Gingerbread houses build long-lasting tradition in Monroe

Kara Vensel
The Monroe News

Monroe — Baking and building gingerbread houses started as a long-time tradition for one family but has now been bringing Christmas joy to Monroe County families for 17 years.

Sandy Bergquist of Monroe has been sharing her baking skills with the community for years. When Karen Braunlich, circulation librarian and event coordinator at the Dorsch Library, learned of her skills she recruited her to help start a gingerbread house decorating event at the library, The Monroe News reports.

Sandy Bergquist uses frosting with a cup of sugar as she starts to apply the frosting onto one of the sides of the gingerbread house for the stained glass window made from melted hard candy at her home, Oct. 27, 2021, in Monroe. Bergquist has been providing gingerbread for the gingerbread house decorating program at the Dorsch Memorial Library branch for the past 17 years.

Bergquist used to teach her skill of baking gingerbread houses to community education classes in Monroe before Braunlich asked her to help start a program at the library.

“Karen used to joke with everyone saying ‘I stole her from community ed!',” Bergquist laughed. “I just wanted people to know that they could do this by themselves at home.”

Bergquist uses any brand of store-bought box mix for gingerbread cookies but edits the recipe to create a sturdier dough. She recommends only adding, little by little, flour and just a quarter cup or less of hot water until the batter reaches a play dough-like consistency.

“It’s a really forgiving dough,” said Bergquist. “You don’t have to worry about messing it up.”

Bergquist then rolls out the dough to about an eighth of an inch before cutting out the shapes of the house and baking for 13-15 minutes. She usually makes around 15 houses for the library event which she said takes at least seven hours of baking.

Sandy Bergquist cuts out the gingerbread house sides using parchment paper to store them at her home, Oct. 27, 2021 in Monroe

“She does this truly out of the goodness of her heart, and it’s a big heart,” said Braunlich. “Once the first one was such a success we decided to keep doing it because everyone really liked it.”

Each family or individual that signs up for the free event at the library is supplied with an assembled house and one bag of frosting. For those who’d like to try on their own, Bergquist recommends buying any kind of store-bought frosting, except whipped, and adding one cup of powdered sugar to make it more binding.

“This really is my edible glue,” said Bergquist.

From that point, participants can get as creative or traditional as they’d like with the decoration process. Bergquist often melts hard candy to create "stained glass windows," uses the frosting to create icicles or decorates the board that the house sits on, which she calls landscaping.

“It’s always fun doing the classes,” said Bergquist. “People get really excited and it’s fun to see the parents get so into it.”

Braunlich said the crowd ranges from families with small children, to siblings, or even couples. She said the community always looks forward to the event.

Sandy Bergquist demonstrates how to make icicles on the rooftop of the gingerbread house she made at her home, Oct. 27, 2021, in Monroe. Bergquist has been providing gingerbread for the gingerbread house decorating program at the Dorsch Memorial Library branch for the past 17 years.

“There are people that start watching our calendar in November to sign up for the program,” said Braunlich. “I have a number of people that repeat every year, or try to, and there’s always a waiting list.”

The pair said that the houses are often so durable that families will keep the house to display during the season for years after. However, in the Bergquist family, the tradition is a little different. Bergquist said her family makes one gingerbread house each year, usually in her hometown of Flag Pond, Tennessee.

“We do the same thing down south. Except our tradition is we have the gingerbread house, the kids all decorate it, we take all our photos, we count to three and the kids destroy it,” said Bergquist. “It’s amazing, you’ll see your grown children turn into 5-year-olds.”

“That’s the memory they’re going to remember.”