Arizona hotel’s larger-than-life gingerbread house hits sweet spot


Like something out of “Hansel and Gretel,” a larger-than-life gingerbread house made with hundreds of pounds (kilograms) of sugar and spice has been luring in guests at a southern Arizona resort.

Much like the fairy tale, they are free to enter and sit down by a roaring fire. But there is no wicked witch.

Instead, there’s a server with a three-course menu.

A team of pastry chefs at the Ritz-Carlton, Dove Mountain, in Marana decided this Christmas to go make a gingerbread building that was more than a display. The 19-foot-tall (5.8-meter-tall) “house” has been operating for the past month as a private dining room and become valuable real estate in terms of the attention.

There’s no cost to walk through. But for $150, you can reserve the whole thing. Up to six people can sit down and order meals and beverages from the hotel kitchen. The fireside fee does not include food.

The idea of a life-size gingerbread house where people could go in and out drew skepticism, even from some hotel workers. But head pastry chef Daniel Mangione was confident it could be done.

“There’s a lot of gingerbread houses out there but usually it’s just a facade and the inside is forgotten about,” Mangione said. “But this year we really wanted to see if we could make it different.”

Up since the Thanksgiving holiday on Nov. 26, the house will be coming down after Sunday. But Mangione assured that they will resurrect it in some form next Christmas.

“We want to do something a little different. We’re not really too sure what that might be,” Mangione said. “We might do a sushi counter.”

Pastry chefs first prepped for construction back in June by making batches of gingerbread daily. They baked them with a reddish hue and cut them into “bricks.” They also pre-ordered massive quantities of ingredients including 200 pounds (90 kg) of ginger powder, 400 pounds (180 kg) of honey, 50 pounds (22.5 kg) of cinnamon and 10 pounds (4.5 kg) of nutmeg.

“It’s a much larger project than what we’re working on day-to-day for banquets,” said Marlene Carollo, another pastry chef at the resort.

According to Mangione, it took a “baker’s dozen” about four days to tile the exterior. More than 4,000 ginger bricks made of real gingerbread cover the outside walls and the roof. Gumdrops and peppermints adorn each tile in a precise pattern and the windows are framed with candy-cane trim.

Mangione said they have had to do a quick check of the house every day to see if anything has gone missing. So far, the only hazards have been children caught licking walls or a few peppermints at a child’s eye-level disappearing.

“Parents are very good about controlling their kids,” Mangione said. “We haven’t had any major loss of tile.”

The aromatic abode has elicited strong reactions from adults as well.

One man asked if he could stay overnight. Another wanted to buy the house for his grandchildren.

Anne and Vincent Duffy, who were visiting from Los Angeles, happened upon the house while walking around the lobby. The couple initially thought only the candy was real.

“I was really impressed that they made something of this size,” Anne Duffy said. “I love it.”