The holiday season is always busy for Philadelphia’s bakeries. They gear up with jelly doughnuts, sugar cookies and stollen, pound cakes, and peppermint bark.
It’s no different for Mighty Bread Co., the sourdough-driven South Philly bakery tucked away down the teeny block of Gerritt Street, sandwiched between 12th and 13th Streets. Every year, owner Chris DiPiazza whips up cranberry- and orange-laced panettone and a soft torrone, an Italian nougat chock-full of nuts and honey.
But the bakery wanted to make a special holiday gesture to its kid clientele this year.
“We love all the kids that come into the bakery, and they know us and they know their favorite things,” DiPiazza said. “We used to give out cookies and stuff that we can’t do anymore.”
So DiPiazza and bakery manager Sydney Dempsey cooked up a treat that would be a nod to the neighborhood: a gingerbread rowhouse kit.
The idea came to them around Thanksgiving, when Dempsey mentioned she was thinking of baking gingerbread to make a house for herself.
“It kind of escalated from there,” DiPiazza said. “That conversation just became, ‘Oh my God, can we make a rowhouse instead of a traditional gingerbread house?’”
Dempsey sketched out the gingerbread architecture by looking at the homes on Gerritt Street: two stories tall, four sugar-frosted windows, a wreath-adorned door, two steps, and of course, a flat roof. In Dempsey’s design, a sprinkle-studded strand of lights frames the house and windows.
“The windows actually have sugar glass in them, so you can put a little tea light in there if you want,” DiPiazza notes.
The relatively last-minute idea means production is limited.
“We would have loved to come up with the idea in September and have been planning all this time,” DiPiazza said late Friday afternoon, “but yet here we are, with trays and trays of [gingerbread] right now and bagging up candy.”
The gingerbread kits, which can’t be preordered, cost $40 and come with instructions and all the precut gingerbread needed for construction, as well as three piping bags of royal icing (in red, green, and white) and assorted candies for decorating.
“There’s a few candy corns for parking cones to put outside of your South Philly house after you shovel your snow,” DiPiazza said.
The Mighty Bread team will be baking more kits leading up to Christmas. To keep its structure, the gingerbread needs more flour than, say, a sugar-molasses cookies, but Dempsey notes that its well-spiced and a nice cookie nonetheless.
Mighty Bread was wholesale-focused before the pandemic struck, which meant locals had one day a week — Saturday — to get their fix of its plump sourdough loaves, artfully constructed toasts, and Italian-leaning pastries. Customers would cram into the brick courtyard outside the bakery’s entrance, waiting to get a glimpse of the day’s selection while early birds enjoyed their haul on nearby picnic benches.
Since March, however, when 80% of its restaurant business evaporated overnight, Mighty Bread has opened to customers twice a week and established a preordering system. Even that might not be enough to sate regulars’ appetites: The bakery routinely sells out of certain loaves and baked goods.
“We’re just incredibly lucky that our neighborhood is so supportive of us,” DiPiazza said. “It’s a nice thing for us to be able to do this for the little kids in our neighborhood, but also to let them identify with this strong little community that we have, especially in this time when everything is crazy.”
Mighty Bread’s gingerbread rowhouse kits will be available to purchase on Saturdays through Dec. 19.