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Sweeten Up the Holidays

Local bakeshops are bustling with traditional and trendy treats ready for your holiday parties and gifts.

With holiday to-do lists overflowing with tree trimming, gift shopping and stacks of greeting cards to sign, the owners of some local bakeries say they can help ease the stress by taking baking off the list.

Each bakery is whipping up special treats just for the holidays – from chocolate lollipop baskets to yule log cakes – so planning a party and finding that perfect hostess gift are a cinch, they say.

At Kiera Confections in McHenry, owner Kim Loewe is busy creating whimsical gift boxes filled with chocolate lollipops of “all different colors and shapes for the holidays,” she said, adding she has 250 chocolate molds for the suckers.

With five to six pops in each, the gift box themes include “snow fun”’ with penguin and snowflake pops; a musical package with music notes, stars and guitars; and a dinosaur arrangement.

“Or you can customize it however you want to,’’ said Loewe, who opened the store in June.

The boxes are wrapped in cellophane and tied with festive ribbon.

Also on her treat list is rocky road fudge – which she makes only during the holidays – and specialty cupcakes like chocolate mint with white chocolate cake and peppermint icing topped with chocolate drizzle and Andes Candies. She also makes a peppermint cupcake with vanilla cake – crunchy peppermint pieces mixed in the batter – and a white chocolate buttercream frosting.

Crave-worthy Cupcakes

A walk through Brink Street Market in downtown Crystal Lake this holiday season might draw you to SweetPea Cakes with the aroma of gourmet cupcakes. It’s what owner Carrie Curie does best, saying she knows just how to liven up a holiday party or surprise a hostess.

“We know what people crave,’’ said Curie, whose shop specializes in cupcakes.

A gingerbread cupcake with white chocolate buttercream frosting, an eggnog cupcake spiced with nutmeg and topped with eggnog buttercream frosting, and a chocolate cupcake with peppermint frosting can be found in her bakery case this holiday season.

“My gingerbread cake hands down is one of the best,” she said. “All of it is fresh and homemade.’’

While her customers are welcome to pre-order cupcakes in larger amounts, they can typically find them ready to go in any of the holiday flavors and in any quantity, she said.

“You can buy them from one to 100,’’ Curie said. “We’re baking them every day.”

Cookies, Fruitcake and More

This time of year finds Swiss Maid Bakery owners Paul and Laura Stricker up to their elbows in cookie dough. Baking 15 to 17 different types of all-butter holiday cookies every day to keep party trays and bakery cases filled is a full-time job this time of year, Paul said.

Customers looking for a variety of cookies for a party can find almond horns, Mexican wedding cake, chocolate butter and macaroon butter cookies – just to name a few – all on the same tray.

“Most of the stuff we will have on hand, but you can special order,” he said, adding customers should special order two to three days in advance.

The Swiss Maid fruitcake is made from a traditional recipe, he said. “It’s the same formula that’s been in the shop for at least 50 years,” he added.

The cakes are made with real butter, almond paste, candied fruit and pecans. The shop’s stollen, a German coffee cake, is also only available during the holidays and is “loaded with raisins, candied fruit, pecans and topped with icing or cinnamon sugar,’’ he said.

Swiss Maid has shops in Woodstock and Harvard.

Gingerbread Houses – To Eat or Admire

Crafting gingerbread houses – putting each piece of candy carefully in place – is just one job that keeps Anna Majewski, owner of Sugar Hills Bakery in Algonquin, busy this season. The houses come fully decorated and gift-wrapped.

“You can eat them if you want,’’ she said of the houses. “Most people use them as a decoration.’’

If wrapped in a black garbage bag to keep out light, and stored in a dry, cool place, the houses will last until the next holiday season, she said. Majewski is also busy baking trays of assorted butter, chocolate chip, cinnamon and peppermint chocolate cookies for the holidays.

“They’re really good-quality cookies and we make them every day,” she said.

Her open-face, apple-cranberry pie with streusel topping is also around just for the season, she said, adding, “you can even take credit for baking it.’’

Yule Love It!

A yule log cake, with white or chocolate cake rolled and filled with chocolate ganache or white buttercream filling, is a big hit with her customers during the holiday season, said Dawn Gerth, owner of Le Petit Marche in Crystal Lake. The cake serves 10 to 12 people.

The baklava she makes for the holidays is from her mother-in-law’s recipe, she said.

“I do use a locally produced raw honey that gives it a unique flavor,” she said.

And her English-style fruitcake is made with marzipan, royal icing and fruit soaked in whiskey and brandy.

Layered Cakes – Just the Right Size

Perfect to brighten up a holiday gathering and put smiles on guests’ faces are her layered cake cups, said Debra Mindham, owner of Tarts & Truffles Cakes & Catering in Woodstock.

“It’s a huge trend right now,’’ Mindham said.

In square, plastic cups, cake and filling are layered like a trifle, she said. Customers can choose from sweet yellow, chocolate, gingerbread and red velvet cake.

“It’s just the right amount of cake instead of having huge slices,’’ she said.

Each individual cup is decorated with a mistletoe leaf and holly berry and comes with a red spoon.

“It’s very showy for the holiday,” she said.

Orders for trays of cake cups should be placed one week ahead. Among other holiday specialties, Mindham also makes tartlets with fillings like chocolate and peppermint.

Fresh-Baked Scones

Moist and bursting with flavor, sweet and savory scones by Goldie’s Scones are the perfect addition to a holiday meal. With seasonal flavors like mint chocolate chip, gingerbread with walnuts, and maraschino cherry and chocolate chip, there is something for every taste and occasion.

“We feel that having the option of bringing Goldie’s Scones to bake fresh at home will not only fill your home with a wonderful fresh baked aroma, but it just makes it feel and smell like the holidays,” owner Denise Gulgren said.

Founded by Denise and her husband Wayne, Goldie’s has been a McHenry County staple since 1994. Today it’s easy to get your hands on these fabulous scones – they’re available at several retail locations in the county (see box for details).


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