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Sweet White House Holiday Traditions

Sweet goodies at the White House during the holidays.

Lots of the White House decorations look good enough to eat. In fact, some of them are edible, mind-bogglingly precise and detailed creations crafted from chocolate, marzipan, sugar and—one time—bubblegum.

The true showstopper sits in the State Dining Room, a traditional gingerbread house created by the White House pastry chef. And, as Laura Bush exclaimed in 2001, these creations involve, "No cardboard. He makes it the old-fashioned way."

Alas, no repeats of Hansel and Gretel with this gingerbread. The model houses are too dusty to eat after many weeks in the spotlight.

Thaddeus R. DuBois is the "head carpenter." He succeeded White House pastry chef and genius Roland Mesnier, a fixture for 24 years under five presidents, who retired in July 2004. Mesnier was famous for never repeating a dessert—and for his gingerbread houses weighing hundreds of pounds.

DuBois is known to be a bit more modern than his predecessor, and also the first American-born pastry chef at the White House since Jackie Kennedy hired a French chef.

Here are highlights from recent years of Mesnier's gingerbread masterpieces at the White House—some tough acts for DuBois to follow:

In 1995, the gingerbread house was a sentimental favorite of first lady Hillary Clinton—a replica of her girlhood home on Wisner Street in Park Ridge, Ill., that took nearly five months to create. That same year, the four large trees that flanked the front door in the Grand Foyer were decorated by chefs from cooking schools across the country.

In keeping with the "Twas the Night Before Christmas" theme, they concocted edible examples of the part of the poem when "visions of sugar plums danced in their heads." With marzipan, gingerbread, cookie dough, pastillage and chocolate, these culinary artists created some of the year's most imaginative ornaments.

In 1999, the theme was "Holiday Treasures," and Mesnier paid a gingerbread tribute to some of the treasures found in and around our nation's capital. Using 120 pounds of gingerbread, more than 50 pounds of marzipan and 40 pounds of chocolate, he and his assistants crafted the White House, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Monument (complete with blinking, red aircraft-warning lights) and Mount Vernon.

In keeping with his recently established tradition, tiny candy replicas of the Clintons' cat Socks and dog Buddy cavorted around the White House.

In 2000, for the "Holiday Reflections" theme, Mesnier created a 250-pound gingerbread replica of the executive mansion. Mindful that first lady Hillary Clinton was bound for the Senate, he decided the reindeer should be pulling, instead of Santa, a shiny red New York apple.

The gingerbread house also featured a tiny likeness of President Lincoln hanging over a tiny mantel and more miniature figures of Buddy and Socks. The house contained 150 pounds of gingerbread, more than 25 pounds of marzipan, more than 60 pounds of chocolate and 15 pounds of sugar.

In 2001, Meisner took the gingerbread house back a century, creating a precise replica of the White House as it looked in 1800 when President John Adams—its first resident—lived there. The house, made from 80 pounds of gingerbread, 30 pounds of chocolate and 20 pounds of marzipan, included some modern-day additions such as little models of White House dogs Barney and Spot and a tiny armadillo like the ones Barney chases at the George W. Bush ranch in Texas.

In 2002, a bald eagle made of 20 pounds of white chocolate, 80 pounds of dark chocolate and 30 pounds of marzipan occupied the center of the East Room.

Another eagle, crafted of gold-dusted hydrangea leaves, presided over the 28-foot mahogany table in the State Dining Room. Mesnier maintained the animal theme with his annual gingerbread creation, including miniatures of the presidential pets frolicking inside and out. His project required 80 pounds of gingerbread, 50 pounds of chocolate and 20 pounds of marzipan.

In 2003, Mesnier produced a chocolate masterpiece for the Bushes' "A Season of Stories" theme—making a centerpiece for the East Room that was a replica of Willy Wonka's factory from Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It took Mesnier 250 hours to make the piece from 80 pounds of chocolate, sugar and 10 pounds each of lollipops and bubblegum.

Chocolate literally poured from the tops of the cakes, and all the pipes inside were made of sugar and hollow like real pipes. That same year, there was still a large gingerbread replica of the White House in the State Dining Room, more than 3 feet tall and 6 feet wide.

Mesnier added story theme marzipan characters to this house, too, including James and the Giant Peach, the Three Little Pigs and the Very Hungry Caterpillar. Through an open window, you could even see the room from Goodnight Moon.

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