A Tasty Tradition

A New Jersey artist puts a new spin on building gingerbread houses

Dec 20, 2012 | By Cameron Keady
COURTESY ROTH-RODRIGUEZ FAMILY

Artist Jennifer Roth stands with her mother, Peggy Roth, in front of her prize-winning gingerbread model of Notre Dame.

The holiday season is especially sweet for Jennifer Roth. Each year, with the help of her mother, Peggy Roth, and her daughter Sofia, she creates a gingerbread house that is anything but ordinary. This year, the trio completed their most ambitious project to date. Using only edible materials, they built a towering gingerbread model of Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral.

Roth's 2007 gingerbread carousel was inspired by her daughter Sofia.
COURTESY ROTH-RODRIGUEZ FAMILY
Roth's 2007 gingerbread carousel was inspired by her daughter Sofia.

Sweet Beginnings

Roth has been baking and building gingerbread masterpieces for five years. When her daughter Sofia, now eight, was just three years old, she told her mother she should make a gingerbread carousel. Roth agreed it would be a fun project, so she took Sofia’s idea and created her first unusual gingerbread house. Using candy canes, colorful frosting, and carefully molded gingerbread, Roth brought the carousel to life. After completing this magical merry-go-round, she went on to create the Eiffel Tower and the Taj Mahal. Roth’s love of both architecture and baking inspired her to bring these wonders of the world to life for the holiday season.

Roth’s most recent project, Notre Dame Cathedral, is one of her proudest achievements to date. She worked with Sofia and her mother to construct a delicious replica, or model, of the famous French church for The Gingerbread Wonderland at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, in Morristown, New Jersey. The Gingerbread Wonderland is part of a weekend craft show that features a wide range of exceptional gingerbread sculptures. This year, Roth and her family took home the first-place prize.

Mixing and Measuring

Winning first place in a gingerbread-building competition is no easy feat. Each project Roth completes requires hours of research and planning. As a lover of historic architecture, Roth insists on building each subject exactly as it appears in real life. “We go to the library, and we take out lots of books about our subject,” Roth told TFK. “We look at pictures and create drawings based off the pictures. Then I take the drawings and use them to make a cardboard model of the gingerbread house.”

Each gingerbread house is a family project. Here, Sofia Rodriguez stands with Roth's 2008 model of the Eiffel Tower
COURTESY ROTH-RODRIGUEZ FAMILY
Each gingerbread house is a family project. Here, Sofia Rodriguez stands with Roth's 2008 model of the Eiffel Tower
 

Each piece is measured, calculated and cut to scale. All original details are given attention, from the arched doorways to the stained-glass windows, made from crushed candy cookies. For Notre Dame, 150 pieces of gingerbread were required. Roth bakes the gingerbread herself and uses icing to keep all the pieces together.

Building gingerbread houses is a special holiday tradition for Roth and her family. While she is the primary architect for each project, building is a joint effort. TFK asked Roth if she spent as much time building gingerbread houses as a kid as she does now. “When I was little, we built chocolate houses instead,” she said. “They were considerably smaller than this gingerbread Notre Dame, and we always ate them!” 

To view a step-by-step slideshow about how Roth builds her gingerbread masterpieces, click here.