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Glaze of Glory

When it comes to holiday gingerbread, bragging rights usually go to those little Bavarian-style cottages straight out of a storybook. Not this year. We challenged local pastry experts to create only-in-L.A. confectionery structures that capture our town's quirks and curves in living sugar.

December 09, 2007|LEILAH BERNSTEIN | Leilah Bernstein is an associate editor of the magazine.

It took days of baking and decorating before three L.A.-themed gingerbread houses finally emerged from their hot kitchens, ready for their close-ups. You only had to look at the chefs' food coloring-stained hands to appreciate how much work had gone into creating the delicate pieces. Join us for a tour of the results. Plus, learn about the rise and fall (literally) of one well-planned project. And discover a few shortcuts for making a gingerbread home of your own.

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Randy's donuts

What does a doughnut have to do with gingerbread? Everything, says Elin Katz, co-owner of Rosebud Cakes in Beverly Hills, who collaborated with cake decorator Cory Pohlman on a lifelike replica of the 1950s-era drive-through on Manchester Boulevard in Inglewood.

MATERIALS: Gingerbread, fondant, white and dark chocolate, gumdrops, Nerds, peppermints, jelly beans, M&Ms, candy canes, lollipops, fruit-flavored Cheerios, PVC pipe, Foamcore, Styrofoam, hot glue.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: 16 hours.

ENGINEERING FEAT: A battery-operated light shines through the windows, made of Isomalt sweetener.

EXPERTS SAY: "I've never seen lollipops like these. Really pretty."

--Times food editor Leslie Brenner

"Programmatic architecture like this is so at home in Southern California."

--Los Angeles Times Magazine home design editor Barbara Thornburg

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Capitol Records

Last year, concern arose over plans to convert this landmark near Hollywood and Vine into condo units. No proposal is currently in the works, but cake designer Trent Whittaker of Sweet Lady Jane on Melrose Avenue turned the idea on its head by transforming the famous tower into a "house" of sugar and gingerbread. Notice the Walk of Fame, with stars made of sugar paste.

MATERIALS: Gingerbread cake and cookie dough, royal icing, green spearmint gumdrops, brown licorice, sugar paste, fruit roll-ups.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: 13 hours.

ENGINEERING FEAT: The structure is 100% edible. Yes, even the tower, inside and out. It remains ramrod straight thanks to carefully cooled and cut gingerbread cookie dough.

EXPERTS SAY: "You can imagine taking off each layer and eating it like a wedding cake."--LB "

How groovy!"--BT

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Hale House

This historic-cultural monument in Heritage Square, just off the Pasadena Freeway, is a beautiful example of 1880s Victorian architecture in the Queen Anne and Eastlake styles. The residence is named for one-time owners James and Bessie Hale. Elizabeth Belkind, executive pastry chef for the Cake Monkey bakery, opening next year, and former pastry chef at Grace and Campanile, and Mary Payne Moran, owner of the boutique catering company Hail Mary's, may have used more royal icing than a grandma would know what to do with. But the result is sweetly charming, no matter how you look at that leaning chimney.

MATERIALS: Gingerbread, royal icing, root beer jelly beans, chocolate-covered coconut macaroons, wafer cookies, almond cookies, carrot cake, fondant.

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: 40 hours.

ENGINEERING FEAT: Gelatin sheets, stained with maroon, green and yellow food coloring, resemble antique stained-glass windows.

EXPERTS SAY: "It smells great. I think kids would like this one."--LB "This makes for some Victorian whimsy, though its roof is as horizontal as a Craftsman!"--BT

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The One That Got Away

They arrived like weary vagabonds in a silver Toyota 4Runner: four men, one woman, a Jack Russell terrier named Wishbone and a gingerbread house resembling John Lautner's UFO-like Chemosphere. Well, sort of. The house never made it out of the car.

Joshua Gil, the 31-year-old former chef de cuisine at Joe's in Venice, and his former pastry chef, Jason Wasiak, tried their best to save the structure. But it had collapsed. Jenna Didier and Oliver Hess of the Silver Lake landscape/architecture research center Materials & Applications and friend Marcos Lutyens, who collaborates with the two on interactive projects under the banner Infranatural, could only hover nearby, shocked at this tragedy in cocoa and butterscotch.

What went wrong?

"We tried to make it 100% edible, and we were trying to do something different," Gil explains a few weeks later. The team had purchased a 2-inch-diameter, 2 -foot-long candy cane and had it delivered overnight from New York to use as the structural support for the piece. (Both the candy cane and a 6-inch-diameter Big Daddy sucker, which also was overnighted to be used as the project's base, totaled $180.) They had left the candy cane exposed, deciding not to cover it completely in fondant. And that was their undoing. The candy cane weakened as it was exposed to moisture in the air during the day--and then finally snapped. Down came the roof slats made of tortillas, the chocolate-dipped gingerbread cookies used for the home's beams, the marshmallow planters and rosemary, oregano and chocolate mint plants as well as the miniature fondant chairs, ottomans, couch and rug that had decorated the home's interior.

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