Rachel Peterson spent 10 years in Norway, and although there were many memorable places and events, what captured her fancy was the gingerbread city created annually in Bergen at Christmastime.
Heather Vick still remembers the moment she discovered gingerbread houses. It was 1987, and she was parked in front of the TV watching a demo on the “Good Company” show.
“I could do that,” she thought, and so she has, for 28 years, with any nearby child to help her. “They love it,” she said with a smile.
So does she, a pastry bag of icing in her hands, ready to pipe on any last-minute touches on the gingerbread structures before her, more than 50 on display at Norway House in south Minneapolis.
Today Vick works with Concordia Language Villages, which has its offices in Norway House, where Peterson works. Together they have cooked up a vision of the Twin Cities that couldn’t be sweeter, like a stroll through Candyland, as seen by Minnesota architects.
Is that the Guthrie Theater over there, its Endless Bridge stretching out toward the Mississippi, the shores lined with peppermint candies and the Stone Arch Bridge nearby?
Could the tallest structure be the Foshay Tower, decked out for the season?
The shimmer of color at the top of another skyscraper definitely means it’s the Target headquarters with its light display.
Lake of the Isles is easy to spot, its frozen surface ablaze in Life Saver ice sculptures with embedded lights.
And, of course, Mindekirken, also known as the Norwegian Lutheran Memorial Church, with Norway House next door, has a spot in this sprawling community.
Not surprising, the magnificent State Capitol holds court over all.
This is no cold Omaha. It’s a twinkly display of enchantment with enough lights and sparkly “snow” to bring a smile to even Scrooge, the room awash in the seasonal fragrance of cinnamon, ginger and molasses that seems to beg “breathe deeply.”
But before there was a landscape in miniature, there was a blank canvas. A city-to-be needs homes, just as it needs collaboration to build. Volunteers from Norway House baked gingerbread pieces during a day at the Cookie Cart facilities in Minneapolis. Those were packaged into kits and handed out to anyone who wanted to tackle the project — provided they returned with houses decked out in sweet excess.
Elsewhere, chefs and professional bakers put their talents to work, including folks from Crave, Wuollet, Coup d’état, Patisserie 46 and the culinary arts program at Concordia Language Village, all of whom created the distinct Minnesota buildings.
“Do we have room for Lake Nokomis?” asked Peterson, as one structure — emblazoned with a “lutefisk” sign and cookie fish — was settled into place.
Vick hasn’t tired of making the houses yet. She encourages us all to give it a try, even if it’s with the basic method of beginners: graham crackers as the building materials or the inexpensive gingerbread kits available this time of year. If you do, keep her words of wisdom in mind:
• Use the right icing (see recipe).
• Work slowly. A gingerbread house isn’t built in a day. The baked walls need to dry out. The icing “glue” that holds the walls together needs to set up before the roof is added.
• Leave an open spot at the roof so you can light small tea candles within, to make your house — gingerbread and otherwise — smell wonderful.
Follow Lee Svitak Dean on Twitter: @StribTaste