Rosse Hall inspires a range of emotions for most Kenyon alumni, who may remember the anxieties of first-year sing as well as the exhilaration of Chamber Singers concerts. It’s probably fair to say, though, that the stately campus landmark has never made anyone’s stomach growl — until now.

An art studio in downtown Manhattan holds a replica of Rosse, two feet long, 12 inches high, and made of fragrant gingerbread. It’s the creation of elite baker and cookbook author Patti Paige ’74, whom celebrity chef Ina Garten refers to as “the high priestess of decorated cookies.”

Working with a team of three assistants, Paige spent more than 100 hours constructing this remarkable version of the 1830s Kenyon building. Gingerbread cookie dough redolent of molasses forms the walls, meticulously decorated to evoke the subtly shaded beige and brown bricks of the façade. Paige carefully cut out the rectangular windows that line the sides; she used more gingerbread to form the white front steps, and piped icing to create the black handrail.

Rosse is not her first gingerbread artwork — far from it. Her cookie edifices include the Dean and Deluca store as well as New York’s famous brownstones. A three-dimensional scene for City Harvest in New York City features workers made of cookies picking up supplies for food banks.

When Paige arrived at Kenyon in 1971 — two years after the College began accepting women — she intended to study psychology, then switched her major to English. But she also took the “color class,” a popular introductory art course. “The teacher, Joe Slate, was the most amazing color guy,” said Paige. (Joseph Slate, considered the founder of the modern studio art department, retired in 1988 after more than two decades at Kenyon.) She fell in love with Slate’s class, in part because she realized that art entails problem solving. “I like solving problems. That’s one reason why I like cookies; they’re basically projects that need solutions,” she said.

Unlike a lot of people who logged time in the College’s dining halls (at the time there was a second dining hall in Gund), Paige loved the food at Kenyon. “There wasn’t much to do then,” she recalls. “We would spend three hours at meals at Gund.” She occasionally made M&M-decorated birthday cakes and baked whole wheat bread (“It was the ’70s.”). One thing she didn’t do at Kenyon, however, was bake cookies.

Nonetheless, cookies loomed large in her life. As a child growing up in Long Island, New York, she ate Lorna Doones and Pepperidge Farm Milanos every night for dessert. Best of all were her grandmother’s “Nana” cookies. Made from cream cheese dough, they were baked in little cups in assorted shapes; each shape was filled with a different ingredient, such as Maraschino cherries or chocolate chips.

After graduating with a degree in studio art, Paige wound up in Manhattan, where she found a high-ceilinged studio and planned to make a career as a professional artist. To supplement her income, she began baking her grandmother’s cookies and selling them to stores in her Soho neighborhood. She soon had a client list that included Bloomingdale’s and some notable galleries. Before long, baking supplanted painting as her career. She founded Baked Ideas and expanded her line to include gingerbread houses and other unconventional designs.

Paige is often considered a pioneer in the decorated cookie market, which began to boom in the late 1980s and remains hot today. Her big break came when she appeared in the inaugural issue of Martha Stewart Living in 1990. She created Babar and Celeste cookies based on the French children’s books, as well as wreaths made from gingerbread people. “It reflected the ‘We Are the World’ time,” Paige said with a smile.

Since then, the petite redheaded baker has barely been able to keep up with demand. She’s made cookie versions of chef Mario Batali’s signature orange Crocs, Demi Moore’s pregnant 1990s Vanity Fair cover and a Chinese takeout container, including chopsticks. Emojis of all kinds are particularly popular. Her work has appeared in Vogue, InStyle and Martha Stewart Weddings.

Paige sells tens of thousands of cookies annually without ever having opened a storefront bakery. Her customers include Tiffany’s, for which she makes spot-on copies of the store’s trademark blue box, and countless brides-to-be, for whom she’ll make anything from engagement-ring cookies to wedding-cake cookies. Packages of five or six cookies ordered from cost $25. Her custom-made gingerbread creations run into the thousands of dollars.

Paige draws on her art education not only for the stunning “painting” she does on the cookies, but also for the creation of the cookie cutters she uses. When she couldn’t find designs she wanted, she made them herself, twisting strips of aluminum into place. A wall of her loft displays a few hundred of the cutters. (She has about 3,000 cutters in all; most are in storage.) Many of the shapes are instantly recognizable: the state of Texas; the Eiffel Tower; an Oscar statuette. Others are harder to place without a prompt from the artist — for example, Fred Flintstone’s silhouette. Paige also sells cookie cutters online, with a set dedicated to down-dog yoga poses and another to lotus poses.

In her book You Can’t Judge a Cookie by Its Cutter, Paige teaches readers how to become decorated-cookie experts using just a few cutters. For instance, a guitar shaped cutter, turned upside-down, can become an ice cream cone; turned sideways, with some fine icing detailing, it becomes a ship in a bottle.

It takes Paige an average of 10 minutes to make each cookie, not including baking time. “About 90 percent of it is decorating, but you have to make the dough, roll it out, bake the cookies, let the decorations dry. And pack them; packing takes more time than anyone can imagine,” she said.

In her studio, which doubles as her apartment, Paige keeps an array of some of her favorite creations, plastic-wrapped and perfectly preserved, including her reproduction of Rosse. She admits that finishing the building in time for this issue of the Alumni Bulletin required an all-nighter. But it brought back memories of college. “It’s how I wrote my papers at Kenyon,” she said, tracing the royal icing of a light brown gingerbread brick with her finger.

Kate Krader ’85 is the restaurant editor of Food & Wine magazine.

Gingerbread Rosse

Of all the buildings on the Kenyon campus, Rosse Hall seems like an unlikely choice to celebrate in gingerbread. When Patti Paige ’74 agreed to make a building for this story, she considered a few others. Old Kenyon, she decided, would be too large. Finn House was too traditional for gingerbread. “It’s your classic gingerbread house and it’s been done, and I’m just not into that. I’m not a curlicue person,” she said.

At first, she discounted Rosse, thinking it was too plain. But the more she thought about it, the more it intrigued her. “I’m drawn to unlikely things.”

One of the main challenges she faced was recreating the building from photos and only the roughest measurements. “My team and I looked at so many pictures, and you have to figure out, ‘Are the stairs this big? Or that big?’” she said.

An even bigger challenge, it turns out, was the warm weather. To meet the deadline, the building had to be done by the end of June. “Gingerbread gets soft when it’s warm out, almost like a sponge,” she said. “There’s a reason people make gingerbread houses in the winter.”

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