Santa’s Snacks

Bakers Share Favorite Treats For the Holidays and Beyond

By April Bartel | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 12.01.16 – Dining, Food & Drink

Christmas cookies are always made with a pinch of magic. They are subtly infused with it as the baker’s thoughts swirl with love and kindness. The result is a genuine smile that spreads across the enchanted eater’s crumb-dusted lips. Maybe that’s why we leave cookies for Santa, a little quid pro quo of appreciation for our mysterious benefactor. During this season, professional bakers rev up their ovens, too, churning out sweet treats for holiday parties, family feasts, client gifts and customers’ well-deserved indulgences during frenzied holiday shopping.

They put down their mixing spoons to answer the question, “What cookie would you make for the big man in the red suit?”

Sugar and Spice

At just 22 years old, Lucie Shelton, owner of Cakes To Die For, is a unique package of youthful exuberance and savvy entrepreneur. She opened the shop on North Market Street in March 2014, but started the company in 2010 at just 16. Early this year she was named “Best Bakery” in Frederick Magazine’s “Best of Frederick” readers’ poll. She says it all began with an Easy-Bake Oven. “I wanted to bake with my mom.” Her favorite cookie—besides the ones her mom makes—is a soft pumpkin-flavored gem with vanilla glaze. “I love chocolate chip cookies all year long, but once we start making these …” she trails off, chuckling, “maybe they are a little bit healthier, so you can eat a few more.”

Cakes To Die For customers’ number-one request is iced butter cookies. “They take a little more time to make,” says Shelton. “People will look up recipes on Pinterest and try to make them perfect. Then, an hour in, they’ll give up.” Holidays are stressful enough, so Shelton recreates busy customers’ nostalgic family recipes, just the way Grandma might have made it. She jokes, “They can pass it off as their own creation.” Her show-stopping Buche de Noel, a whimsical chocolate roll cake with a creamy swirl that’s decorated like a yule log, is also popular.

Winter Wonderland

Gayla Magnus Stockman grew up inspired by family bakers, too. She and husband, Ken, own Maggie’s Custom Bake Shop in Middletown. Stockman rates chocolate chip cookies among her favorites, too, but for something Santa-worthy she considers the options. “I would leave him a nice, soft Amish sugar cookie, which reflects our German heritage.” As an alternative, she says, “I think Santa would enjoy his stop in Maryland with kinklings and strudel,” if he wasn’t in the mood for cookies. Kinklings, a traditional German-style doughnut, are Maggie’s specialty. In December and January, Stockman also churns out sugared loaves of stollen, a mounded 15th-century creation said to resemble a Christmas camel’s hump, laden with candied fruits like jewels in its pack.

Long-time customers may remember Stockman as a baker at the former Dan-Dee Restaurant. She worked there alongside her mother and aunts for years and recalls happy memories baking together. “My great uncle and aunt started the Dan-Dee.” Now she shares her expertise with the next generation, including her nieces and children of friends. “I enjoy seeing their faces light up.” Magic, indeed.

Mistletoe and Holly

Across the county in Monrovia, Tracy Jones, “Queen Bee” of The Buzz bakery and café, is always trying new recipes.  She takes pride in using “real food” ingredients with hometown flair, acknowledging local suppliers on her website, including McCutcheon’s Apple Products, Lebherz Oil & Vinegar Emporium, Stone Hearth Bakery for breads and nearby farms for eggs. The breakfast and lunch menu changes biweekly, but bakery case goodies vary daily. You may find gingerbread whoopie pies and cider doughnuts next to luscious java-laced brownies and savory scones. This busy mom of two boys claims, “I’ll make 200 pies in two weeks before Thanksgiving.” Dutch apple is the star on Jones’ home holiday table.

When it comes to cookies, she says, “I’m partial to pecan sandies. We make them year-round in the shop, but I reserve eating them until the holidays, because they are my favorite.” More than cookies, though, customers request The Buzz’s “stump cake,” Jones’ take on Buche de Noel. It’s a three-layer chocolate cake iced with chocolate-over-vanilla buttercream, garnished with mushroom-shaped meringue. “Before I bought the shop,” she adds, “I’d always host a cookie swap. It’s a great excuse to slow down, get together with friends … and leave with a nice, big platter of assorted cookies.”

Juliet Kaufman, the owner of Juliet’s Italian Market & Café on Church Street, blends cultural traditions for holiday menus. Born in the Philippines, Kaufman is more likely to whip up a batch of fresh mozzarella than a mountain of baked goods, but she has a place in her heart for almond-flour cookies sandwiched with raspberry jelly. “I’ll send them to my daughter in college,” she says. The big draw at her place is buttery, eggy panettone, a seasonal specialty imported from Italy. She orders them months in advance. “Sometimes they sell out before Christmas.” Torrone, an ancient nougat-almond confection, is big, too, as is Juliet’s fresh mozzarella rolled with prosciutto. Of course, customers can also nosh on her Asian chicken salad while they ponder a list of ingredients for an Italian-American Feast of the Seven Fishes on Christmas Eve.

Joy to the World

All our bakers offered encouragement for beginners who want to mix up their own holiday magic. “Don’t give up,” says Stockman. “Put yourself out there. You learn through failure, too.” Self-taught Kaufman concurs. “There’s always more to learn. I’m still learning.” She happily shares holiday recipes with novices, counseling, “Tiramisu is easy and we have all the ingredients here.” It’s delicious and you can’t burn it.

When trying something elaborate like cut-out cookies, Shelton recommends patience. “Chill the dough. Take a little break. Watch some bad TV. Then come back and cut out the shapes.” Jones’ advice is practical, too. “Read the recipe first. Make sure you have all the ingredients. … And if they say to use room-temperature butter and eggs …” do it. It makes a difference.

But rest assured, whether you bake your own cookies or buy them at the store, Santa will know that every bite of sweetness comes from the heart.