The One Thing The White House Pastry Chef Must Make Every Year

In addition to a full-time executive chef, the White House also employs a pastry chef on the cooking staff for daily desserts and special events. As then baker in charge Susan Morrison told O, The Oprah Magazine in 2016, this usually entails coming up with sweet treats for luncheons in the West Wing as well as mini-cakes for receptions on the State Floor. But without fail, there is one thing the pastry chef must always create every year — and it's a holiday tradition most of us love, too.

For four decades, there has been a tradition of making a yearly elaborate and intricately detailed gingerbread house that's displayed in the State Dining Room, to be enjoyed by the First Family and visitors, according to The White House Historical Association, which has an impressive gallery of different creations over the years.

It all started in 1968 when a gingerbread cottage was sent to the Lyndon B. Johnson-era White House as a gift. That may have been the inspiration for long-time Assistant Executive Chef Hans Raffert to create a traditional German A-frame gingerbread house the following year for the new Nixon-led White House. Every year after that, Raffert would create a more and more elaborate gingerbread house (via Mic), which by 1971, had become a White House holiday tradition. For the administration under Gerald Ford in 1975, Raffert added Hansel and Gretel as a theme. Later gingerbread houses would include gingerbread men and frosted trees.

The sweet tradition has continued to modern day

When Executive Pastry Chef Roland Mesnier joined the staff, he continued the tradition, with a bit more playful details. For the 1992 version for George H. W. Bush, Mesnier created an entire village of five gingerbread houses, with marzipan likenesses of the First Family. In 1993, he got even more personal with a creation dedicated to the Clinton family's cat Socks — and, in subsequent years, replicated both President and First Lady Clinton's respective childhood homes in gingerbread (per The White House Historical Association). 

Since then, gingerbread houses and landscapes have included the White House, the National Mall, and iconic American landmarks such as the Mount Rushmore, the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Statue of Liberty. Executive Pastry Chef Susan Morrison explained to O, The Oprah Magazine that she spends all year thinking about the gingerbread house, which then takes four days to build with a team. It is quite a massive undertaking — the 1969 gingerbread house weighed 40 pounds and took 12 hours to make (via Nixon Foundation), while the 2015 gingerbread house weighed a whopping 500 pounds and was made of dark chocolate (via Washington Post).

You can make your own gingerbread house in as little as two-and-a-half hours. And while it may not be as elaborate as the White House versions, it can also be the start of a sweet tradition for your family. Just be sure to check out handy tips online that will save you from common gingerbread house mistakes, like having it go soft, fall apart, or finding issues with decoration.