Tucked away in the Island Hotel's kitchen, past the room-service carts and the dinner assembly stations, an old Sabot leans against a storage room wall. It awaits repair, not for sailing but for nibbling.
Before most guests awake Friday morning, the Newport Beach hotel's pastry team will wheel the boat into the hotel's lobby and begin to cover the dinghy with piece after piece of gingerbread, creating a decoration fit for a holiday celebration in the coastal town.
"I wouldn't say nobody will eat it," Andy de la Cruz, the Island Hotel's pastry chef, said last week with a laugh. "We always have people with slippery little hands."
The decorative candy had not yet arrived and hundreds of pounds of icing remained to be made, but preparation had ramped up — between meeting the dessert needs for the hotel's restaurant and large events — for de la Cruz and seven others on his team who also baked "planks" of the fragrant treat to cover the boat in time for its big debut.
Mid-day Nov. 15, as another staffer prepared tartlets, de la Cruz focused an hour of his attention on the needs of the boat, dumping 3 pounds of brown sugar into an 80-quart mixer — more than 10 times the size of a standard kitchen mixer — to be combined with 4 pounds of butter sliced into squares.
After the lumps of butter disappeared in the sugar, turning into a thick cream, in went 13 pounds of flour, 6 pounds of molasses and 3 ounces of spices, plus baking soda, salt and water.
A few minutes went by as the beater circled round and round, then de la Cruz scooped out a lump of the sticky dough.
"There you go," he said, pounding his fist on it. "Gingerbread!"
Each batch makes about 200 planks, de la Cruz estimated. He guessed that about eight batches will be needed to cover the boat.
To make the planks, de la Cruz flattened a batch of dough that had been chilled overnight with a mechanized rolling pin called a "sheeter."
When the dough measured roughly one-fourth of an inch thick, de la Cruz sliced it into long rectangles with a mutlipronged pizza cutter and etched squiggly lines, or "wood grains," as he called them, into the flattened pieces with the tip of a knife.
He then dipped a brush into watered-down molasses and began painting the planks.
"So this is starting to look like wood now, sort of," he said, moving the brush back and forth.
After 25 to 35 minutes in the oven, the planks will be ready for storage, with only the gingerbread smells lingering until the decorating begins.
The final product will be christened the S.S. Island Club at 12:30 p.m. Monday, kicking off a holiday toy drive at the hotel. Newport Beach Chamber of Commerce members will be in attendance, and the public is also welcome.
By The Numbers
4 pounds butter
3 pounds brown sugar
6 pounds molasses
13 pounds bread flour
2 ounces ground cinnamon
1 ounce ground cloves
3 ounce baking soda
1 ounce salt
1 cup water
Yields about 200 gingerbread boat planks.