2013-11-28 / Front Page

Bakers Create Gingerbread Mansion Magic

By Pat Blakeley

There will be just a bit more magic in Newport this Christmas season with the advent of a new holiday tradition – a gingerbread mansion contest sponsored by the Preservation Society of Newport County – on display in The Breakers' kitchen beginning Saturday, Nov. 30.

Five area bakers have taken on the challenge to create a confectionary version of the famous summer cottages – reinterpreting the original design in gingerbread – embracing the theme, “Let it Snow.” The houses are true to scale but all have taken certain liberties with the property dimensions in order to incorporate notable elements of the landscape.

Three of the confectionary architects are local – or at least have strong island connections.

Out back at Middletown’s Fatulli’s Bakery there is a small room with a “Top Secret” sign plastered on the door, indicating that just a little more than the typical seasonal frenzy is in the air at the popular eatery. Inside that tiny space, a team is creating a confectionary version of Rosecliff, designing a fantasy interpretation of the iconic mansion.

Janet Fatulli works on her bakery's interpretation of Rosecliff for the mansion gingerbread contest. Below: Tiny fondant roses will be used in the garden. (Photos by Pat Blakeley) Janet Fatulli works on her bakery's interpretation of Rosecliff for the mansion gingerbread contest. Below: Tiny fondant roses will be used in the garden. (Photos by Pat Blakeley) In keeping with the contest rules, the entire display is edible. The house is made of structural gingerbread; you can eat it, technically, owner Janet Fatulli says, but the recipe has been changed to get the most structural integrity vice the moist, delicious flavor most associate with the old fashioned treat. “This is not your mother’s gingerbread,” she laughs.

Fatulli notes that there was a lot of math involved, trying to scale everything down and get the right proportions, and they did take certain liberties with the property layout to include some essential features. In stretching the boundaries of reality in the winter scene, Fatulli is creating the mansion’s legendary rose garden in full bloom, noting, “This is a fantasy after all.”

Kirsten Farthing begins work on the Chateau Sur Mer gingerbread house at Clements' Market. Kirsten Farthing begins work on the Chateau Sur Mer gingerbread house at Clements' Market. She is spearheading the effort herself but says that Johnson & Wales graduates Danielle Barnes and Matthew Monroe developed the design and the artistic elements to convey the enchanting beauty of the property. They are using pastillage, fondant, and white chocolate to craft many of the components.

The team was candid about many aspects of their design, but Barnes won’t reveal a few special touches of their creation, “We’ve got some surprises in store,” she smiles. “One that’s especially terrific - it’s our wild card.”

The staff at Fine Catering by Russell Morin is capturing the essence of Marble House, pulling out all the stops to put their signature over-the-top spin on a gingerbread version of Newport’s most lavish mansion.

Morin’s, which does a brisk business in Newport, is actually constructing the entry in their commissary in Attleboro, reports local rep Kathleen Geasey. Newport resident Kyle Bennett has been working on the display for the past two weeks. Originally, Bennett says, the entire Russ Morin team was pitching in but the final details have fallen to him.

“We wanted it to be a more realistic representation of the mansion,” Bennett notes, “not too ‘candy crazy’ like typical gingerbread houses.”

The basic structure is made of very dry gingerbread dough, but he is using structural gingerbread for the fine work. Creativity is being showcased at many levels; Bennett has managed to duplicate the elevation of the mansion and the raised approach by using rice crispy treats, smashed and molded, to get just the right incline. Details like the gargoyles atop the pillars are made of fondant and gum paste, and bricks on the drive are dusted sugar cubes. Final elements, like incorporating cotton candy into the snow scene, will be added at the end.

Bennett admits he is a bit nervous about the transport from Attleboro, but adds, “There will be time for tweaking – and emergency repairs.”

The bakery at Clements’ Market is re-creating Chateau Sur Mer, one of the first mansions in Newport. Christine Medeiros, a graduate of the Bristol Community College Culinary Arts program, and Kirsten Farthing, of the Culinary Institute of America, have been experimenting to capture the many distinct facets of the Victorian home.

Medeiros especially likes the effect created for the windows; the subtle shading inherent in old glass was achieved by crushing and melting Jolly Rancher candies. The awnings and porte-cochere presented distinct challenges and, she admits, much of the process has been trial and error; the pair is constantly adjusting the project design to create the most impact. She says they have had a lot of fun with landscape elements and are busy finalizing the right combination of crushed Oreos and sanding sugar for the driveway to the house, trying to capture the approach to the lush property.

Store manger Michael Leverett said Clements’ was thrilled to be asked to participate and jumped at the chance to show off their “store pride.” “Christina and Kirsten are great bakers; we wanted to tap into their passion – and their training.”

Two “off-island” participants are also joining the contest. The bakery and pastry arts program at Bristol Community College has taken on the massive challenge of re-creating the city’s biggest “cottage,” The Breakers, with many students working on the architectural gem.

Gerald Dupont, of Westport’s Edible Creations by Gerry, is constructing a replica of Edward Berwind’s summer home, The Elms, “the house that ran by magic.”

Contest judges will be celebrity chef Claudine Pepin; Mark Soliday, pastry arts instructor at Johnson & Wales University and owner of Confectionery Designs; and Trudy Coxe, CEO of the Preservation Society of Newport County. The designs will be evaluated on overall appearance, creative interpretation of the mansion, inclusion of the “Let it Snow” theme, degree of difficulty, and precision of execution. Judging will take place in the afternoon on Nov. 30, and the winners will be announced during that night's Holiday Evening at The Breakers event.

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