Every year the Historic Hotels of America, a trade association representing many of America’s oldest and most iconic hotels, sponsors a gingerbread competition. This contest isn’t your usual run-of-the-mill competition. The entries are veritable works of art, many life-sized, and a tribute to the baker’s art.
Gingerbread houses are a German invention. No one is quite sure of their origin. They were perhaps inspired by the fairytale "Hansel and Gretel" in the early 1800s. Immigrants to the Americas brought ginger and gingerbread traditions with them.
According to Lawrence Horwitz, Executive Vice President, Historic Hotels of America and Historic Hotels Worldwide: "The tradition of gingerbread fairy-tale houses reportedly started in the United States more than 200 years ago with German immigrants to Pennsylvania. Today, travelers can view life-size historic hotels, national monuments, historic buildings, and historic streets made of gingerbread. A large party can dine in the more-than-life-sized gingerbread house at the Fairmont San Francisco.
These magnificent gingerbread displays result from thousands of hours of culinary, pastry, confectionary, engineering, and carpentry teams working for weeks and even months to design, create, mix, bake, build or set up, and, of course, decorate.
The ingredients include more than a thousand pounds of sugar, hundreds of eggs, more than a thousand pounds of flour, hundreds of spices, more than 10,000 individual candies, gallons of molasses, honey, and frosting used to create these colossal gingerbread displays."
Below are highlights from some of the top 25 gingerbread displays from around the country and the signature Christmas cocktails they pair with their exhibits. A detailed description of the 2022 Historic Hotels of America’s Top 25 Most Magnificent Gingerbread Displays is available on their website.
The Broadmoor (1918) Colorado Springs, Colorado
Magnificent gingerbread displays have been a grand holiday tradition at The Broadmoor in Colorado Springs, Colorado, since 1964. This year, instead of a traditional gingerbread house or building, the 2022 display has wheels: a vintage car made of gingerbread and chocolate that will make Santa envious.
Guests can find the display parked in the resort’s main building mezzanine. The headlights and windows are all sugar. Except for the car frame, tree topping, and Santa, this gingerbread display is entirely edible.
This year’s life-sized gingerbread display drew inspiration from The Broadmoor's founder Spencer Penrose and his 1937 Flathead V-8 Cadillac Touring Car. The automobile was initially purchased as a part of the hotel’s separate fleet of limousines. It served two purposes: transporting Broadmoor guests to and from the hotel and sightseeing excursions.
Today’s sugary-sweet version of the car will remain parked at the resort for all to enjoy now through New Year’s Day. For those interested in learning about the resort’s historical collection and real-life vintage vehicles, the Penrose Heritage Museum has Mrs. Julie Penrose’s 1928 custom Cadillac limousine on display.
French Lick Springs Hotel (1845) French Lick, Indiana
This confectionary masterpiece at French Lick Springs Hotel (1845) is a long-standing tradition that starts taking shape as early as August. Hotel bakery chefs Brittany Fisher and Princess McCallister create a fresh spin on the gingerbread house every year. With nearly seven pounds of ginger making that unmistakable holiday aroma, the scent of gingerbread greets you before you even feast your eyes on the gingerbread house.
Seven hundred fifty pounds of gingerbread and edible decorations went into this seven-foot-wide, eight-foot-tall creation. A unique feature on this year’s house is “Ed,” the snowman made from 100 pounds of Rice Krispies treats. It’s a tribute to Charles “Ed” Ballard, a longtime resort employee who worked in the hotel bakery into his 80s and passed away earlier in 2022.
As part of the holiday festivities during the resort’s 50 Days of Lights, children can visit Santa on the weekends right next to the gingerbread house, or they can write a letter to Santa and have a personal reply sent to their home before Christmas.
While the children are busy with Santa, the hotel has Christmas-themed cocktails to entertain the adults. According to a hotel spokesperson:
We try to match the guests’ tastes with the tastes of the season: peppermint, butterscotch, and vanilla. We also take the opportunity to reach the boldness of gingerbread with equally bold-flavored drinks that don’t require those traditional ingredients.
Among the Christmas Specialty Cocktails served at the hotel’s Sinclair’s Bar, adults can choose from:
Mistletoe Martini: Wheatley Vodka, Elderflower Liqueur, cranberry, and simple syrup garnished with cranberries and a sprig of mint.
Spiced Iced Cappuccino: Kahlua, Jameson Whiskey, espresso, fresh cream, and ginger powder.
Naughty but Nice: Sazerac Rye, orange juice, cranberry, Ginger Ale with Orange Wheel.
Hilton Chicago (1927), Chicago, Illinois
A long-standing tradition at Hilton Chicago is a gingerbread display and the annual lighting ceremony of the majestic Christmas tree at the bedecked Grand Hall of the hotel.
The gingerbread display, lovingly crafted by Executive Chef Mario Garcia and Pastry Chef Wing Au, pays homage to the city of Chicago and incorporates a gingerbread replica of Hilton Chicago, Soldiers Field, and more.
