By John Lehndorff
It is the week before Christmas and all through my house it’s beginning to feel festive. For some folks colorful lights matter. Other insist on constant carols, poinsettia, constant Lifetime Channel, frequent chia pet ads and a decorated potted organic rosemary bush.
I follow seasonal traditions that are good for the soul and the taste buds. Each year a few days before the big day I ritually head out on The Bakery Run. I take my supplements, do some stretches and hit the road to visit bakeries and markets in the Denver area.
I look forward to good fruitcake (not an oxymoron), mincemeat cookies, and stollen, a buttery fruit bread in a powdered sugar blanket. The actual flavor of these treats is beside the point. They taste to me like December in the early 1960s in the house where I grew up and the aromas take the expressway to my brain’s pleasure centers. The only thing infusing these baked goods is a high concentrations of butter and sugar.
I love that happy-frantic energy of independent bakeries right before the holidays from Thanksgiving through New Year’s Day. My run gives me holiday carte blanche to drink coffee and eat pastries on the way to the next bakery. Nothing beats back the solstice darkness like a flaky chocolate croissant.
I like treats for Christmas Eve wrapping plus pannetone (a yeasted sweet bread) and pastries for Christmas morning along with heavy, dark, chewy Slavic bread because, you know, fiber. I keep an eye out for edible ornaments, cool stocking stuffers and unidentifiable Russian wrapped chocolates. It do this drive with a calm mind, full tank, an empty stomach and the firm knowledge that I will have to swim laps for a month to compensate.
Bless you if you uphold a tradition of baking certain holiday treats from scratch. We all do our best but many of us we don’t have enough time to do the laundry, never mind bake anything but cookies. If you would like to start your own Bakery Run tradition, here are a few of my favorite holiday baked goods and a few favorite places to find them in the Denver metro area.
The Bagel Store
What to get: Pumpkin cake; Rugelach (sweet dough rolled around fillings including apricot); Almond mandelbrot (dunkable like biscotti); Challah rolls
942 S. Monaco Parkway, Denver, 303-388-2648, denverbagelstore.com
What to get: Yule logs; Challah rolls; Gingerbread persons; Cranberry orange tea bread; Stollen with rum-soaked fruit and almond paste dipped in butter and sugar
726 Lincoln St., Denver; 303-292-3989, citybakerydenver.com
Denver Bread Company
What to get: Cherry walnut bread; Chewy cookies with crystalized ginger; Salty maple pecan shortbread; Diablo cookies (dark chocolate, cayenne, cinnamon, black pepper)
3200 Irving St., Denver, 303 455-7194, thedenverbreadcompany.com
Dolce Sicilia Italian Bakery
What to get: Italian cookies (including pignoli); Biscotti; Pannetone; Ricotta pie; Sfogliatelle (layered, filled, fried sweet pastry)
3210 Wadsworth Blvd., Wheat Ridge, 303-233-3755, dolcesiciliabakery.com
What to get: Frosted butter tea cookies; Buche de Noel; Gingerbread houses; Snowman cupcakes
1160 Speer St., Denver, 303-376-007, gateauxpastries.com
Hi Rise Bakery
What to get: Gingerbread persons; Gingered Irish soda bread; Sticky toffee pudding with dates and walnuts – also a Sweet Action Ice Cream seasonal flavor; Challah; Bialys
2162 Larimer St., Denver, 303-296-3656, hirisedenver.com
What to get: Pannetone; Peppermint cake; Dinner rolls
Central market, 2669 Larimer St., Denver; 303-657-6111, etaiscafe.com
What to get: Italian cheesecake; Frosted holiday cookies; Salted maple chocolate chunk pecan pie; Gluten-free pumpkin cake with meringue and whipped cream
3990 Broadway, Boulder, 720-596-4905, luckysmarket.com
Marczyk Fine Foods
What to get: Pecan pie with a lard-butter crust; Baked tree ornaments; Stollen
5100 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-243-3355. 770 E. 17th Ave., Denver, 303-894-9499, marczykfinefoods.com
Moxie Bread Co.
What to get: Kouign-amann pastries with persimmon, mincemeat and sticky toffee fillings; Pannetone; Blue cheese and walnut bread.
641 Main St., Louisville, 720- 350-4710, moxiebreadco.com
What to get: Kourambiedes (powdered sugar-coated cookies); Baklava; Honey cookies
2813 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-394-9333
What to get: Pfeffernuss cookies (allspice, anise, black pepper); Stollen; Yule logs; Kringle (pastry); Fruit-filled streudel; Springele (anise) cookies; Gluten-free and sugar-free cookies and pastries
5721 Olde Wadsworth Blvd., Arvada, 303-467-1810; rheinlanderbakery.com
What to get: Russian tea cookies; Hungarian-style cheesecake; Poppy seed cake with coffee buttercream; Rum balls; Sweet yeast buns; Babka coffee cake with raisins
9606 Ralston Road, Arvada, 303-940-2065, royalbakeryco.com
Taste of Denmark Bakery
What to get: Almond croissant; Coconut macaroons; Kringle; Fruit-filled strudel; Swedish Limpa rye bread with fennel seeds and orange peel
1901 S. Kipling St., Lakewood, 303-987-8283, tasteofdenmark.net
What to get: Bûche de Noël; Cranberry walnut boule; Pear chocolate croissant
2950 S. Broadway, Englewood, 303-777-7222, trompeau-bakery.com
Holiday Sugar Cookies
This classic butter cookie recipe has been adjusted for altitude.
1 cup European butter (not unsalted)
1 cup white sugar
1 large egg
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
Optional: 1/8 teaspoon fresh lemon zest; replace ½ cup flour with ½ cup ground almonds. Other additions include a few teaspoons of mini chocolate chips or chopped pecans
Beat together sugar and butter until fluffy and then stir in egg and vanilla. Note: European butter has a higher butterfat content. Yum!) Add flour and baking powder gradually and optional ingredients if desired. Dough will be dry but it will moisten as it chills. Divide dough into six roughly equal parts and chill for at least an hour in the refrigerator. Roll out dough pieces in a plastic freezer bag or use waxed paper. Roll it thin if you want crisper cookies and thicker for softer cookies. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Bake on a nonstick cookie sheet for about 8 to 9 minutes at 375 degrees (until slightly golden). Makes about 36 cookies, depending on size. Frost and decorate as desired.
John Lehndorff is the former Dining Critic of the Rocky Mountain News. He hosts Radio Nibbles on KGNU: news.kgnu.org/category/radio-nibbles.