The Belleview Biltmore Hotel has long been admired for beautiful Christmas decorations, highlighted by the gingerbread houses used throughout the facility. These gingerbread houses are invented, designed, cooked and assembled by Chef Nomeda Baronas, the hotels Executive Pastry Chef. Chef Nomeda turns the Belleview’s kitchen and her Patisserie into a wonderland of dough, icing and candies, all adding to the grandeur of the hotel’s holiday atmosphere.
Nomeda Baronas came to Florida from Lithuania 13 years ago where she had studied and competed in baking and pastry design. “When I first moved to America, I was frightened to work as a pastry chef,” explained Nomeda. Not only was the language a barrier, but the products were so different. “The first cake I tried to make here was so tough I should have thrown it against a wall.” Her sister inspired confidence in Nomeda, and, after working for four years as a pastry chef at the Don CeSar, she landed a coveted position at the Belleview Biltmore. She is now their Executive Pastry Chef and operates a small store front within the hotel where she can display her cakes, pastries and edible decorations.
Throughout the year Nomeda is busy providing beautiful cakes, not only for weddings at the Belleview, but outside the hotel as well. Her wedding cakes, her own creation, are six layers with four types of dough. She includes Lithuanian Sponge, Italian Mazarin (made with an almond paste), Japanese Merangue and French Napoleon dough within her creations. She loves to work with brides and allows them to view the decorating process as she works. “It is my pleasure because that day is so important to a bride,” exclaims Nomeda. She also specializes in French, Italian, German and of course Lithuanian pastries. The recipe her mother taught her for Lithuanian coffee cake is even sold in the Macy’s department store. She reads cookbooks all the time, but as she reveals “I always change things. I want my recipes to express my own heritage and style.”
As Christmas approaches Chef Baronas’ kitchen is awash with activity. Last year they made and sold 250 small gingerbread houses locally, along with providing pastries and deserts for the hotels in-house and catered events. Nomeda remains calm while discussing most of this work, but her eyes light up with Christmas magic when she explains the efforts that have gone into the hotel’s two large gingerbread houses on display throughout the holiday season.
As you walk through the hotel lobby, you can’t miss the giant gingerbread house that is designed to look like the Belleview Biltmore Hotel. It even has a green roof which was, as Nomeda explained, quite an undertaking. “We had quite a time finding green candies that resembled roofing tiles.” This amazing display was created in just three days.
The larger gingerbread house, on display in the Belleview’s old lobby was quite a different task. Standing approximately twelve feet high and built on a wooden frame, this creation took five days and Nomeda relied on help from her son and two nieces. “The elves,” as she refers to them, “were great and we all had so much fun!” This house was created with 800 pounds of icing, 500 pounds of gingerbread, 200 pounds of sugar and 150 hours of labor.
Nomeda’s gingerbread houses are edible, which is a good thing, because people do nibble on them. The tallest house seems to attract a large number of hungry visitors and Nomeda credits this to its proximity to the bar. “When people are drinking and enjoying themselves, they get a little more daring and bits of icing, candies and gingerbread begin to disappear.” Chef Baronas takes this all in stride, however, “Its all part of the Christmas spirit,” she explains.
Chef Baronas has kindly shared her gingerbread recipe for this article, though the portions are geared toward a commercial kitchen. My advice, just buy one of her darling gingerbread cottages fully decorated or purchase one to decorate at home. Chef Nomeda Baronas can be reached at the Belleview 727- 373-3712 or 727- 424-3104.
Chef Nomeda’s Ginger Bread Recipe
3¾ lbs. butter
3¾ lbs. granulated sugar
4½ lbs. dark corn syrup
3 cups milk
3 lbs. (approximately-suit consistency to your needs) bread flour
1 cup ground cinnamon
4 tsp. baking soda
8 Tbs. ground ginger
8 Tbs. ground cloves
Boil the first four ingredients and place in a mixer. Add dry ingredients and mix well.
Visitors are welcome to stop by the Belleview Biltmore Hotel to view the gingerbread houses and their other fabulous Christmas decorations anytime, but there are special events, during the holidays, that will make a visit truly enjoyable. Tuesday and Thursday afternoons from 5-7 p.m. you can enjoy Hot Cider and carolers. Santa is making a guest appearance at Sunday Brunch on December 18th and the hotel is offering their traditional Holiday Buffet from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Sunday, December 25th in the Tiffany Ballroom. For more information simply call the hotel at 727-373-3000, or visit their web site at www.BelleviewBiltmore.com
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