By Andrea Pyenson / Photos by Michael Piazza
Edible gifts are always appreciated, but they feel particularly appropriate this time of year. In our portion of the Commonwealth alone, we are lucky to have a sizable and diverse group of talented pastry chefs, bakers, and chocolatiers whose passions shine through in their finished products.
A few weeks ago, a group of us gathered in Edible Boston’s editorial office to taste an assortment of treats from many, many producers so we could turn out our first ever Edible Boston Holiday Shopping Guide. We focused on delectable items that we thought would be fun to give and receive as well as those that would be great to have on hand to serve to people who stop by throughout the season. Of course, there’s no rule that says you can’t keep some to enjoy all by yourself.
Here are some of our favorites. We hope you, your friends and families appreciate them as much as we did. Happy Holidays!
1. Batter Up Bakery A former attorney and lifelong baseball fan, Deb Kaneb started baking cookies on a pretty significant scale when her four children were young and turned her passion into a business in 2005. She bakes in her Manchester kitchen, using natural ingredients. She decorates her beautiful and delicious frosted butter cookies with natural food coloring, which prompted one of our panelists to declare, “I’d feel good giving these to my kids.” Macaroons are all organic and gluten-free. batterupbakery.com
2. Bisou Sweet Confections A bundle of cinnamon-sugar-coated doughnut muffins is our idea of heaven, perfect to serve for brunch or bring along when you are invited to somebody else’s leisurely mid-day meal. They are among Bisou Sweet Confections’ (formerly Babycakes & Confections) latest offerings. Created by Karen Collins, the Stow-based bakery offers a selection of cookies, cakes, whoopie pies, and other sweets, as well as custom orders. We highly recommend the cranberry-orange and chocolate-pistachio biscotti, the latter made with rich Valrhona chocolate. bisousweet.com
3. Bread + Butter In May, renowned pastry chef and chocolatier Lee Napoli opened Bread + Butter in the North End, serving her baked goods, soups, and sandwiches. Napoli’s exquisite ChocoLee chocolates have long been available at her South End shop (as well as at Bread + Butter), and it’s a treat to once again be able to enjoy her pastry. While the truffles, candies, and bark make beautiful gifts, you might want to pick up a magnificent pear-ginger tart or linzer torte to have on hand for your guests. breadbutterboston.com
4. Brown Butter Bakery A bag of Hazelnut Crackle or Spiced Almond Toffee from this Arlington newcomer (which was preparing for its December opening as the magazine went to press) should be a pleasant surprise for any recipient. Both are addictive and more complex than they appear. The former are chocolate-coated clusters of hazelnuts, rice Krispies, crushed espresso beans, cocoa nibs, and orange zest. The latter appears to be an innocent butter crunch, but has a kick that sneaks up on you—in a good way. Co-founders Rich Morin and Jess Porto will also have an assortment of baked goods to stuff into loved ones’ stockings—or around the menorah. brownbutterbakers.com
5. Clear Flour Bread As soon as Thanksgiving is over, holiday stollen appear on the shelves at tiny Clear Flour Bread in Brookline. These delicious loaves, laden with rum-soaked fruit in almond paste-enhanced dough, are so popular people usually buy multiples to bring to the office, to friends, and—we’re sure—to enjoy at home. The bakery also stores frozen fruit tarts in its compact freezer to enable everyone during this busy season to, as general manager Carrie Diana says, “be the hostess with the mostest.” clearflourbread.com
6. Cocoa Santé Hot Cocoa All of this eating and socializing is bound to make people thirsty. Yes, there will be time for that… But for those other times, when frost coats the windows and maybe there’s even a little white stuff on the ground, Concord-based Jen Keegan has been busy creating four delectable hot chocolate blends, all made with organic cocoa. Inspired by cocoa’s global history, they come in individual cans or six packets to a box—attractively packaged either way. cocoa-sante.com
7. EHChocolatier A sweet selection from Somerville-based EHChocolatier can brighten anyone’s holidays. This year, cofounders Elaine Hsieh and Catharine Sweeney are offering a seasonal bonbon mix that includes Bourbon Caramel with Knob Creek-spiced eggnog, Palet d’or with dark chocolate ganache whipped into a mousse and topped with gold leaf peppermint, and chocolate nougat. We couldn’t get enough of the Beer Nut bars, which incorporate malty Guinness stout and local Pretty Things Jack D’or into an incredible caramel, wrapped around salty peanuts—all inside chocolate, of course. ehchocolatier.com
