Gingerbread penitentiaries

The Eastern State Penitentiary is taking a page from the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel,” wherein hapless children are lured toward their doom by a gingerbread house.

ESP has asked local bakers to make a gingerbread model of ESP, a 19th century prison now in a state of ruin. The stewards of that historic landmark site like to keep it that way.

Winter sees Eastern State Penitentiary at its most bleak. The temperature of the stone cells inside the historic landmark can hover at negative 10 degrees.

That’s how Chad Durkin wanted to captured it in gingerbread. The master baker at Desserts International in Exton, Pennsylvania, fashioned the entire floor plan — the whole centralized hub-with-spokes design — airbrushed it a drab gray and capped it with thick snowy icing.

“I try to make them architectural structures as realistic as I can,” says Durkin, who makes customized gingerbread buildings for hotels and corporations.  “It’s semi-cartoonish, and also very realistic. It’s a penitentiary, I wanted to get that erie feel without getting too creepy.”

Durkin’s only competition is Diane Anello of Bredenbeck’s Bakery in Chestnut Hill. She took the opposite approach. She created four cells in the traditionally festive gingerbread house style – fully furnished with rice crispy treats for footlockers, gumdrops for toilets and broken candy canes for bars.

“I’ve always been fascinated by shadowboxes — you look in and seeing what’s beyond the plate of glass. I’m totally guilty of that. There’s my art degree at work.”

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