Saratoga Springs chef creates intricate gingerbread houses
SARATOGA SPRINGS Every November, Aaron Barton works on a construction project in the kitchen at the Courtyard Marriott in Saratoga Springs.
There are days when the buzz of a power sander mingles with the hiss of fryers and the drone of the exhaust fan.
He’s a perfectionist — he keeps his wallboard file handy for the detail work and takes his time to make sure everything is plumb and secured soundly.
But Barton’s not a contractor: He’s a chef.
He builds houses, but they’re a bit smaller than most. About 20 years ago, he picked up a gingerbread house-making kit at a craft store, and ever since, he’s dabbled in confection construction.
His creations have been on display at the Saratoga Casino and Raceway, Syracuse University and more recently the lobby at the Courtyard Marriott, where repeat customers often inquire about what he will build next, said general manager Megan Hennessey.
Over the years, he has constructed enough houses to fill a small development and has built a carousel, too. He has begun to model his creations after structures in Saratoga Springs, and each year they get more elaborate.
“He really gives it a lot of thought,” said Hennessey. “He takes a lot of pride, and there’s a lot of time and effort put into it.”
Last year, Barton created a replica of the Nolan House, which sits next to the Presbyterian-New England Congregational Church in Saratoga Springs.
This year, he’s got his eye on a four-story Victorian on Fifth Avenue.
Barton starts with a photo of the structure he wants to build, then cuts out wall- and roof-shaped cardboard pieces to use as templates.
He uses a gingerbread recipe he found on the Internet, minus the baking soda, which he said makes the finished product “poofy.”
Once the dough is rolled out, he cuts it to size using the cardboard templates. He bakes it until it’s good and hard and then gets out the sanding tools if the pieces come out of the oven a little lopsided.
Everything’s cemented together with royal icing, and then details like pretzel fences and Necco Wafer roofs are added. He works with cookies, gumdrops, licorice and M&Ms — just about anything that’s festive and edible.
“I try to make sure everything on the gingerbread house is edible — that’s a big thing in the gingerbread world,” he said.
Lately, he said he’s gotten away from using Necco Wafers, opting for cookies instead.
“It seems to come out classier,” he explained.
Every year, Barton’s creation occupies a place of prominence in the Marriott’s lobby. An edible house left on display like that has to be a major temptation to kids, but Hennessey said nobody has tried to taste-test any of them.
“The kids actually are very good about just going up and looking. Nobody tries to eat it. They’re just in awe, I guess, looking at it,” she said.
Once January comes, the gingerbread masterpiece is usually given away. Some of them have been donated to the pediatric unit at Saratoga Hospital, Barton said.