Now that the cold weather is here to stay, we're holing up with "Ugly Betty" on DVD, trying to figure out how to stay warm without running the heat constantly and thinking non-stop about Santa-shaped cookies, Star of David cakes and grandma's, um, delicious fruitcake. With our noses perked and the sweet smell of baked goods filling the air, though, we can't help but venture outside—just for a short bit—to find treats that'll get us into the holiday spirit. Never mind our 2008 New Year's resolution to shed a few; we'll put that off until next year.
A German-style Christmas at Dinkel's
The classic neon sign outside Dinkel's is almost as ancient as the over-80-year-old bakery. Founded by Joseph K. Dinkel, who trained as a master baker in Bavaria, Germany, before immigrating to the States, the store is now on its third generation of owners. Its traditional German roots remain, especially in desserts like stollen, a dense bread-like loaf filled with fruit, which is particularly popular around Christmas. There are a variety of old-fashioned strudel pastries to choose from as well, like praline pecan, cherry and apple and cheese. And then there's the pfeffernuse, little, round, spice-filled cookies covered in white sugar. But Dinkel's also gets down with dazzling gingerbread houses that are so pretty, we almost feel bad devouring them.
Granny's fruitcake re-vamped at A Taste of Heaven
When he was a kid, baker Dan McCauley always dreaded his grandmother's gross fruitcake. You could even say that it put a damper on his holiday spirit. But instead of turning his back on the beastly loaf, McCauley decided to face his childhood fears by making his own version, one that he could not only stand, but actually love. Aptly named Edible Fruitcake, it substitutes preservative-filled candied fruit for dried fruit, like peaches, apricots and plums. It's lighter than granny's version, and doesn't aim for that fresh-out-of-a-can taste.
Don't forget Chanukah at Kaufman's Bagel and Delicatessen
Since 1984, Betty Dworkin and family have run a tight ship at this easy-to-miss storefront on Dempster Avenue. Israeli desserts like sufganiot, a doughnut filled with raspberry jelly and covered in powdered sugar, get crazy popular during the eight-day festival, as do the blue velvet cakes, a festive rendition of red velvet cakes. And then there are the Chanukah houses: blue-and-white gingerbread houses covered with icing, Hebrew letters, Hebrew Bazooka gum packets and candy bars from Israel. But we can't forget our favorite year-round rugelach, a pastry made from dairy-free (pareve) dough and wrapped around various fillings, like raisins, cinnamon, chocolate, marzipan, apricot, raspberry or cinnamon; the sweet morsels just taste better this time of year.
All-natural (but not guilt-free) goodness at Letizia's Natural Bakery
Stroll over to the variety of perfectly arranged, ridiculously irresistible desserts at this spacious bakery with high ceilings, and look straight at the seasonal cookies. These delightful characters come either as sandwich cookies, with a filling of caramel, butter cream or raspberry cream creeping out from two treats slapped together, or as single cookies. They're all made of shortbread and, best yet, are all-natural and preservative-free. We can't wait to munch on adorably plump snowmen sporting mittens and a hat, classic green-frosted Christmas trees and peppy reindeer.
A platter full of sweets at Sensational Bites
At this sparkling storefront on Southport Avenue, chef-owner Gina Sedivy, who worked at upscale spots like TRU, applies her knowledge to seasonal desserts. The Holiday Platter, a teeming collection of more sweets than our sweet tooths can handle, including items like rich peanut butter triangles, Lena's lemon cakes, Grace's caramel bars, Hershey Kiss-filled snowball cookies and cinnamon-orange flavored confections shaped like flowers and trees. Sedivy prepares each platter according to customer preferences, making it the perfect hostess gift during the busy holiday party season.
Other festive treats:
Who needs candy canes when you can score a chocolate cupcake covered in thick gananche, with pink-and-red peppermint buttercream frosting and a classic peppermint candy plopped on top?
Here you can snag a classic French buche de noel (aka yule log), made with an almond bisque and filled with egg nog buttercream, hazelnut buttercream or a dark chocolate mousse.