Go ahead and buy your Christmas cookies instead of baking them

Christmas macaron cookies in the shape of snowmen and decorations

Christmas macaron cookies in the shape of snowmen and decorations

No one expects you to achieve results like this on your own.

The days after Thanksgiving are the ones I associate with a whirlwind of flour, sugar, and butter. When I was growing up, my mother and aunt spent their evenings and weekends molding and baking at least a dozen different varieties of Christmas cookies. Sometimes they would let me help, but with their decades of experience, sometimes they would kick me out and leave me watching from the kitchen door.

Some cookie doughs simply took a few hours to chill, but other varieties took days. My favorites were the German springerles, a dense, anise-flavored cookie similar to shortbread cookies. They are a three-step process: make and chill the dough, roll out the cookies with a specially embossed rolling pin, and let them rest before baking.

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As my relatives got older and my career got busy, I started cheating. I narrowed my baking sessions down to a selection of the easiest cookies I could successfully make, like Chinese New Year cookies, a no-bake mix of chocolate, walnuts, and chow mein noodles. I started simply buying the more labor intensive varieties. While some of these professionally made cookies taste much better than my efforts (my gingerbread men turned into gingerbread drops), others just couldn’t quite live up to the memory of what my family made.

There is absolutely no shame in serving store-bought cookies at parties. You’ll save precious time and avoid wasting increasingly expensive baking ingredients. But not all cookies bought at the bakery are winners. Here are some tips on where to buy cookies besides the grocery store, places that aim to help customers who are overwhelmed this time of year.

your favorite bakery

It makes sense to try your favorite bakery first, especially if it specializes in cookies from other countries with Christmas traditions, such as Germany and Italy. Some bakeries rush their preparation weeks before the holidays to ensure they have enough cookies in stock.

Many bakeries, like Chicago’s legendary Roeser’s, post photos and lists on their websites and social media pages of what will be available, but you can also ask at the counter or by phone. Don’t discount a great bakery just because you might not specifically associate it with Christmas cookies. I walked into one of the Vietnamese favorite donut shops in Ann Arbor and found boxes of traditional cookies from a local baker.

Church bazaars, craft fairs and festivals.

Holiday fairs often abound with perfect cookie plates and boxes. Even if a craft fair is focused on giveaways, there is often a food section with lots of baked goods. Festivals are another great source, especially if they are weekend events where people will be hungry. Many of these bakers have an online presence (which helps them get the word out), so be sure to scan before you arrive. You may even be able to order ahead for on-site pickup.

Private/Independent Bakers

Independent bakers abound in cities across the country, advertising their cookies on Etsy, Facebook, Craigslist and Instagram. When I searched for cookies on Etsy, I was amazed at the art and variety. Many of these are old-school decorated cookies that almost look too good to consume.

In Pittsburgh, weddings traditionally feature a cookie table with hundreds, if not thousands of cookies. Several of the bakers at these events will be selling privately. Quantities are sometimes limited, because they often have to deal with state and local requirements governing home baking. But you should be able to find what you need.

family and friends

Does anyone specialize in a particular cookie? Are you looking for some extra money to spend for Christmas? commission them. Ask them if they would cook something for you if you pay for their time and ingredients. Keep in mind that prices for many ingredients have skyrocketed in recent years, especially for butter, nuts, and chocolate. Don’t try to sell them nickel and dime; remember, the relationship is more important than getting a deal.

mail order companies

You can buy cookies from all sorts of places online, from household names like Harry & David to Milk Bar, to individual businesses, many of which now use Goldbelly to sell their cookies. taste of home has a long list of cookie delivery services accepting orders this year. However, mail order can be complicated.

After trying to make springers myself, I gave up last year and ordered a package from Zingerman’s Mail Order. To my surprise, they came tougher than the ones my family made, and we had to abandon them rather than try to gnaw on them.

True to their customer service form, Zingerman quickly offered me a replacement or refund. Springerles are back this year (the price is up $1 from 2021), along with several other types of holiday cookies, including those baked by Zingerman’s. Despite all the risks involved with mail order, companies will generally try to correct any mishaps along the way.

Tips for buying Christmas cookies

Order as soon as you can. With supply chain issues and price increases, many bakeries and private vendors are only accepting pre-orders, and once they reach capacity for the season, that’s it.

Remember that commercial cookies are probably made with different ingredients than what your ancestors used. They can be baked with supermarket shortening or margarine and vanilla, while an elite bakery or independent baker may only use the best butter and exotic spices.

The prices will not be cheap. In my own search for desserts, I’ve found that Christmas cookies are usually a minimum of $1 each and often $2, and much more if you buy the lavishly decorated ones. Shipping is often added on top of that. But if you’re shopping for something that will serve as a gift, party favor, or the centerpiece of your holiday collection, the extra cost is well worth it.

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