30 a.m., and Sunday 8:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.