The air is cool, the holidays are near and that means it’s the most wonderful time of the year — gingerbread season. Oregon chefs and amateurs alike take the spiced treat seriously, using the dough to craft wondrous masterworks like French castles, toothy dinosaurs and maybe even Multnomah Falls. In December you can catch these displays piped in icing and twinkling with hard-candy jewels at a number of festive occasions. Here is a sampling of road-trip-worthy confections around the state.
Custom-Built Sweetness at a Festive Hotel in Portland
Located in the heart of downtown Portland, The Benson Hotel transforms every holiday season into a merry site in its own right with a gigantic, 28-foot-high Christmas tree in the lobby and more than 300 poinsettias. But it’s the annual unveiling of its Gingerbread Masterpiece each November — a tradition for more than half a century — that best demonstrates the limitlessness of what’s possible with sweets.
For nearly three decades now, pastry chef and architect David Diffendorfer has combined his talents to produce intricate confectionary models that require more than 150 pounds of house-made gingerbread, 50 pounds of marzipan, 20 pounds of chocolate and buckets of icing. Does he recreate Santa’s humble abode? Hardly. Diffendorfer, who studied at the Western Culinary Institute as well as industrial design at the Art Institute of Portland, has meticulously re-created edible renditions of famous castles and cathedrals in Europe. This year’s creation will be on display through December.
The hotel offers holiday packages that include discounts on rooms, free overnight valet parking and breakfast — plus cheerful holiday cocktails like the Mistletoe Mule, which features a house-made cranberry reduction. You can share the love and bring a new, unwrapped toy to the hotel to support a toy drive through mid-December.
Gingerbread Junction Function in Central Oregon
Sunriver Resort in Central Oregon is a lovely winter getaway, being high in the pines just 30 minutes from skiing at Mt. Bachelor with opportunities to cross-country ski and snowshoe nearby. Time your visit to catch the annual Gingerbread Junction, when a room at the Sunriver Resort Lodge holds dozens of gingerbread creations.
Unlike those at other events around the state, the gingerbread creations you’ll find there are the works of skillful amateurs who’ve spent countless hours baking, cutting and assembling their works into everything from castles and winter tableaus to scenes from “Jurassic Park.” The free event has raised thousands of dollars for local charity with more than 50 displays and is open through December.
While you’re there, the resort offers various holiday traditions. You can book a snowy sleigh ride with a horse-drawn carriage, visit the holiday light show nightly through December, catch a storytime with Mrs. Claus, or take advantage of winter wellness specials like a blackberry-and-chocolate facial.
Cookie Crawl, Winery Wreaths and More Holiday Events in Oregon
In the Willamette Valley about 45 miles southwest of Portland, the city of McMinnville hosts a couple of hands-on gingerbread house-building workshops every December in its library. Kids and adults work together on their own creations. Kits cost $2 per child, but space is limited and often goes quickly. If you’re planning to do a little holiday wine tasting, get into the spirit at nearby Youngberg Hill Winery for its annual wreath-making evening. Crafters twist grapevines from the vineyard into festive, decorated rings.
McMenamins’ Edgefield Hotel in Troutdale, about 15 miles east of downtown Portland, displays grand designs into the first week of January — imagine a massive gingerbread hotel — by pastry chef Chuck Dugo. Just want to eat holiday cookies instead? Head to Baker City’s Twinkle in Time annual event in December for its annual cookie crawl.
It’s never too late to be thinking about next year, too. Plan ahead for the Gingerbread Jubilee in Medford, held before Thanksgiving. Students, clubs, bakers and architects showcase their gingerbread creations in a competition for a $1,000 grand prize. Be sure to plan an additional stop in Medford to catch a holiday show like “A Celtic Christmas” at the historic Craterian Theater.