By Eileen Ogintz

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO — The key is the icing.

“It can’t be too soft or two hard,” explained Broadmoor Resort Pastry Chef Erin McIllwain, one of the team that has created the largest gingerbread structure to date at the historic Colorado Springs’s resort, celebrating its centennial in 2018.

This year, the 17-foot high gingerbread house is a replica of the Pauline Chapel, due west of the sprawling resort that was completed in 1919 by the owner of the resort, Spencer Penrose, for his wife Julie as a place of reflection.

McIllwain and her colleague Douglas Slape explain that the process is months-long, starting with the conception, consultation with the resort’s carpenters who build the wood frame, to baking the gingerbread bricks and cutting them by hand—that alone takes a month!

The chefs suggest using cardboard to make your design at home—plywood if you are doing something large.  Cut the gingerbread right after it comes out of the oven but let it dry out completely before building your house.

Broadmoor chefs Douglas Slape and Erin McIllwain at work on the gingerbread chapel

Broadmoor chefs Douglas Slape and Erin McIllwain at work on the gingerbread chapel

This chapel is festooned with meringue, hand made chocolate parquet –“A Louis Vuitton design,” jokes Chocolatier Amanda Houdek, who will be showcasing her skills at a new chocolate shop at the resort opening next year.  She gave us a behind-the-scenes tasting and lesson in rolling truffles. We loved the  pumpkin spice ones!  So much chocolate is now used at the Broadmoor, she said — some 3 tons a year — that the resort is getting its own special blend from  French Chocolate makers Valrhona.

Slape and McIlwaine explained that it took a team of eight nearly a week to construct the chapel and that there is “constant repair” every day, when those who happen to wander by—especially kids—are invited to help.  A tip: If you don’t have a frosting piping bag, just put the frosting in a plastic bag and cut the corner off, the chefs say.

Nathan Brown, 14, and his sister Amelia, 16, visiting from North Carolina joined us placing delicate snowflakes and green and red chocolate wreathes on the back wall with the “super glue” icing.  “A once in a lifetime experience,” joked their mom Veronica Brown.

Chocolatier Amanda Houdek displays freshly made truffles

Chocolatier Amanda Houdek displays freshly made truffles

Just placing a few chocolate ornaments makes you realize how difficult a process this can be — some break; the frosting “glue” shouldn’t show.  They need to be placed the same distance apart.  Of course on this gingerbread structure, just about everything is made in-house, from the gingerbread “bricks” in three colors (including  green for the roof) the  candies, the frosting.  At home, you can use any kind of candy—gum drops are especially popular, the chefs suggest, as are red licorice ropes, Red Hots and Jordan Almonds.

Consider that this gingerbread chapel (it smells delicious!) used 958 pounds of powdered sugar, 475 pounds of flour, 650 eggs, 19 pounds of holiday spices, 200 pounds of honey, 128 pounds of molasses, 6 pounds of salt, 78 pounds of candy, 164 pounds of dark chocolate, 89 pounds of butter, 10 pounds of heavy cream and 2 pounds of fresh yeast.

There are mini Brioche buns decorating the house as well as loaves of challah.

The Broadmoor’s first gingerbread house only dates back to 1985 and the large ones to 2013—last year’s steam engine (a bow to the area’s Cog Railway) was a huge hit.

Discussions are already underway for next year’s for the resort’s centennial.  “We’ll have to top this,” joked McIllwain, noting this is one of the most fun projects for the hard working and creative pastry chefs.

“Usually we are behind the scenes, “ she and Slate explained.  “Here the guests see what we do and that makes it the most fun.”

Later that evening, we celebrate our anniversary with a sumptuous Italian tasting dinner at the Broadmoor’s Ristorante Del Lago overlooking the resort’s lake with a million LED lights decorating the trees for the holidays.

We feast on an Antipasti plate, risotto with rock shrimp, Gnocchi with Parmigiano Reggiano, Octopus, Colorado Striped Bass, Wood Oven roasted steak, all accompanied by delectable wines. There are house made sausages, heirloom tomatoes and fried cabbage with almond. The feast put Thanksgiving dinner to shame.

For dessert, Chef Erin brings us an assortment of the house-made gelatos with tiny cakes all served on a plate where “Happy Anniversary” is spelled out in Chocolate in Italian.

We roll back to our room and go to sleep thinking of…what else?—chocolate!