Chestnut Hill bakery teaches art of making holidays sweet

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Kit Townhill, 5, decorates his house. First you start with walls of gingerbread. And then you glue everything together with royal icing. The fun part is decorating with thousands of little candies and cookies. Bredenbeck's Bakery in Chestnut Hill is offering classes this holiday season in the fine art of crafting a gingerbread house. (David Swanson / Staff Photographer)

A cookie roof, sweet-and-sour candy shingles, pretzel doors and chimneys, and snowdrifts of frosting.

It's not a holiday fantasy - it's the recipe for a real, live gingerbread-house workshop in Chestnut Hill.

Bredenbeck's Bakery at 8126 Germantown Ave. is hosting its third annual season of classes, teaching the art of making gingerbread houses. The tradition began in Norway for Christmas and Easter and was brought to America by immigrant bakers.

"There's no wrong way to decorate a gingerbread house, and any age can do it, so it's great for families," says Bredenbeck's owner and operator, Karen Boyd Rohde of Fort Washington. She and her three grown children run the Chestnut Hill bakery and ice cream parlor.

"The more candy, the better," she adds.

The workshops started because "we sold so many gingerbread houses from the bakery," Rohde explained. A bonus: "You don't have to clean your kitchen afterward."

Bredenbeck's staff bake the gingerbread dough ahead of time into roughly 5-by-5-inch blocks, then glue the frames together with royal icing to harden overnight.

"Gingerbread dough is firmer than regular pastry dough," said Rohde's daughter, Lauren Decktor. That's partly because the recipe requires no eggs. The royal icing, made of powdered sugar and egg whites, hardens to a near-concrete texture when dry.

Next door, in a historic theater, they set up tables for children and adults to decorate their gingerbread masterpieces.

"We rent the space from Stagecrafters Theater, since they're our neighbors," Decktor said.

Her brother Irvin Boyd mixes recipes as a baker for Bredenbeck's, while another brother, Jacob, just graduated from college and works in marketing and promotion.

A small gingerbread house, all the trimmings, and admission for one to the class costs $45. A large house with admission for two people costs $65.

Each house comes with a large container of lollipops, marshmallows, pretzels, and as much candy and frosting as can possibly fit.

Classes run almost daily through Dec. 17 this year. Sunday classes feature visits from Santa.

The bakery also offers classes during Chestnut Hill's Wednesday "stag and doe" date nights or "girls' night out."

"We always come to this bakery anyway, so we thought we'd come for this class," said Keli Smith of Mount Airy, whose aunt sometimes has her pound cakes iced at Bredenbeck's.

"My aunt runs a small business also called Aunt Dee's Poundcakes in Wyndmoor, with flavors like lemon-lavender," Smith said. "Baking is just what we do before Christmas."

As a recording of Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" played, Mike Baskin and his wife affixed Nilla wafers to the frosting-heavy roof of their gingerbread home. The Baskins, from Chattanooga, Tenn., are visiting family in Pennsylvania.

The cookies "look like terracotta tiles," Baskin said.

Rhory and her son R.J., 10, of Exton, who declined to give their last name, came to the bakery class for a mother-and-son date Saturday morning.

"We were looking for something fun to do for the holidays," Rhory said.

Were they decorating their gingerbread house to show off for the holidays or to eat?

"To display," said R.J., squeezing with intensity a small paper cone of frosting into an arched front door.

The history of Bredenbeck's is similar to many small businesses in Philadelphia.

Frederick Robert Bredenbeck left Bavaria and founded his original Northern Liberties bread bakery in 1889, then added cakes to the menu. His son Fred Bredenbeck later sold the business to his master bakers, Karen Boyd Rohde's father and grandfather.

She opened a new Chestnut Hill location in 1983 with two employees "and a loan from my dad. We're up to 44 employees now."

For more information, call 215-247-7374.

 


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