Run, Run, As Fast as You Can 

From gingerbread to fried pies, ’tis the season to gather festive delicacies

In less than a month, Gayle O’Hanlon will dramatically throw herself on the closest place to recline and announce to friends and employees, “I quit!”
In less than a month, Gayle O’Hanlon will dramatically throw herself on the closest place to recline and announce to friends and employees, “I quit!” “She does it every year,” says friend and seasonal helper Pammie Neil. “Right after Christmas, she says, ‘I am never making another house!’ And we all say ‘OK.’ And then by May, she starts calling to let us know she’s gearing up again, and then it’s off to the races!” Forget Christmas in July. For O’Hanlon, who started Enchanted Gingerbread in her East Nashville garage 16 years ago, Christmas starts when the daffodils bloom, as orders begin coming in for her hand-rolled, -constructed, -piped and -decorated gingerbread houses. The week before Thanksgiving, the 900-square-foot sweet suite in a Germantown commercial building looks like Santa’s workshop the week before Christmas—except that O’Hanlon doesn’t have a sled and eight reindeer to rely on for Christmas Eve delivery; this time of year, she is one of FedEx’s favorite customers. And it’s about to get a whole lot busier. The New York Times tagged her standard 9-inch-tall gingerbread house for a gift list in its Wednesday “Dining In Dining Out” section, and the house appears on the back cover of the most recent catalog from Mackenzie Limited, a 20-year-old gourmet and specialty foods mail order business. It’s not O’Hanlon’s first time in the national spotlight. Three years ago, the Marshall Fields Christmas catalog picked her up, a nod that precipitated the move from her garage to a commercial space. “We made 1,129 houses in six months,” she remembers. “It was pretty crazy.” Twenty years ago, had anyone told O’Hanlon she would be building gingerbread houses for a living, she would have told them they were crazy. An artist and graphic designer, O’Hanlon was building a career as a freelancer in the music business when she was invited to a baby shower for friend Karin Coble Eaton. She constructed a gingerbread house with “Baby Eaton” painted over the front door in frosting. Eaton asked O’Hanlon to make several more for gifts. In December 1990, for her daughter Hayley’s third birthday, O’Hanlon threw a gingerbread-house-making party, and Enchanted Gingerbread was born. Twenty years ago, had anyone told O’Hanlon she would be building gingerbread houses for a living, she would have told them they were crazy. An artist and graphic designer, O’Hanlon was building a career as a freelancer in the music business when she was invited to a baby shower for friend Karin Coble Eaton. She constructed a gingerbread house with “Baby Eaton” painted over the front door in frosting. Eaton asked O’Hanlon to make several more for gifts. In December 1990, for her daughter Hayley’s third birthday, O’Hanlon threw a gingerbread-house-making party, and Enchanted Gingerbread was born. Made with no animal by-products, Enchanted Gingerbread houses are completely edible. Using wood-and-copper cookie cutters custom-made by a craftsman at Gibson Guitar, O’Hanlon and her crew cut hand-rolled dough into basic building elements, which they bake, cool, decorate and assemble using royal icing. Melted candy fills the windows, which radiate a colorful light when tea lights shine from within the completed structure. Once the client’s name is piped above the door, the house gets double-boxed and shipped. By 11 a.m. the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, Katherine Zarth, assembling houses, was on her third super-sized bowl of icing. John Jackson was putting the finishing touches on a large gingerbread barn, designed from photos of the real thing owned by a family in South Carolina. The slate roof, piped with gray frosting, was setting, and he was ready to add the wreath over the door. Pammie Neil was covering the roofs of dozens of gingerbread-house ornaments with snow of royal icing. Parisian and Loews Vanderbilt Plaza will sell the 3.5-inch ornaments, with proceeds benefiting Centerstone. The larger houses, which come assembled and decorated, can be picked up at the shop or shipped. For families who want the holiday festivity of decorating without the technical fuss of baking and house construction, Enchanted Gingerbread sells kits for ornaments and fully assembled houses, which include assorted candies and a piping bag of frosting. O’Hanlon also offers workshops in her store, though at this time of the year, her focus is on filling orders. There are still some slots available for the Children’s Gingerbread Workshop on Sunday, Dec. 10, from 2 to 4 p.m. at the Loews Vanderbilt Hotel Symphony Ballroom. The cost is $60 per gingerbread house, and proceeds benefit Centerstone. To hold a spot, call 463-6645, email development@centerstone.org or visit centerstone.org. Cheekwood