Christmas seems eternally perfumed with the aroma of fresh-baked cookies. Cinnamon, nutmeg, chocolate, roasted nuts, brown sugar, ginger. At least they were always this way at my mom’s house on those delicious Christmases past.
Using treasured recipes she’d acquired when we lived in Germany, as well as some gems from Sunset magazine, she’d start baking no later than the first of December: Brown sugar brownies, oatmeal bars, little pfeffernusse cookies stamped with tiny Scandinavian girls, boys, and Santas, and chocolate rum balls that were flat-out addictive. Each batch would be cooled, packed into shoe boxes, labeled, and then frozen until the week before Christmas. Then, a half dozen or so of each kind of cookie would be assembled into gift boxes we’d deliver to friends and neighbors on Christmas Eve. I still bake cookies this time of year, although my specialties are different from those of my childhood. I always bake a double chocolate variety, my own variation on the pfeffernusse filled with pecans, candied citron and white pepper, and an irresistible orange cranberry and almond cookie, loaded with butter and calories—the stuff of holiday memories. My buddy Lisa also has her own secret holiday recipes, and after she’s baked up a storm, we exchange our cookie assortments, each to each, and then enjoy tasting the handiwork of another baker.
If, for whatever reason, you don’t bake cookies this time of year—and yet you yearn for those old-fashioned holiday flavors—you’re in luck. We live in a veritable Santa’s workshop of bakeries, each seasonally stocked with glittering cookies of all kinds, from traditional to playful. At Gayle’s you can go nuts over the prettily decorated holiday cookies, as well as the classic Florentine whose chocolate and nuts make it suitable for gift-giving all year long. I am wild about Gayle’s cantuccini, a gossamer version of the Bolognese miniature biscotti, “little songs.”
At Kelly’s, it’s very hard to bypass arguably the finest pumpkin pie in town, even if it isn’t a cookie. But there are plenty of beautifully decorated cookies here too, each with colorful icings and sprinkles that make them favorites with young ones.
At the Buttery, tiny sugar cookie Christmas trees, stockings, stars and candy canes are brightly frosted and crying out to be consumed on Christmas Eve with coffee or eggnog. Without these lovely seasonal pastries, Christmas wouldn’t really be, well, Christmas.
Dessert of the Week
After a salon last week at Gabriella Cafe for a reading of my new book Inside the Flame, I shared a dessert so magically delicious that I still cannot believe it existed. Pumpkin semifreddo. Imagine softly frozen cream laced with the ripe, rich flavor of the season’s favorite squash. On top was strewn a spicy dusting of ginger snaps, and atop that was a generous mound of unsweetened whipped cream. To. Die. For. If it’s still on the menu as you read this, drop everything and head on over to Gabriella. You’ll thank me for this.
Wine of the Week
Bargetto’s 2015 Chardonnay, made from Monterey County grapes, and aromatic with citrus, a sprightly center, and the slightest green olive essence of oak. At 13.8 alcohol and a modest $14, this is a worthy and refreshing accompaniment for Dungeness crab, ham, tamales, and/or roast turkey. It also likes Brie. I found this at Shopper’s Corner as well as New Leaf Market on the Westside. Affordable pleasure and great with food.
Dot, Dot, Dot
Am I hearing this right? After so long Michael Clark is about to exit Michael’s on Main. But another Michael—Harrison—is poised to take over. Let me double check this historic rumor. Stay tuned.
Christina Waters is the author of ‘Inside the Flame,’ available locally at Bookshop Santa Cruz, Logos, and on Amazon.