For those who like the scent of ginger, cinnamon, clove and success, the Fort Lauderdale Ritz-Carlton has a dining room for you. Pastry chef Francesca Monahan has created a “gingerbread mansion” that will be available for $1,500 private dinners during the holiday season, a literal pop-up restaurant in the resort lobby that she hopes will become a Christmas tradition.
“We don’t have snow — we have the beach outside — so sometimes it’s hard to feel like the holidays are here,” says Monahan, a South Florida native. “This is one of those things that you can see, feel and touch that makes the season come alive.”
The house is also something that some guests try to taste. “People pose for pictures and pretend to take bites, and that’s fine,” Monahan says. But she says during the mansion’s debut in 2016 some visitors filled with a bit too much Christmas spirit (or other spirits) would snap off pieces or chomp on the walls. “I wouldn’t recommend that,” she says.
The house is assembled from 770 gingerbread roof shingles and 1,200 gingerbread bricks that Monahan’s team started baking in October. It stands 8 feet tall and is 192 square feet (12 feet by 16 feet). Her team used 400 pounds of powdered sugar and nearly 40 quarts of egg whites to make the royal icing that caulks the bricks and adorns the house.
The Fort Lauderdale Ritz-Carlton, 1 N. Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd., will have an unveiling ceremony 6-8 p.m. Friday, Dec. 8. The festivities are open to the public and will feature photo opportunities with Santa Claus, complimentary snacks and caroling.
This is the first year the baked structure will be available to rent for dining. The $1,500 cost includes a special breakfast or dinner from the resort’s Burlock Coast restaurant and a visit from Santa. Call 954-302-6430 for reservations. Curtains will be draped over the gingerbread home’s four windows and two doors for privacy.
For families who are more frugal, Burlock Coast will offer a free children’s entree with the purchase of each adult entree after the Dec. 8 unveiling party.
Holiday displays sprout throughout the region this time of year. Monahan created a nautical motif for the gingerbread house this year to fit with the resort’s relaxed beach vibe. The roof tiles are ocean blue, and boating ropes hang inside and out. A wooden frame supports the tiles and bricks, and the interior features a Christmas tree, a mock fireplace and a train set.
Monahan says her team began planning in the summer, and the project entailed much labor, including a full-time baker for several weeks. Her team spent 32 hours assembling the house, from 1 a.m. until 5 p.m., on consecutive days last week.
“We all lose sleep. We’re all little stress balls,” Monahan says. “But seeing people light up when they walk into the hotel, seeing the reaction of kids, that’s what makes it worth it.”