Heard on the Hill

It’s a Capitol Hill Gingerbread-Off

Get ready for 175 pounds of icing and 225 pounds of gingerbread dough

Chef Fred Johnson puts the finishing touches on a gingerbread model of the Capitol. It’s all to scale (except the tiny gingerbread men climbing the steps). (Margaret Spencer and Nathan Ouellette)

For the second year in a row, the White House has some serious competition for the best gingerbread replica. For their annual winter-wonderland-themed spectacle, the executive pastry chefs chose the National Mall.

But Fred Johnson, executive district chef of the House of Representatives, took on the challenge last year of crafting a massive gingerbread model of the Capitol, and now he has done it again, only this time bigger and better.

“I had personal competition because I see theirs every year,” Johnson joked. “I would say it’s a little competition for me, but I think I did a good job.”

Along with his partners, sous chef Sean Murphy and pastry chef Stephanie Charns, Johnson spent more than 100 hours tirelessly baking, building and frosting. Four hundred pounds later — 175 pounds of icing and 225 pounds of gingerbread dough, to be exact — this edible creation stands tall outside the Members’ Dining Room, where it will remain until Jan. 3.

“As you can smell in the hallway, it smells like sugar,” Johnson said.

Sweet Surprise: Gingerbread Masterpiece Kicks Off Holiday Season at the Capitol

Once January rolls around, tasters can break off a piece — but not before then, Johnson made sure to emphasize. Everything had to be scaled to size, and he wanted all the details to be perfect. He even added tiny gingerbread men climbing the Capitol steps.

“You can search for 24 unique little mini gingerbread men holding candy,” Johnson said. The final product is 3 feet, 10 inches high, 6 ½ feet wide, and 2 feet deep.

“It really makes me feel like it’s all worth it when you see people taking pictures, smiling, pointing and getting really excited, so that’s really the best part,” Johnson said.

For Johnson, who works for Sodexo, a contractor who manages food service for the House, this is not his first and definitely not his last food-related Capitol Hill sculpture. In the past, he carved the Capitol into a pumpkin and hopes to do something Easter-related with fondant and easter eggs.

“I’m already also thinking about the next year’s gingerbread house,” Johnson said. “I’ve got plans. I’ve got to make it better every year.”

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