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Gingerbread Pantheon

Augustus was said to have found Rome a city of brick and left it a city of marble.  Our Classics Club at Grace Academy is rebuilding Rome as a city of gingerbread!  Each year our students take on the task of rebuilding a significant piece of ancient architecture from gingerbread and other edible materials.  This year our group took on the Roman Pantheon.  We entered the finished piece in the Georgetown Library’s annual Edible Extravaganza contest where it won first place in its division. This post shares some of the secrets behind the triumph.

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The Pantheon is the best preserved ancient monument still in existence in the world today.  Its unique architecture with the rotunda and great dome were spared by the sack of the Visigoths  in the 400’s and the dominion of the Catholic Church. While many temples were destroyed, this one was spared.  It provides for us an excellent study of history, culture, and architecture.  The best way to learn from it, is to try and imitate it.

The shape of the rotunda is created by baking several circular rings from gingerbread. Stack them on top of each other using royal icing to “cement” each layer on top of the other.  Once hardened, cover the exterior with a thick coat of royal icing.  We used about 10 such rings.

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doric columns of candycanes and gumdrops

The portico of the Pantheon features 16 pillars imported from Ancient Egypt.  We used candy canes and gumdrops.  The gum drops were an ingenious addition this year to our pillars. They offer an excellent support for the candy cane while also providing a good wide base for the royal icing cement.  We also felt they gave the peppermint pillars a little more of the style one would see in the doric columns of the ancient world.  We couldn’t quite fit all 16 pillars under the portico, so our version features 12 pillars on the portico and an additional 4 along the sides.

The famous inscription on the front is a tribute from Hadrian to Agrippa.  M. AGRIPPA L.F. COS TERTIUM FECIT 

Agrippa built the original temple in 26 B.C.  This temple was destroyed in the great fire of A.D. 80. Hadrian rebuilt the Pantheon (as it stands today) in A.D. 120.  We have added the inscription using alphabet pasta colored green with foodcoloring and lemon extract.

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undecorated dome and its cake form

The greatest attribute of the Roman Pantheon must be the great dome.  It was a great feat of engineering in its own time as the first known unsupported dome ever built.  To this day it remains the largest unsupported dome in the world.  The dome for the U.S. Capitol building is 96′ in diameter. The Pantheon’s dome is 142′ in diameter.  Our dome is much smaller than either, but how can it be created?  Our culinary architect, Lacy Murphy, came up with the brilliant idea of using 1/2 of the cake form for ball cakes.  Roll out the dough to the desired thickness and carefully drape it over the form.  Use the opening to a classic soda bottle to cut out the hole for the oculus.

Nota Bene: We recommend leaving the extra dough around the bottom while baking the dome to prevent the dough from slowly sliding down the form as it bakes.  You can trim the excess cookie after removing from the oven while it is still soft.
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The dome is covered with antique gold food coloring and adored with floral frosting.

The Christian holiday of Christmas comes at the same time of year as the Roman festival of Saturnalia and the celebrations of the Winter Solstice.  Christians derived many of their festive Christmas traditions from these Roman celebrations.  Most notable is the Christmas tree and decorative garlands.  The Romans would often decorate their trees and garlands with suns, stars, and moons in celebration of the solstice.  So we too have added Christmas trees.  The Christmas trees are made from ice cream cones covered in green icing using a decorative star tip.  This year they have golden ball decors representing the orb of the sun. In years past we have also used little star sprinkles.  In the week prior to our project the AP Latin class was reading the story of the fall of Troy as we came across the verse that reads

nos delubra deum miseri, quibus ultimus esset
ille dies, festa velamus fronde per urbem

Aeneid II.248-249

The Trojans, erroneously thinking they had defeated the Greeks, were decorating their temples with festive garlands. So this temple is also decorated with festive garlands.  Ours have flowers that resemble the traditional Christmas Poinsettias.

trees created from ice cream cones covered in frosting and edible decors

trees created from ice cream cones covered in frosting and edible decors

This Roman temple to “all gods” was converted into a Catholic Church dedicated to St. Mary of the Martyrs in A.D. 209.  This spared the achrictectural wonder from the fate of the Colosseum and other great buildings of Rome.  The temple/church also managed to survive the sack of Rome by the Visigoths in A.D. 410.  Perhaps they too thought this structure too wonderous for destruction.  The Pantheon is still in use today and remains a great tourist attraction for those seeking out a piece of history encased in beautiful and marvelous engineering.

As I hope is evident in this blog post, our gingerbread lessons are much more than “holiday fun,” they are an opportunity to engage with the history, engineering, and beauty of the past in a unique and creative way.  As we build, we learn what once was great, and how it can be made again a little sweeter.

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For other delectable lessons in gingerbread architecture, visit the posts:

Gingerbread Greek Theater

Gingerbread Circus Maximus

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