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Welcome to "Ask the White House" -- an online interactive forum where you can submit questions to Administration officials and friends of the White House. Visit the "Ask the White House" archives to read other discussions with White House officials.

Thaddeus DuBois
White House Executive Pastry Chef

     Holidays 2005: All Things Bright and Beautiful

December 9, 2005

Thaddeus DuBois
Thank you for having me here today. I'm looking forward to answering your questions. It's a pleasure to be here at the White House. I've been here about 15 months and it is my greatest honor to serve the President and First Lady and their guests desserts and pastries in the field I love to do.

Jeff, from Strasburg, PA writes:
Dear Chef DuBois, What advice would you give to people who want to be good at cooking?

Thaddeus DuBois
I would have to say that you have to be very passionate about cooking or baking or pastry making. In general, you have to be passionate about anything you do. And of course in this field it does take a lot of practice. My suggestion is to practice at home where you feel comfortable, as well as have fun!

Igor, from Buffalo Grove IL writes:
Dear Chef Dubois, I am very interested in the Culinary field and would like to know what Culinary Institute you graduated from?

Thaddeus DuBois
Hi Igor.

I graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. I highly recommend it not because I attended, but because I truly think it is one of the best programs in the country. They specialize in programs for hot food and for pastry.

mary, from bakersfield, california writes:
When you make traditional "fudge", do you have a recipe that is successful without turning sugary?

Thaddeus DuBois
The key to good fudge is to let the cooked mixture cool down to about 110 degrees before you stir it or agitate it. What many people do is they take it right off the heat and they stir it while it is still very hot, creating large sugar crystals which makes it very grainy. So it is very important to let it cool down before you stir it at all.

Suzanne, from Atlanta, GA writes:
What is the best technique for painting designs on Sugar Cookies before baking?

Thaddeus DuBois
Well I usually decorate the cookies after baking them Suzanne. And you can see in this photo that we have decorated for Christmas this snowflake cookie has been brushed with royal icing and piped with red royal icing. And if you are not sure what royal icing is, it is a simple mixture of egg whites, powdered sugar, and a drop of lemon juice. The thicker you want your royal icing to be, you simply add more powdered sugar. We use this icing a lot to decorate cookies at the White House because it tastes good and it gives the cookies a nice colorful presentation.

Troy, from Memphis, TN writes:
Does the President have any sort of taste tester, to make sure that the food is okay, like back in the days of Kings and Queens?

Thaddeus DuBois
Yes, that would actually be me tasting the food to make sure it is perfect for the President and First Lady. This way I can make sure that they are served is just how it should be and that they enjoy what we make in the pastry shop. Thanks for the question, I liked it!

Vicki, from North Adams MA. writes:
what a beautiful gringerbread house. How long did it take for you to make it?and can you eat it or is it just decoration?

Thaddeus DuBois
Hi Vicki.

The gingerbread took about two weeks to complete. That may seem like a long time but we make the dough and we roll out the dough, bake the dough, and we cut out the dough. That is the first process. Then we assemble the house with the walls we have cut out and we make all of the decorations--which include the trees, windows, roof of the house out of white chocolate, royal icing, and marzipan. So in all, I would say it takes about two weeks to complete.

The gingerbread house is so large I am unable to construct it in my pastry shop. In fact, it has traditionally been constructed in the China Room. This year's house measures about four feet in length, 15 inches in width, and about 30 inches tall. Wow! And it weighs roughly 200 pounds!

When I say two weeks--I forgot to mention that it means four-five people working on it full time. And lastly, the house is only for decoration. That is because we have thousands and thousands of people visiting the White House throughout the holidays and that is one of the things they look forward to, so no eating of the gingerbread house!

One last thing and you will see this in the photo--I was throwing sugar at one of the windows at the gingerbread house. The reason I was doing that was that the windows are poured out of cooked sugar, which is very shiny and clear and instead of that, I wanted a frosted look and also so you could not see the lights within the house. It is a nice effect!

Teresa, from Washington, D.C. writes:
Thaddeus--I noticed on the Gingerbread house this year you replecated the front (north) facade of the White House and not the south, as I've seen in years past. Was was the reasoning behind this?

Thaddeus DuBois
Teresa, that is an excellent question.

The reason I did that was traditionally it has been the South Portico presented, so I thought it would be a nice change if the North Portico (front of the White House) was presented.

The other reason I chose the North Portico was that in reality, it has greater detail than the South Portico. I wanted to create a gingerbread house this year with extensive detail and was up for the challenge, so I thought the North Portico would be perfect. The feedback has been great.

In addition, many people have been curious about that so I thank you for your question.

Stephanie, from Indiana writes:
How many man hours does it take to make all the pastries during christmas time?

Thaddeus DuBois
Thank you for your question Stephanie.

It takes a lot of man hours to make all of the pastries during the month of December. We start in advance because there are so many pastries to do--especially cookies. So what my staff and I do is we usually start making cookies in the Fall and freezing the unbaked cookies and then we bake them fresh in the month of December so they are fresh. That allows us to get the cookies completed, which takes hundreds of hours, so that the guest can enjoy fresh cookies.

