Using gold-covered almonds for shingles and melted Jolly Ranchers for windows, Chef Mary Minor creates gingerbread version of Edgefield
When McMenamins Edgefield hired Pastry Chef Mary Minor two years ago, they told her, almost as an afterthought, that she'd be expected to make a gingerbread house every holiday season.
And not just any gingerbread house - a replica of the enormous hotel's main lodge.
Minor remembers gulping and thinking, um … OK.
But she rose to the occasion, buoyed by her bachelor of fine arts in painting and print-making and her past experience creating towering, structurally complicated wedding cakes.
It also didn't hurt that her husband, Michael Campbell, is a carpenter, and could help with the construction of the culinary challenge.
Minor, 41, of Northeast Portland, created her first mini-Edgefield in 2005.
It was large, whimsical and pastel-themed, with a bit of a magical feeling about it. Yes, the pitch of the roof wasn't exactly spot-on, and the dormers tipped back and upward as a result, but it was her first try, and it was pretty darn good.
This year, Minor went with a classical, natural Christmas theme, culling shelled almonds from estate grounds for roof shingles and incorporating evergreen, pine cones and dried flowers into front and side lawns.
Reds and greens dominate the structure, gingerbread reindeer trot along outside and a Santa sleigh complete with gummy elves makes a pitstop on the roof.
'I've had more response to it this year,' Minor says. 'People have really responded to the classic theme and colors. I think they like a traditional gingerbread house. I had one lady who took a bunch of pictures of it and sent them to me in the mail. I was really surprised she took the time to do that.'
The 4-foot-by-3-foot gingerbread house, which sits near the main lobby by the reception desk, took two months and 50 hours of work to make and will be up through New Year's Day.
Minor began making the house's panels in October. Stencils, or templates, are used to make sure the structure is measured correctly.
Royal icing, a mixture of powdered sugar, egg whites and water, is used to fix pieces together. Minor admits using a glue gun just once or twice.
The structure even has electricity, with a string of white lights anchored throughout the sprawling gingerbread creation, shining through melted Jolly Rancher stained 'glass' windows.
Her staff of three helped her construct the manor, holding the walls upright as she gingerly placed the roof panels on.
Then there was the detail work, installing 10 dormer windows in the rooftops - one of the hardest parts, Minor says.
New delights appear weekly. Last week it was gingerbread reindeer. This week, marzipan soldiers will make their debut.
Children's reactions are the most fun, Minor says.
They stop and gape, all that sugar and beauty overwhelming them, enticing their imaginations as well as their taste buds. Pieces have gone missing, as they do every year.
Minor expects it and keeps an extra stock of candy cane railings and Jelly Belly pathway stones.
She's already cooking up ideas in her head for next year. A children's book depicting a family of mice having Christmas likely will be the basis for the 2007 gingerbread Edgefield.
'It's going to be so cute,' Minor says. 'We'll have little marzipan mice running all over the place. I think the kids will love it.'
McMenamins Edgefield is at 2126 S.W. Halsey St., in Troutdale.
Kari Hastings can be reached at 503-492-5119 or at [email protected]