Thursday, July 18, 2024

The Elmendorf Baking Supplies gingerbread display is a community of treehouses this year. (Photo: Wil Hall)

If you find yourself in East Cambridge in the next few weeks or need a reason to find yourself there, peek in Elmendorf Baking Supplies’ front window at its intricate gingerbread landscape.

Every December, the shop window is taken over. It’s been a whole village, a cathedral and a castle; this year, it’s a sprawling collection of interconnected treehouses in one huge, pulled-sugar tree.

The planning and construction process is no small feat. It starts in October, with sketches and a cardboard model. It gets mapped out in a 3D modeling software construction. Who’s going to live there? What will the decorations look like? What’s the color scheme?

Wil Hall, a 31-year-old accessibility Web developer who makes and sells ceramics, is the mastermind behind the gingerbread projects – a private custom among friends until 2018, the year Elmendorf opened.

Aside from gingerbread, materials such as fondant, candy and pretzels are used in the display. (Photo: Wil Hall)

“Wil was a backer to our Kickstarter campaign, which is how we got to know them. They reached out and said, ‘My friends and I do a gingerbread house at home every year, and we thought maybe we could do it in your window,’ ” bakery co-owner Teddy Applebaum said.

Elmendorf had been open only a couple weeks when the first gingerbread house was constructed. “It really brought a ton of people in,” Applebaum said.

It’s only grown bigger and better in the years since. Almost everything in the structure is edible, and homemade: gingerbread, fondant, frosting. 

Extensive prep work goes into the annual gingerbread display. (Photo: Wil Hall)

The building process is a community effort. With Hall at the helm, there are engineers who think about how it will work structurally. There’s an electrical engineer who does the lighting. There’s a fiber artist who makes a table skirt to go around the structure.

“It’s that mishmash of skills that makes it work,” Hall said. “It’s the type of thing that I think only can work if you have a big group of people who are passionate about it doing it for fun.”

After months of planning, the team spends a week making all the elements separately and a weekend putting it together. There’s usually between 200 and 400 unique pieces of gingerbread. “We do as much prep work as we can, but putting it all together still takes days,” Hall said.

The display draws gawkers to the Elmendorf window in East Cambridge. (Photo: Madeleine Aitken)

How long the structure is able to remain in the window depends largely on weather-based factors such as humidity, but the goal is to keep it up until the end of January.

Hall and their team don’t get paid. Elmendorf covers the cost of supplies, but this is mostly a passion project. What keeps Hall doing this year after year is a drive to contribute to the community.

“It’s so fun to be able to do an art project at that scale and get people excited about it,” Hall said. “So many people look forward to it, people ask when it’s going up, what the theme is this year.”

It’s also a fun break from their day job. “It’s really rare to have the opportunity to do something on this scale, and that’s something Elmendorf has provided us,” Hall said.

Elmendorf’s desire to be a community space for bakers in the Boston area is part of why Teddy and Alyssa Applebaum were drawn to the idea.

“You don’t have to even come in the shop to see it,” Applebaum said. “Kids and families stop by all day long and stare at it, and we just love it for that.”