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'They don't see it — they smell it': Woodstock Inn and Resort displays a giant gingerbread house

A person wearing a winter hat and coat crouches near the floor, holding a small child. They are both in front of a gingerbread house, decorated for the holidays.
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
Brittany DeVoid, of Quechee, and son Carter Houran see the gingerbread house at the Woodstock Inn & Resort on Dec. 12, 2023.

In the market for a sweet dwelling with an open floor plan and optionally-edible roofing shingles? Well, bypass the real estate sites and instead head to the Woodstock Inn & Resort.

This marks the eighth year that the Inn, which has been around since 1793, has erected a tiny home-sized holiday gingerbread house inside its building.

Executive pastry chef Philippe Niez has worked on the sweet-and-spicy house for seven of those years. He recently spoke to Vermont Public's Mary Williams Engisch about the many collaborations and the months of planning and baking that go into making the holiday house. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Mary Williams Engisch: Well, first off, when someone walks into the Woodstock Inn, what do they see? Can you give us that full breakdown of what the gingerbread house looks like, what size it is, all those great details?

Philippe Niez: So the first thing is when the people come in, they don't see — they smell. We put a lot of spices. So you can really smell all the ginger and the cinnamon, and then when they will see it, it's it's six foot tall, five foot long, and six foot wide. So it's fairly big, in a sense. And then all the decorations are sugar. You can smell everything. And so it's nice to have everyone come in. Especially the kids just love it.

Freshly baked donuts and croissants are just some of the creations made by executive chef Philippe Niez at the Woodstock Inn & Resort. During the month of December, Niez and his team are also in the construction business - baking up the necessary elemt
Woodstock Inn & Resort
Philippe Niez

Mary Williams Engisch: Are there windows in it, too?

Chef Philippe Niez: Yes, there's two windows and then a little door. We put a fireplace inside, a little electric fireplace. Nice and cozy.

Mary Williams Engisch: I noticed on some of the social media photos, it looks like there's maybe a structure underneath made of wood. Is that controversial in the wider gingerbread house building community? Or how does that all work?

Chef Philippe Niez: No, for big size like this, we always have to put a wooden frame under it. Because if not, it will not stay. So we start early in the year where we give a design — we change every year — and we give a design to the carpenter at the Inn, and they do they do what we ask. So great collaboration.

"We use 20 pounds of honey and 460 pounds of sugar. We use 200 eggs, 10 quarts of milk, five pounds of cinnamon, six pounds of ginger and 110 pounds of flour."
Philippe Niez

Mary Williams Engisch: Philippe, how did you come to be the pastry chef at the Woodstock, and what's that journey been like?

Chef Philippe Niez: Well, I used to actually be an instructor a [New England Culinary Institute]. Then I worked in Connecticut, and the hotel I was with was having some troubles. So actually, I came back from work and my wife and my daughter applied at the Woodstock Inn. And so I was like, "Where?" And then yeah, I came up, did my interview and that was eight years ago.

A small house built of gingerbread is decorated with frosting inside the lobby of a building.
Lexi Krupp
Vermont Public
Built near the entrance of the Woodstock Inn & Resort, this year's gingerbread house boasts several windows, a chimney and a (non-working) fireplace.

Mary Williams Engisch: Why did the Woodstock Inn decide to make these gingerbread houses for the past eight years, seven of which you've been doing it?

Chef Philippe Niez: The person who used to work before me, he, I think, worked at the Ritz Carlton. And I guess they do that a lot there. And so he wanted to do it. And since then, the second year when I came, they said "Well, you know, everybody really enjoyed it. So can you do it?" Yeah, sure.

Mary Williams Engisch: And you mentioned you've been creating these houses for the last seven years. What does the tradition mean to you and to the Woodstock community? I imagine most of the food [you create] is typically enjoyed like on a plate or in a bowl.

Chef Phillipe Niez: That's the point, because it's such a different work that it breaks from the routine of the day. So it's really fun to. We choose the date, the first week of December and everybody comes. We are six people in a big shop and we all enjoy doing that.

We like to do it when people are here, so they are part of it. And it makes it a lot of fun for them to watch what we are doing. And when I work in town, people always ask me like "When is it coming? When is it coming?" So people love to walk into the inn and check it out so it's fun for everyone.

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