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He's the real-life Gingerbread Man

Westin Once the realm of family holiday projects, gingerbread architecture has outgrown storybook cottages, gumdrops and marzipan.

Tourist attractions and hotels, including the Westin St. Francis in San Francisco and the Park Hyatt Aviara Resort in Carlsbad, stage tremendous, sweet-smelling displays to draw holiday crowds. It takes the Westin St. Francis crew 400 hours to erect its Sugar Castle, pictured, each year. The cost-effectiveness ratio, however, registers in the "priceless" category when you factor in goodwill, publicity and the fact that gingerbread architecture is darn near irresistible.

Inspired by châteaux in France, executive pastry chef Jean-François Houdré's homeland, the 100% edible castle weighs more than 1,200 pounds and features more than 20 circular towers, about 30 rooms, illuminated pulled-sugar windows and, this year, an orchard of silver sugar trees made of pastillage (powdered sugar, egg whites and gelatin dough).

Elsewhere, others host gingerbread-making and house-decorating classes and teas. In the case of the Charles M. Schulz Museum in Santa Rosa, Calif., doghouses get decorated. Want to see some in person? The Palace Hotel's annual Gingerbread Decorating Competition begins today. Our Travel section has more on this sweet story:


-- Gingerbread homes around the U.S.

Photo: Executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdre proudly stands by his Sugar Castle, part of the annual holiday display at the Westin St. Francis

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I have seen the Gingerbread Sugar Castle in person and it is a site to see, especially if you have kids. They expand on it every year, and each year I look forward to seeing what they have done this year, and never have been disappointed. Also if you can meet the Executive pastry chef Jean-Francois Houdre, and have him tell you a bit about it, it is an event that is worth the trip to Westin St. Francis, he is actually a very entertaining guy.


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