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Gingerbread Houses, Philly Style

December 13, 2017

Melissa Martin, left, and Katelyn Comerford stand with the finished Eastern State Penitentiary gingerbread house at the Logan Hotel.
Melissa Martin, left, and Katelyn Comerford stand with the finished Eastern State Penitentiary gingerbread house at the Logan Hotel.

When culinary students at Drexel University decide to make gingerbread houses, they really get into it: carefully piped icing roofs, Twizzler bows, candy cane pillars, a Drexel gingerbread boat, 66 pounds of flour, six pounds of butter and four pounds of icing used for decorating everything imaginable.

Oh, and that was all used in a matter of days to build two Philly-themed gingerbread houses (or, rather, gingerbread boathouses and a 19th century prison) to be displayed in public.

Oh, and it’s also the week before finals.

But at the end of the last-minute deadline, after all the baking and rolling and cutting and gluing (sometimes with a hot glue gun, sometimes with frosting), these four undergraduate students in the Culinary Arts & Science Program in the Center for Food & Hospitality Management presented their giant, gingerbread versions of Boathouse Row and Eastern State Penitentiary at the Logan Hotel, which will showcase the models through the holiday season as part of a display called “Sugar & Spice & Everything Nice.”

The students made the dough on a Friday, froze it over the weekend, baked the pieces on the following Monday and Tuesday, started construction on Tuesday and Wednesday, and decorated and fit the pieces together on Wednesday and Thursday, all in order to have the gingerbread houses ready to be transported and displayed at the Center City hotel on Friday.

“It seemed like a fun thing to do for the holidays that was kind of stressful in a different way from other finals prep,” said Nora Vaughan, a freshman who helped cook, build and frost the Boathouse Row gingerbread house (and also created a river out of sugar, food dye and water that mimicked the murky colors of the Schuylkill River).

Nora Vaughan stands with the finished Boathouse Row gingerbread house display at the Logan Hotel.

Vaughan and Lauren Miller, also a freshman, paid homage to Boathouse Row, which they thought was one of the more underrated Philly landmarks, after walking there to find inspiration. Miller rowed in high school and has raced on the Schuylkill River, and now enjoys running on the Schuylkill Trail past the boathouses.

“Plus, we are both good at piping icing, so we thought we’d do something featuring simple, classic, intricate piping instead of building a giant architecture thing,” said Miller. “We didn’t have that much time.”

Melissa Martin and Katelyn Comerford, two sophomores who helped create the Eastern State Penitentiary gingerbread house, were also inspired to build a gingerbread honoring a lesser-known Philly landmark and put their piping skills to the test.

“I think it’s pretty iconic, especially with all of its architecture, and I knew it’d be a good challenge for us,” said Martin. “Plus, I love decorating cakes. I was really excited to have a project at school that actually let me decorate something.”

Martin and Comerford ended up building three walls, four pillars, two front pillars, seven houses, a gate (made up of its own individual parts) and, of course, the iconic middle ring of the Eastern State Penitentiary.

“Too many parts!” Comerford laughed when asked about the final number of pieces in the model. “We could probably build a template of it out of foam from all our stencils.”

In the end, the hard work that the students put into their creations — plus the sugar and spice and everything nice — was worth it. Now, guests at the Logan Hotel celebrating the holidays in the city will see the gingerbread houses as soon as they walk in the lobby. Plus, the leftover gingerbread will be used in desserts for the College of Nursing and Health Professions’ holiday party, in the form of trifles and cookies.

And, of course, the students finished in time to study for their finals.