Around here during the holidays we have a tradition called the “cookie walk.” A group of friends or church groups or local service clubs will put these together, and invite people to fill a plate of cookies from tables of holiday treats, many made from ethnic recipes passed down through generations.
While the “walk” part of the cookie walk can often be measured in feet instead of miles, the idea intrigued us. What if we created a nationwide cookie walk, where we filled a virtual plate with cookies and other seasonal treats from some of our favorite bakeries from around the country?
We quickly dispensed with the what-if part of that statement. Here is how we would fill our virtual plate. And if we rack up a few thousand reward points in the process, Expedia knows what to do with those.
Grinch cupcake, Muddy’s Bakery, Memphis, Tenn.: Genuine key-lime cake with cream-cheese icing is pretty much our definition of irresistible. Throw in some red-and-white sprinkles on the top, and your grinch’s heart won’t be the only thing that grows three sizes.
Peppermint patties, Happy Cakes, Denver: So why was Peppermint Patty not in A Charlie Brown Christmas? We are huge Peppermint Patty fans, so this has always bothered us, in part because who names their kid “Peppermint”? In some strange way, eating peppermint patties from this stylish batch of Rocky Mountain bake shops will soothe the pain. Especially if we wash it down with a chocolate-bourbon-pecan cupcake.
Gingerbread men, 3 Brothers Bakery, Houston: The Jucker family, Holocaust survivors and master bakers, have been turning out gingerbread men for five generations, each one soft, large, fresh and delicious, appropriately decked out with a bit of sprinkle bling, and guaranteed to be unable to outsmart a fox. Because our plate is small, we are not having any Pumpecapple Piecake – three pies baked into three cakes (apple pie into spice cake, pecan pie into chocolate cake, and pumpkin pie into spice cake), each stacked on top of the other, cemented with cream-cheese frosting and topped with caramel and a flurry of pecan pieces. “It’s a conversation-starter,” 3 Brothers says, and it is, and a story for another day. But should we ever serve an entrée of turducken, we know what’s for dessert.
European treats with really long names, Bennison Cakes, Evanston, Ill.: Many of the most delectable holiday treats are European, and this North Shore tradition makes them all: Weinachtstollen (Christmas coffee cake), croquenbouche (a tree of cream puffs filled with Grand Marnier pastry cream and held together with caramel), buche de Nöel (Yule log), pfeffernüsse (nut cookies flavored with honey and cognac), zimsterne (cinnamon-almond stars), springerle (anise-flavored pressed cookies), julekake (Christmas bread), and cardamom coffee cake. And though we are sorely tempted by the holiday-themed petit fours and the rum-eggnog pie, we are saving them for another plate.
Marzipan, Clasen’s European Bakery, Middleton, Wis.: The place to find authentic European holiday treats in southern Wisconsin is this neat institution on Madison’s far west side. Clasen’s offers most of the same European treats as Bennison’s, but what makes Clasen’s worth an extra stop is its marzipan, slightly sweet and oh-so-almondy. Whether covered in a thin layer of bitter chocolate or formed into holiday cookies, Clasen’s marzipan is the stuff of nutty dreams. Don’t mind us if we grab a petit four or four for the road.
Pizzelles from Oteri’s Italian Bakery, Philadelphia, or Papa’s Pastry Shop, Wilmington, Del.: The best thing about these airy, anise-flavored wafers (please do not call them “lighter-than-air”; if they really were lighter-than-air, there would be a pizzelle layer just below the ozone layer): You can eat a whole lot of them and still be able to eat a whole lot more of them. Oteri’s also offers wonderful Italian sugar cookies, in addition to Italian rum cake, cannolis, and lots of other just-plain deliciousness; Papa’s has calgionetti (chocolate and other delights wrapped in a fried-ravioli casing), and the story ends there. If you’re looking for rosettes, the Scandinavian pizzelle, we recommend Weber’s Bakery in Lodi, Wis. You can stop there on your way to Clasen’s.
Hand-decorated Christmas and Hanukkah cookies from Eleni’s Bakery, New York City: You have seen decorated cutout cookies, but you have never seen cutout cookies decorated with the level of artistry delivered by Eleni’s. Who else but Eleni’s sells cookies in sets that tell a story, like its “Night Before Christmas” set (24 cookies; $95) or its Festival of Lights set (18 cookies; $65)? The point would be moot if Eleni’s cookies weren’t the perfect cutout sugar cookie, which they are, especially if you like your sugar cookies just a little bit crisp. And yes, they’re kosher.
Rosca de Reyes, Panchita’s Bakery, San Diego: The Rosca de Reyes is the Mexican version of the Louisiana treat known as king cake, only slightly less sweet and heavy. You also get eat the Rosca de Reyes sooner: It’s usually eaten on Epiphany, Jan. 6. If you can’t wait that long, grab some Mexican wedding cookies or a seasonal empanada from this friendly neighborhood bakery.
What are some of your favorite holiday treats? Share them in the comments section – and happy walking!