Since North Shore Boulangerie opened at 4401 N. Oakland Ave. in 2014, it’s been tradition to display a beautiful holiday scene made from gingerbread in the bakery’s front window.
Peep through the window of the bakery this season (better yet, pop inside for a treat and get the full effect) and you’ll see playfully designed and fully lit scenes from “The Polar Express," the 1985 children's book which was adapted for film and released in 2004.
“The Polar Express”
The gingerbread display was designed and built by Pastry Chef Holly Rockhill, a Green Bay native who joined the team at North Shore Boulangerie in 2021 after attending WCTC for Baking & Pastry Management and Business Management.
Rockhill says her inspiration for "The Polar Express" theme was inspired by childhood memories. “My family always had two Christmas trees, one upstairs and one downstairs,” she says. “One was the ‘kids’ tree and we’d watch the movie every year while we decorated.”
To prepare, she rewatched the holiday film, which tells the story of Billy, a young boy who boards a train to the North Pole on Christmas Eve, embarking upon a memorable journey that teaches him how to consciously embrace the magic in the world.
From there, she chose numerous scenes and recreated them in gingerbread form.
Hot chocolate on the train
In the movie: Children riding on the Polar Express are served giant mugs of steaming hot chocolate, complete with singing and dancing waiters.
In Rockhill’s gingerbread display, guests can view the train from one side and get an inside view of the hot chocolate scene inside from the other.
The ‘lost’ ticket
In the movie: During the hot chocolate scene, a young girl leaves her ticket behind on the seat as she brings hot chocolate to Billy. Despite Billy’s efforts to save the ticket, it blows away in the wind, at one point plowing through the snow and becoming covered.
Onlookers will find a Polar Express ticket trapped inside a snowball as it spins among the stars above the picturesque Polar Express scenes.
The Flat Top Tunnel
In the movie: During its adventurous ride, the Polar Express runs through the “monstrous” Flat Top Tunnel on its way to the North Pole.
Fans will recognize the “caribou” that blocked the way as the train approached the Flat Top Tunnel. They will also recognize the entrance to the tunnel itself, which resembles a monster’s mouth, with icicles forming its formidable teeth.
Glacier Gulch and Ice Lake
In the movie: Moving on from the Flat Top Tunnel, the train also tackles the Glacier Gulch, a roller–coaster-like track that is declared the “steepest downhill grade in the world” by the conductor. And, after speeding down the ominous hill, the train follows the frozen track onto Ice Lake, where a cotter pin from the throttle of the train flies out the window and cracks the ice beneath. Drama ensues as the train struggles to get across the icy lake.
In Rockhill’s scene, fans will note snow-capped mountains, the tracks that transgress Glacier Gulch and the signs that warn of its record-breaking grade and the need to “Use Low Gear”.
On the opposite side of the scene, the steep train tracks descend the mountain, ending below the surface of Ice Lake (made of Isomalt). If you look closely, you'll see that the "ice" has been shattered (as in the movie) by the train’s misplaced cotter pin.
The train, meanwhile, is shown making its ominous journey across the cracking, icy lake.
In the movie: Corkscrew Mountain is yet another creative location along the Polar Express’s journey which consists of a conical-shaped mountain with railroad tracks that spiral around it like a corkscrew. In the book, the mountain isn’t shaped like a corkscrew (the tracks wrap around it only once), but it is described as being "so high it seemed as if we would scrape the moon."
Rockhill’s Corkscrew Mountain is a mash-up of the two (the film and book) with three rounds of track that wind around the snow-covered mountain.
North Pole Square
In the movie: The elves gather at the North Pole Square to watch Santa Claus give the first gift of Christmas to one of the children who rode on the Polar Express.
Rockhill’s scene depicts the end of the train tracks at North Pole Square where a towering decorated Christmas tree sits atop a compass, marking the center of the North Pole. Santa’s sleigh and bag of gifts are center stage, while a gingerbread toy factory glows with light in the background.
Look at the scene from the top (the aerial view) and you’ll see the swarms of elves represented by red hots, along with a smaller group of peanut M&Ms representing the children from the Polar Express.
First gift of Christmas
In the movie: Thanks to a hole in his pocket, Billy loses the “first gift of Christmas” bestowed to him by Santa Claus: the enchanting silver bell that fell from one of the reindeer's harnesses, prompting Billy to “believe.” But the bell later shows up as a gift beneath Billy’s family’s tree, complete with a note from Santa.
Guests who visit North Shore Boulangerie will also find the First Gift of Christmas bell, neatly wrapped in sugary gingerbread finery.
It's a great reminder to believe in the magic of the season, the importance of friendship and the power of kindness to transform an often trying world.
Brunch with Santa
Right now his chair sits empty astride the gingerbread display. But, on Saturday, Dec. 17, North Shore Boulangerie will be hosting a very special visit from Santa himself.
During Brunch with Santa, guests can enjoy a visit with the jolly elf along with a special prix fixe brunch (children’s brunch is $25 and includes a personalized gingerbread man given to them by Santa himself during their photo op. Adult brunch is $35).
Seatings are available at 9 a.m., 11 a.m. or 1 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made by calling North
Pole Shore Boulangerie at (414) 963-2153 between 3 and 5 p.m. daily.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.