The smell of gingerbread and frosting fills the air as soon as you walk into the lobby at Lanier Village Estates. A grandiose gingerbread house — more accurately, a gingerbread community — is on a table, begging residents and their grandchildren to stop by and take a look.
“We’ve done these here for 12 years, maybe more,” Alex Connell, sous chef at Lanier Village said as he looked at the finished product. “The past couple years, we haven't done anything. So this year, we just brought it back to the classic, country Christmas theme.”
Though past years displays have been much larger, this year’s doesn’t lack the same quality and attention to detail.
“It's wonderful,” Bill Terry, a resident at Lanier Village, said as he stopped by to look at the display. “These guys do a lot of work. It's good. This year it's a little smaller, but it's still just as good.”
Connell, along with fellow sous chefs Flavia Campos, Andrew Weeks and Diego Zamudio worked on the display for about a week, but the planning came well before they ever fired up the oven.
“We do some sketches at the beginning to get the whole basics of where we want stuff,” Connell said. “We get boxes from the kitchen and say, ‘This house will be about this size, this one will go here and be this high.’”
The gingerbread display has two houses at the top of a snowy landscape of rolling hills. A wooden fence runs through the middle and trees are scattered throughout.
“It's a work of art, really,” Terry said. “It really is.”
Campos was mainly responsible for the figurines placed all around the display. She made children with parents, a girl ice skating on a blue, poured-sugar pond and plenty of farm animals. There’s a dog wearing a green jacket and myriad snowmen — even Olaf from the movie “Frozen.”
There’s a family of pigs toward the back of the display, just beside a big tree Campos made, too. She added a Santa hat on top of the tree, a tire swing to a branch and a couple of faces on the trunk to give it a little life in the wintertime display.
“I have an attachment to the tree,” Campos said, laughing. “I really wanted the faces on the tree, so I was very pleased.”
And of course, the display wouldn’t be complete without Santa Claus riding in a sleigh pulled by Rudolph and one of his friends.
All of the figurines are made out of fondant and are placed in white icing that represents the snow-covered ground.
Campos also made the smaller house in the display, even going as far as to make the windows out of poured sugar.
Next to that house is an even larger gingerbread house, complete with a fireplace and a sunroom. You can see inside the gingerbread house to the large Christmas tree in the corner of the room and the brick fireplace against the wall.
The gingerbread they used isn’t just any gingerbread. Connell said there’s “a whole process” to it.
“You have to roll it out, freeze it, pull it out, cut it, put it back in the freezer, bake it just the right time so it's not too brittle,” Connell said.
And apart from the absence of any leavening agents, there’s a special process to making this display look like it wasn’t made from a kit.
“The bricks, that's three different batches of gingerbread,” Connell said, pointing at the fireplace. “We make the gingerbread, add a little bit of red food coloring, take some out, add a little more, take some out, and add a little more so you've got that gradience. And then you just kind of put them all together.”
That's how they both made the logs and shingles on the outside of the homes, too.
And when it comes to the sunroom, Connell didn’t skimp and make it a simple add-on.
“I think one of my favorite pieces is the piano inside the sunroom,” Connell said. “It was just like the top piece of a random piece of broken gingerbread.”
Both Connell and Campos said they liked getting to be creative and building the display from the ground up. It was a break from their regular day-to-day and something they could work on for Lanier Village’s residents and their families.
“We started just doing regular pieces of gingerbread, but after that, we started working more with the cookie and started cutting it and doing shapes and colors and things like that,” Campos said.”
If there was one thing they would change about the display, though, it would be to make it larger. That way, they could add more figurines and have more room to get creative.
And because of that, it’s safe to say the gingerbread display will be back
“Every year, you want to do something a little better, a little more detail, just take it to the next level,” Connell said.