An edible winter wonderland

Professional and novice bakers collaborate to create a giant gingerbread replica of the Twin Cities.

Brenda Tran

Local pastry chefs, gingerbread house experts and novices will transform whimsy into reality this month by crafting a smaller, sweeter, edible version of the Twin Cities — complete with gumdrops and frosting.

From Nov. 24 to Jan. 15, Norway House presents its first Gingerbread Wonderland, a display that will feature a giant gingerbread replica of the Twin Cities.

Gingerbread Wonderland is inspired by Norway’s gingerbread traditions, which began in the city of Bergen in 1991. The city’s Gingerbread City (Pepperkakebyen) is known as the biggest gingerbread town in the world. Thousands of people visit the display each year from all over the world. A diverse range of people contributes to Pepperkakebyen each year, from kindergarteners to businesses and private individuals.

Rachel Peterson is the project manager for Gingerbread Wonderland. She joined Norway House in July as chief program and marketing officer. She spent almost 10 years in Norway, during which she learned about Pepperkakebyen. When asked for exhibit ideas to fill Norway House’s gallery space, she suggested a Twin Cities twist on Pepperkakebyen. With the help of sponsorships and plenty of volunteers, Norway House managed to pull the event together.

Despite the time commitment, volunteers are more than willing to lend their talents. Heather Vick,  an event organizer, works for Concordia Language Villages and is well connected to the area’s Norwegian community. Vick is also a gingerbread aficionado; her passion for constructing gingerbread houses started 28 years ago. Vick is a technical adviser for the event and helped create many of the gingerbread buildings on display.

“The first time I built a gingerbread house, it was pretty hard. After doing it for 28 years, I wouldn’t say it’s hard or difficult … but depending on how much of a perfectionist you are, it can be time consuming,” Vick said. “It’s definitely my escape for the holidays. It takes your mind away from the stress of the season.”

In addition to helping with the houses, volunteers also assist with the logistics. Dick Enstad is a volunteer for Gingerbread Wonderland. He built all of the platforms for the exhibit and helped create its look.

Enstad has strong Norwegian ties, and he volunteers at a number of other Norwegian organizations in Minnesota.

“My favorite part is just being involved. I was one cog in a big wheel, but it was something that needed to be done,” Enstad said.

The display fills an entire gallery, roughly seven or eight banquet tables. Some gingerbread houses are as tall as 2 feet; others are only a few inches in size. Viewers will find mini versions of Twin Cities landmarks with a Norwegian flair. Be on the lookout for the nisse, a barn elf from Scandinavian folklore.

Norway House opened in June 2015. The organization, based in a Scandinavian area of Minneapolis, connects Norwegian-American business with educational, social and cultural organizations. The House provides space for a variety of events, including social gatherings, educational events, business meetings and exhibits.

Although this is the Twin Cities’ first Gingerbread Wonderland, Norway House has hopes that it will be one of many more to come.

“The key message is that we want to turn this into a Twin Cities holiday and tradition. We’d like to see it grow. We’re starting out small, but we want to see it become something people look forward to every year,” Peterson said.