Story by Pamela A. Keene | Photography by Scott Rogers
When it comes to holiday sweets, two Hall County professional bakers agree: a cookie is an ideal dessert.
“It’s just enough to have a sweet something, but not too much,” says Kerri Prince, who owns Whirled Piece in Gainesville. Her company bakes and ships cookies all over the country, most often in the Southeast. “And when I bake, I always have a ‘test cookie,’ just one that allows me a taste to make sure they’re all right.”
Calliope Sweets’ owner Patti Phillips, whose shop is in downtown Flowery Branch, likes the idea of cookies, too. “If you’re watching your weight, it’s easy to justify having one cookie,” she says. “After all, it’s just a bite.”
When families gather during the holidays, the common thread seems to be something edible. But when it comes to sweets, traditions vary from home to home. Sugar cookies — the kind made from rolled-out dough using cookie cutters to make angels, gingerbread men, stars, snowmen, and other shapes — lend themselves to personalization. Decorate them with colored icing, sprinkles or bits of candy and fruit. They’re a fun way to introduce youngsters to baking. There are no mistakes in decorating a sugar cookie.
The holidays are the time to pull out special recipes and bake favorite treats that you wouldn’t eat during the rest of the year.
Looking back to their heritage, families bring out recipes for German stolen, spritz cookies and macaroons. The aroma of baking Polvorones de Canela, also known as cinnamon cookies, fills the homes of people of Mexican descent. One of the most popular cookies at any time of year in the United States, Tollhouse or chocolate chip cookies are always a hit.
“My favorite cookie is still chocolate chip,” Phillips says. “It’s the first kind of cookie I remember having and they were always made with love by my mom.” Phillips is a purest when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, keeping the recipe straight-forward without adding nuts or oatmeal. “The ones my mom made were so chewy and good. The secret was to eat them when they were hot.”
Prince says that at home, she brings out a recipe for the holidays that has been handed down from her Greek grandmother. “Kourambaithes is a traditional butter-based Greek cookie that my family really enjoys,” she says. The shortbread-type confection that’s flavored with almonds is rolled in powdered sugar while it’s still warm.
It’s similar to a holiday favorite created by Calliope Sweets. Known as Mexican Wedding Cookies, they’re shaped into balls, baked until lightly browned, then coated with powdered sugar. “They look like snowballs,” Phillips says. “They are so messy, but very delicious.”
Whirled Piece offers a selection of 12 signature cookies. Holiday favorites with customers are Peppermint White Chocolate Chip, Red Velvet Bliss and The Georgian, with caramel morsels and chopped pecans. “Our cheesecake snickerdoodle and pumpkin pie cookies also sell well.”
At Calliope Sweets, Sunday in the Park is popular year-round. “It’s a combination of brownies and cookies served with a roasted pecan on top,” Phillip says. “Microwave them for 10 seconds until they’re really warm and gooey and they just melt in your mouth.”
Cookies are a natural gift for friends and family, especially those living far away. They ship well and can bring a touch of home at just the right time. They also are good hostess gifts. “Pick up a dozen – one of each of our cookies – and give an assortment as a thank-you for a party,” Prince says. “And for cookie exchanges, it’s so much fun to give a variety.”
Phillips can tell when a customer is attending a cookie exchange. “When someone orders two dozen cookies of the same variety, that’s very telling,” she says. “They take them home, remove them from our box and put them on their own platter. We don’t’ mind that at all. We’re just happy that people like our cookies.”