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Behind the scenes with Bellagio’s 7-foot, 440-pound gingerbread house

Updated November 23, 2022 - 7:16 pm

The bricks? Don’t lick.

A gingerbread house on display embodies holiday tradition, craftsmanship, flavor. And holiday temptation: the urge to snap off a bit of porch, have a go at the eaves, relieve the facade of candied embellishment. Or give the pastry bricks a lick.

None of that will happen this year at the Bellagio Conservatory, where the giant gingerbread house in the holiday display shelters within a mammoth replica of a bedizened Fabergé egg, separated from the attentions of seasonal revelers by an artificial pond.

The Bellagio gave the Review-Journal exclusive behind-the-scenes access as the house was constructed, finished and installed. Tradition, it turns out, required three months, a team of 10 and a pallet jack.

Too tall to fit through the door

The Victorian-style house is built on a foam undercarriage. Batches of dough were rolled out in sheets, then pressed with a mold to form surface details in the bricks and shingles faced in chocolate. Gingerbread clad in fondant forms the columns. A snowy turret crowns the house. Rhinestone icicles and faux gemstones trim the facade. Edible icing acts as mortar, holding things together.

Philippe Angibeau, executive pastry chef of Bellagio, led a crew of 10 that fashioned the gingerbread house, which is presented, along with the rest of the Conservatory display, through Jan. 1.

“We would work on it an hour or two at a time,” he said, “depending on the business volume.”

The house was going to be too tall to construct in the Bellagio bakery, so it was built in a special kitchen space whose door frame was removed to provide egress. The finished house stands 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide and weighs 440 pounds. When complete, the house was lifted by the pallet jack, then wheeled down various hallways, across the casino and into the Conservatory.

“It’s fragile,” Angibeau said of the gingerbread house, the largest he’s ever assembled. “A lot of things fall off on the way to the Conservatory that we have to fix.”

Chocolate trees and gingerbread perfume

The Conservatory’s holiday showcase for 2022 is titled “Gingerbread Dreams, a Holiday Confection.” Besides the gingerbread Victorian and the Fabergé eggs, the display includes 6-foot chocolate trees also created by Angibeau and team. A custom scent, “Gingerbread Dreams,” will meander with notes of clove, cinnamon, vanilla and apple.

Unlike so many dramatic culinary displays created for casino events, the gingerbread house will have a much longer lifespan.

“Usually, it lasts only one night,” Angibeau said. “At least this lasts 1½ months.”

For the first time, assorted gingerbread cookies, chocolates, popcorn and other confections from the Bellagio bakery can be purchased at the display, in the alcove behind the south flower bed from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

The original plan was to incorporate the gingerbread house with the retail offerings, but the change was undoubtedly a wise decision. Temptation and all that.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.

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