For a lot of folks, constructing a miniature abode made out of spicy cookies, royal icing, and tons of candy (Gumdrops! Candy canes! M&Ms! Sprinkles!) is as much a part of Christmas as trimming the tree or exchanging presents. But let’s face it: The process can be daunting, not to mention messy. Not to worry. An area hotel, wine bar, brewery, and bakery are here to the rescue with in-person classes and DIY kits to go.
The Ritz-Carlton, Tysons Corner’s Private Gingerbread Decorating Classes are the most luxe option this season. Offered through December 19 at 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m. or 5:30 p.m., each three-hour class includes a private room with four pre-built gingerbread houses, candy, and other goodies, and a selection of holiday movies and specials on the big screen.
Last weekend, my kids (aged 17 and 14), my significant other, and I had the chance to check out this experience that ups the ante from the usual Witon kits I buy at Target. The first thing we noticed upon stepping into our private room was a buffet table with overflowing bowls of candy–which we were invited to use not only to beautify our houses but to fill takeout containers for a sweet treat at home later. Miniature candy canes, Andes Candies, gelt, and mini Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in gold foil wrappers were joined by Jelly Belly Jellybeans, frosted jellied ribbon candy, Hershey Kisses, Starburst, M&Ms in green, red, gold and blue, mini marshmallows, and pretzel rods. Executive Chef Frederic Barasse, a former pastry chef himself, popped into the room from time to time to answer questions and provide design inspiration. (More on his clever tips later.) In addition to a sugared-up smorgasbord, the room was decked out with a snow-frosted Christmas tree and lots of other holiday decor, as well as a sofa and workstations for the baker-elves among us.
Ask any kid (and many adults) to name the most fun part of making a gingerbread house and they’ll more than likely answer decorating it. To that end, the Ritz-Carlton let us press the fast-forward button on the tedious baking, cooling, cutting, and assembling and get right to gluing on colored chocolate with our tubes of royal icing. At our places were A-frame dwellings that were pretty (and fragrant), along with frosted holiday sugar cookies, kids’ aprons, and hats; on an adjacent table was one urn filled with hot chocolate and another with water. And to get us in the holiday spirit, a movie screen was set up for us to watch a selection of holiday classics including Elf, Charlie Brown Christmas, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and Frosty the Snowman.
Barasse showed us some tricks of the trade to make our holiday houses more realistic. Long, gumdrop-like ribbons of frosted green candy, for example, can be rolled up and pushed down onto a Hershey’s Kiss, where the ribbons pull apart just enough to look like an evergreen tree. Two mini candy canes serve as the blades for an old-fashioned sled; add an Andes candy for the seatback and another for the seat, and you have an old-fashioned mode of winter transportation that looks great parked in the front yard. Broken pretzel rods make for a nice stack of firewood on the side of the house. If you have a family member who is a bit greedy with the red and green M&Ms or just has to shingle the entire roof with jelly beans, not to worry; staff replenishes the bowls as needed until your masterpiece is complete.
Barasse told us that the Ritz started offering the private classes last year since they weren’t permitted to hold larger events due to COVID-19. Despite the fact that they brought the group DIY class back this year (it was held on December 5), they decided to keep the private ones on the schedule since they proved so popular. (The family in the room next door to ours took the job seriously, carting in their own candy and accoutrements to outdo one another.)
If you are peckish for a bit more than all-you-can-eat sweets while you are there, staff will take your a la carte food and drink orders from onsite restaurant Entyse. The menu is brunch-focused, with offerings like raisin brioche French toast with apple compote, a Belgian waffle with macerated berries, and a Virginia version of Eggs Benedict with lump crab, Virginia ham, and Old Bay, washed down with a Mimosa, Bellini or Bloody Mary.
Once you’ve put the finishing touches on your cookie-based cottage, staff will (carefully) package it in a box for the trip home. Pro tip: Ask them to tuck in one of the bags of royal icing in case something comes unglued in transit, and don’t forget to scoop out a box or two of candy to enjoy on the drive–you’ve earned it.
The Private Gingerbread Decorating Class at the Ritz Carlton, Tysons Corner costs $550, which includes four gingerbread houses with candy, holiday cookie treats, kids’ aprons and hats, hot chocolate, and choice of holiday movie to play on the large screen. (Extra houses are $85.) Slots can be reserved Friday and Saturday for a three-house time slot, at 9:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., or 5:30 p.m. until December 19. Reservations are required, ideally a week before the class. The hotel is also offering take-home kits for $85, which includes one house, candy, and icing, a half dozen dozen cookies, and chef’s hot chocolate for four people. Order in advance by calling 703-744-3999 and pick up between December 3 and 19 between 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at the valet stand. 1700 Tysons Boulevard, McLean
Here are 3 other ways to built a house fit for an elf this holiday season:
This year, the D.C. wine bar’s annual holiday party is going virtual with DIY kits, which include a gingerbread house, icing, eight different kinds of traditional holiday candies, decorated cookies to nibble on during the creation process, and table covers to keep the work area mess-free. Cork will also provide an instructional video, and there is also the option to add on additional decorated cookies and a bottle of wine to find your favorite pairing with the spicy-sweet classic holiday treat. Each kit costs $50 and can be arranged for pickup between December 10 and 17; those who order the kit are invited to snap a picture and share with Cork and on social media using the hashtag #CorkGingerbreadHouse. 1805 14 St. NW, Washington, DC
On December 12 from 2 to 3:30 p.m., the Chantilly craft brewery is hosting Drafts & (Family) Crafts, during which parents are invited to bring their kids aged five and older and have them create a faux gingerbread house with the help of licensed art teacher Sheena Colleen, who will walk kids through the steps of making the house. The event costs $20 per ticket, and each ticket includes one house; accompanying adults will also receive a 15 percent discount of their bar tab. And while you can’t eat this version, it is a keepsake that you can use as part of your holiday decor year after year. Buy tickets here. 14140 Parke Long Ct., Ste. A-C, Chantilly
The New York-based bakery with area locations in National Landing and Capitol Riverfront, whose name describes an unforgettable taste experience, is selling gingerbread kits which can be ordered online and shipped nationwide. The easy-to-create kit ($80) includes the dry ingredients to make the gingerbread pieces for one 8-inch by 9-inch by 7-inch gingerbread house, royal icing in three colors, and assortment of decorative candies and step-by-step instructions. 1550 Crystal Dr., Arlington
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