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Friday Slide Show: Sugar Castles Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

1 December 2017

There is a tradition at the St. Francis Hotel next to Union Square (and the Powell St. cable car line) of erecting a sugar castle in the lobby just before Thanksgiving. This year, for only the second time, there were two.

Jean Francois Houdre, the Westin St. Francis chef, and his team start preparing the castles in July. But not from scratch. They expend about 300 hours remodeling and repairing and expanding the castles. In fact, they reuse about 75 percent of the sugar parts from previous years.

The brick and mortar of a sugar castle is made from several different concoctions, including pulled and blown sugar, rolled fondant, white icing and pastillage, a mix of powdered sugar, water, gelatin and vinegar that resembles plaster. What would a castle be without plaster?

A train circles the 12-foot medieval castle that stands in the center of the lobby. And a village of funny-looking people, none of whom have (much) hair, keeps themselves busy at the new, white castle in the corner.

One of those people is hidden in the medieval castle in a different place every year. Pierre, as he is known, is considered the castle's mascot.

The castles are made from 120 pounds of gingerbread, 180 pounds of that pastillage, 90 pounds of pulled and bubble sugar, 90 pounds of molasses, 110 pounds of flour, 150 pounds of Christmas candies and lots of icing made from 350 pounds of sugar and egg whites to glue it all together.

Not only does all that sugar weigh a lot but the castle pieces have to navigate through the narrow doorways of the century-old hotel for assembly in the lobby. A team of 10 does the heavy lifting. And, yes, they've dropped it before.

Which, you might think, would be a good excuse to snack.

But since it isn't all sugar, it isn't all sweet. And Chef Houdre wisely does not recommend it.

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