For example, this year, we produced approximately 47,000 cookies, 10,000 chocolate truffles, 160 Buche Noel (Christmas Yule Log) cakes, and over 10,000 petit fours. A petite fours, for those that don't know what it is, is just a small little cake filled with a little jam and covered with a sweet icing. Take a look at the photo of the petit fours we created this year.

Marie, from Athens Tx writes:
Could you give me your favorite pastry recipe for a small informal party of about 10 during the holidays? Thank you very much Marie

Thaddeus DuBois
I would say Marie, to go very simple. What I mean by that is to make something like a crème brulee--which is a baked custard with a burnt sugar crust or a fruit cobbler or crisp with ice cream. I think people really like desserts that are familiar, taste good and are simple, as well as not a lot of work to make at home. The other thing I suggest is to not make something they aren't familiar with or haven't made before--keep it simple and tasting good and I'm sure your guests will enjoy whatever you make!

Henry, from Oslo, Norway writes:
Does the holiday decorations and christmas food in the White House change much from year to year? Thanks

Thaddeus DuBois
Yes actually the decorations and food changes at the White House from year to year. And usually there is a theme that is chosen by Mrs. Bush and the decorations and the food fit into that theme. This year's theme is "All Things Bright and Beautiful" and something I tried to do in the gingerbread house was incorporate that and that is why I put lights into the house.

Joshua, from Rocklin, CA writes:
What is President Bush's favorite dishdessert? Thanks for taking my question.

Thaddeus DuBois
Hi Joshua.

I get asked this question A LOT! What I can tell you is that I make a lot of various desserts for the President and First Lady and they seem to enjoy them very much. I'm sorry, but I really can't "dish" the exact secret out!

Jim, from Ferndale, MI writes:
Do you use straight butter in your pie pastry, or do you cut it with veg. shortening? What brand of flour is you favorite? "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" states that American all-purpose, hard wheat flour will produce a brittle crust if only butter is used. Any thoughts?

Bon Appetit

Thaddeus DuBois
I actually use a mixture of butter and shortening. I find that using just butter makes the crust too brittle and the taste of shortening is not the best, so for the pie crust to be the best in my opinion--I use butter for the taste and shortening for the flakiness. The other important thing about making pie crust is to make ice cold water. Not just cold water--it has to be ice cold.

The reasoning behind using ice cold water is that it keeps the fat from melting in the dough and the little particles of fat (like pea-size) is what makes the crust flaky when it bakes. In addition, if you use part butter in your crust, since butter has a very low melting point, if you don't use ice water you might have the problem of your butter melting in the dough and thus producing a crust that is not flaky.

William, from Tuckerton writes:
What is your favorite meal to prepare for the president?

Thaddeus DuBois
William, while I can't tell you exactly what my favorite dessert to prepare for the President is, I can tell you I enjoy making frozen desserts for the President and Mrs. Bush.

For example, this past July we had an Official Visit from the Prime Minister of India and I prepared three kinds of ice creams--mango, cashew, and chocolate cardamom, which were presented on a white chocolate lily pad with a pink lotus flower. The presentation was very colorful and I purposely did that because India is a country that uses many colors and the lotus flower is their national flower.

Julie, from Los Angeles, CA writes:
Do you live in the White House? If so, is your family allowed to live with you? How do the kids spend their time if they're restricted to stay at the White House while you work? Also, how large is the kitchen staff and have there been any famous visiting chefs?

Thaddeus DuBois
Well actually Julie, I only live at the White House in the month of December inside the gingerbread house. Just joking!

But seriously, I do not live in the White House. The White House is a special place for the President and First Lady and their family and guests. I have the privilege of going to work there everyday, and am highly enjoying my time here.

My staff is very small. I have one assistant and party time help. The kitchen is very small as well. In fact, the pastry kitchen where I and Susie (my assistant) is smaller than many home kitchens. That is why we aren't able to construct the gingerbread house in it. And if you can believe this, if there is another person besides the two of us there, it is crowded! But it is just enough space to get done everything we need to do.

Tom, from Ormond Beach FL writes:
We enjoyed seeing your 2005 Gingerbread White House on HGTV. Question: Why don't you have that cart (that you put it on for transport) retrofitted with pneumatic wheels, instead of those hard little rubber wheels? They would cushion the ride MUCH more and make it less hazardous to transport the gingerbread house, as well as all the other fragile things you have around there. Just a thought.

A Blessed Christmas to all there.

Thaddeus DuBois
Tom, well I don't know exactly what pneumatic wheels are, but I'm assuming they must be softer than those small rubber wheels we use. I'm not an engineer (but guessing you are). There is a lot of tradition here at the White House and one of the traditions is that the gingerbread house is wheeled out on that specific table to the State Dining Room each year by the White House Operations staff. They are obviously GREAT at what they do considering the delicate task at hand.

Thaddeus DuBois
Thank you for all of the great questions. They were very fun and very interesting. I wish everyone a Happy Holidays and a safe 2006. I look forward to another "Ask the White House" chat so we can talk about everything sweet!

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