The whole gingerbread-house undertaking has always had a certain mystery for us. As with midget horses or ships in bottles, we never really grasped the “why.” But having been recruited as a judge of the Marriott Marquis’ gingerbread-house contest, we now have a new appreciation for the things. Lovingly, or at least obsessively, rendered from pastry and candy, these models of Victorian houses were a little too realistic, with tiny marzipan people, brick fireplaces made of Trident gum pieces, and inverted candy canes representing street lights. Thirteen cooking schools from around the East Coast participated, but in the end, it was the house produced by the Culinary Institute of America, here in good old New York (State) that took the laurels. But even though we had to name a winner, the pictures show that they were all fit for immediate occupation by a wealthy gingerbread family, or as dessert.