1789’s gingerbread manse. Photographs by Erik Uecke
When it comes to celebrating the winter holidays, Washington’s motto is “Go big or go home.” Merry tunes have been playing for weeks, twinkling lights were illuminated before the Thanksgiving turkey was even cold (too soon!), and just after T-day, the 19-foot White House Christmas tree arrived via horse-drawn carriage. So it’s no surprise that the pastry chef at one of the most festively decorated restaurants in Georgetown, 1789, has been toiling away for the past month on a gingerbread mansion.
Chef Mallory Staley is no stranger to gingerbread-house construction. Last year she spent two months creating a not-so-mini exact replica of the Plaza Hotel in New York, where she was then employed.
“My fiancé is scarred by the smell of gingerbread,” says Staley, who had to bring the project back to their apartment at night.
Thankfully, 1789’s pastry kitchen could accommodate the three-foot-tall house for the month it took to build. Staley’s father, an architect and carpenter, built her a sturdy wood frame, which the chef then covered with sheets of gingerbread. If you nibble the siding (which is NOT recommended; there’s glue involved), you’d notice a spicier flavor (in addition to the glue)—an old wive’s tale dictates that adding more cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves makes the dough sturdier for better house building.
While baking literally 1,000 Thanksgiving pies for the Clyde’s Restaurant Group (of which 1789 is part), Staley and her assistants Rebecca Albright and Justine Sullivan added to the foundation. There’s a sugar-cookie-shingled roof, Romanesque Smarties columns, and stained-glass windows (the sugar versions melted, so now they’re acetate sheets). Outside, marzipan children play amid gumdrop trees and Rice Krispie treat bushes on a layer of edible shimmer. Now, in the dining room, a candy-filled train acts like a (cute) moat around the castle to protect against kids with wandering fingers.
So will this elaborate holiday home go into foreclosure after the holidays? “We may smash it,” says Staley, laughing. “No, we’ll probably donate it to charity.”
1789’s Gingerbread House by the Numbers
A numerical look at what’s involved.
• 62 hours
• 8 pounds of butter
• 150 cups of flour
• 10 bags of powdered sugar
• 2 quarts of egg whites
• 250 shortbread cookie shingles
• 200 Smarties
• 4.5 pounds of marzipan
• 12 boxes of gumdrops
• Untold numbers of Disney songs playing in the background
• 1 Rebecca Albright, 1 Justine Sullivan