will also host a workshop Dec. 9, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Learning Center. Visit cheekwood.org for more information. To order gingerbread houses or ornaments directly from Enchanted Gingerbread, call 255-6960 or visit enchantedgingerbread.com. How sweet it is At Dulce Desserts, one of the commercial pioneers in the ongoing development of the former White Way Cleaners compound on Villa Place, Juanita Lane is rolling logs. Her bûches de Noël, or yule log cakes, made quite the grand entrance on the bakery scene when she opened last year in the nick of time for the holidays. As November rolls into December, her autumnal bûche de Thanksgiving will make way for the classic Christmas dessert centerpiece. Other seasonal additions at Dulce include pumpkin chiffon pie, pumpkin cheesecake, apple-cinnamon cheesecake, pumpkin roll and pecan pie cake. As scrumptious as they are, the pies, cheesecakes and holiday logs are not the true showstoppers of this enterprise. That honor goes to the cakes, so gorgeously adorned that only the equally enticing interior can tempt a diner to slice the surface. For this year’s Hunt Ball, Lane made 54 hat-shaped cakes that doubled as centerpieces and dessert at the elegant fundraiser for Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital. A lifelong baker, she quit her corporate job and turned her passion into her career with the opening of Dulce, which sells her creations at the small store, by order and at Union Station Hotel. While her special-order cakes can run to hundreds of dollars, her gourmet cupcakes—including Italian almond cherry, Baja chocolate, dulce de leche, white chocolate-lime and strawberry shortcake—cost only $3. Cupcakes can also be decorated in festive holiday colors for Christmas or Hanukkah. Though some of her creations—such as the cupcakes—are available for sale to walk-ins, custom cakes and holiday desserts require 24 hours’ notice. She will stop taking orders for Christmas on Dec. 20, though she is considering special orders for New Year’s Eve, depending on customer interest. Dulce Desserts, 1207 Villa Place, 321-8700. Open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Fresh-picked pies Far simpler in design, construction and ingredients are the pies and other baked goods flying out of Green Thumb Nursery & Landscape in Green Hills. Located in a portable greenhouse in a slice of a parking lot between two strip centers on Hillsboro Pike, the nursery seems an unlikely home for a bake sale, until owner Jay Schoenberger explains the inspiration. When Schoenberger began visiting the Amish community of Etheridge, Tenn.—82 miles from Nashville—this summer, he brought produce back to Nashville to sell out of his business. As he came to know the farmers, their wives frequently shared their baked goods with him. Before long, Schoenberger was carrying fried pies, cherry pies, apple pies, cinnamon raisin buns, sourdough bread and jars of local honey, sorghum, jams and jellies back to town along with the vegetables. None of the sampled goods—including a fried-peach and fried-apple pie, a pecan pie and a double-crust apple pie—were as sweet as the fried desserts found in many local meat-and-threes. As a result, the natural flavors of the fillings shine, particularly in the pecan pie, which has a buttery-creamy filling topped with a layer of halved pecans. If you can’t remember the last time you tasted homemade piecrust, for $10 per pie you can reacquaint yourself with the flaky delight. The bake sale typically begins between 5 and 5:30 p.m. on Fridays, depending on when Schoenberger’s truck pulls into the lot, and according to Ellen Caldwell, proprietor of the nearby Caldwell Collection, she can barely get there fast enough to snatch a fried pie or two before they are all gone. Some of the other baked items are still available on Saturdays, and there is typically a good supply of jarred goods and homemade soaps. The bake sales should continue through the end of the month, and Schoenberger is contemplating taking special orders for Christmas. Green Thumb Nursery & Landscape, 4010 Hillsboro Pike, 269-6374. Pie safe Novice bakers who “knead” a little help with their holiday pies can call the new Crisco Pie Hotline, which connects callers with live pie experts between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday, with extended hours Dec. 18-22. For tips on making crusts and fillings and decorating pies, call (877) 367-7438. In a jam Just in time for those family gatherings, Loveless Café has introduced Loveless Café Biscuit Mix, so you can replicate the breadbasket that has landed Biscuit Lady Carol Fay on NBC’s Today show, The Food Network and The Ellen DeGeneres Show. A 2-pound bag yields approximately 50 biscuits and can be purchased for $4.95 a bag or as part of a gift basket from the Loveless Hams & Jams shop. Order from (800) 889-2432 or visit lovelesscafe.com.

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