Standing over six feet tall, it took three pastry chefs nearly 300 hours to create and includes 380 pounds of flour, 16 pounds of ginger, 16 pounds of cinnamon, and 16,000 gingerbread bricks. The sweet version of the historic hotel is placed near the lobby’s 24-foot Christmas tree, which is decorated annually with thousands of metallic ornaments, and both together are the centerpieces for the lobby’s floor-to-ceiling décor, with 2,000 inches of decorated garland, a 30-inch poinsettia “kissing ball,” and 60-foot” wreaths.
The gingerbread hotel and skyline offer the ultimate backdrop for seasonal holiday photos and Instagram-worthy moments.
During the holidays, the hotel’s 720 Bar offers its rendition of the “French 75” cocktail as a special nod to its motto of “Where Classic Meets Cool.”
According to the hotel’s spokesperson: This over-pouring of cheer will add a splash of sparkle throughout the season and into the New Year. The two spirits collide with grace in a historical, premium upgrade of the recipe, including ingredients from the storied house of Moët & Chandon and Gin from Chicago-based distillery Koval.
- 15 ml fresh lemon juice
- 10 ml sugar syrup
- 25 ml Koval Gin
- 75 ml Moët & Chandon Champagne
- Shake the lemon juice, syrup, and gin together and strain into a coupe
- Top with champagne
- Garnish with a sugared rosemary twig
The Fairmont Hotel San Francisco (1907) San Francisco, California
Each November, the Fairmont Hotel San Francisco (1907) has enchanted guests with its awe-inspiring exhibits for over a century. This year’s display featured a glowing, two-story Victorian-style gingerbread house located in the hotel’s grand lobby.
Lovingly built with a completely edible exterior, the delectable abode was constructed by the Fairmont Hotel San Francisco’s talented culinary team, led by Executive Chef Michael Quigley.
The house stands over 22 feet high and 23 feet wide and includes thousands of baked gingerbread bricks. The hotel partnered with See’s Candies to decorate its gingerbread house and holiday displays this year. Hundreds of pounds of See’s Candies – including their iconic lollypops, sour candies, and chocolate confections – were artfully placed on the breathtaking building, creating an actual patisserie work of art.
The house contains more than 7,750 pieces of gingerbread, 1,500 pounds of royal icing, and hundreds of pounds of candy. The culinary team spent approximately 375 hours creating the gingerbread house, and the engineering department worked 520 hours to construct its framework.
Want to dine inside the house for lunch, dinner, or Holiday Tea? Contact the hotel to make a reservation for up to eight people.
According to the hotel, Christmas is: The Moët wonderful time of the year! Guest and visitors are invited to experience the holidays at Fairmont San Francisco at the Moët & Chandon Champagne Holiday Lobby Bar for a glass of bubbly.
The Omni Grove Park Inn (1913) Asheville, North Carolina
The Omni Grove Park Inn (1913) in Asheville, North Carolina, not only displays a magnificent gingerbread display in its lobby this year; it also hosted the 30th Annual National Gingerbread Competition in November 2022!
The hotel’s national gingerbread competition began with a small group of gingerbread houses built by Asheville, North Carolina, community members in 1992. It was simply another way to celebrate the holiday season. They could not have known that 30 years later, The Omni Grove Park Inn National Gingerbread House Competition would be one of the nation's most celebrated and competitive holiday events.
The hotel’s magnificent display is the Great Gingerbread House, which is modeled after the historic resort's exterior and reaches from floor to ceiling in the hotel’s Great Hall. It consists of 400 pounds of powdered sugar, 64 pounds of egg whites, and 160 pounds of bread flour. The display required 15 people, including executive chefs and a carpentry expert, to work 500 scheduled hours over 25 days.
Guests can walk through and admire the intricate details of the life-sized display and the displays of entries from the 30th Annual National Gingerbread House Competition. The exhibit begins on November 28, 2022, and continues through January 2, 2023.
The National Gingerbread House Competition has attracted the highest quality of design, artistry, and pastry expertise across the country. Entries are reviewed by judges representing nationally renowned food, arts, and media professionals. During the National Gingerbread House Competition season (October – December), The Omni Grove Park Inn donates a portion of the parking proceeds to the community in support of local nonprofit organizations engaged by United Way across western North Carolina.
Jason Wickler, Omi Park’s General Manager, calls the hotel’s signature Christmas cocktail the S’mores Old Fashioned. According to Wickler, the drink is reminiscent of sitting by the campfire with whiskey as the flame. He notes:
There’s nothing like sipping this delectable drink by the glow of the cozy and iconic 36-foot fireplaces at The Omni Grove Park Inn. Our guests are always happy to smell the marshmallow toasting and the sweet smell of gingerbread that surrounds the Inn at every turn during the holiday season.
S'mores Old Fashioned Recipe
- House-made brown sugar, vanilla simple syrup .50 oz
- Makers Mark bourbon 2 oz
- Build, stir, don’t shake, and pour over a large ice cube
- Toast your marshmallow over a gas stove or broil in the oven until the tops are toasted golden brown
- Glass is garnished with a chocolate gram cracker rim and a toasted marshmallow
Recommended glass: Bucket glass
Article originally appeared on Forbes.com, 12/12/22.