8. Fixx Chocolates Introduced less than a year ago, Fixx Chocolates seem to be everywhere these days. For good reason. As soon as they taste one, people have to have more. Our tasters had fun comparing Fixx bars to their commercial forebears. But really, there’s no comparison. For the holidays, chocolatier Nicole Coady has gathered six of her most popular bars into one beautiful package that she’s calling “A Tryst.” But you can put together any combination you want. Make sure to buy extras for yourself. fixxchocolates.com
9. Harbor Sweets This 40-year-old Salem institution is well loved for its Sweet Sloops and Sweet Classics chocolates. But in September, under owner Phyllis LeBlanc, working with local food legend Lora Brody, Harbor Sweets introduced Salt and Ayre, a new line of chocolate truffles and sea salt caramels. With flavors ranging from chai and cafe au lait to Thai ginger sea salt, the chocolates play on Salem’s historic place in the spice trade. Whether you stick to tradition or opt for the new, you really can’t go wrong. harborsweets.com
10. Harvard Sweet Boutique A year-old business that specializes in edible gifts, Harvard Sweet Boutique offers a wealth of festively packaged brownies, cookies, cupcakes, and confections. We were particularly impressed by the Milk Chocolate-Almond Spiced Toffee that arrived in an adorable penguin tin, and delectable bite-sized eggnog cookies tucked into a bright pink box wrapped in sparkly ribbon. Gluten-free peanut butter cookies were a big hit, even though nobody in our group has gluten sensitivities. harvardsweetboutique.com
11. Northlight Baking Co. Shira Melen, a pastry chef who has worked at Flour Bakery + Cafe, Sofra, and EHChocolatier, has turned her attention to macarons, those exquisite and ethereal French cookies that have begun to appear with more frequency in local bakeries. But unlike so many brightly colored imposters, Northlight’s macarons are the real thing. Her lavender, salted caramel, fig cardamom, passion fruit, and other mouth-wateringly flavored little bites have the perfect consistency—airy with a slight chewiness—and intense flavor. Even though they are almost too pretty to eat, you have to. northlightbaking.com
12. Plum Island Cookie Company Dawn Marie Shay’s beautiful butter cookies, which she produces in her “bakery by the sea,” taste as good as they look, each one individually wrapped. Her iconic sand dollar cookies are popular year-round, but for the holidays she breaks out her seasonal cookie cutters to create Christmas trees, mittens, reindeer, snowflakes, and, of course, gingerbread people. These latter break from the rest of the family, imbued with molasses, honey, and ginger—perfect for this time of year. plumislandcookiecompany.com
13. sfolia baking company With so much sweet and rich food during the holidays, you may find yourself craving something less so—maybe even something savory. Look no further than sfolia baking company. Belmont native Nikki Crugnale followed her family’s tradition of making pizzelle, Italian waffle cookies that are traditional for the holidays, and turned it into a business. She now makes three flavors of pizzelle as well as addictive, savory taralli (open, round olive oil crackers from Italy’s Puglia region) in four flavors. sfoliabaking.com
14. Something Sweet Without Wheat While some people opt to exclude gluten from their diets, many have no choice. Thanks to bakeries like Something Sweet Without Wheat, they can still enjoy all the foods associated with this season. Founded by sisters Christine Penney and Sandy Federico, who both have multiple food allergies, the bakery offers everything from pumpkin whoopie pies to holiday sugar cookies, apple cider doughnuts, and gingerbread cookies, houses, and kits. In addition to making great gifts, these items are perfect to have in the house for your gluten-free guests. somethingsweetwithoutwheat.com
15. Tatte Fine Cookies & Cakes Tatte founder Tzurit Or, an Israeli filmmaker-turned-baker, first made a name for herself in her new field with her beautiful and delicious nut box tarts. But there is so much more to choose from in Tatte’s delectable gift department. We were practically drooling over the cranberry-pistachio shortbread. For the holidays, the bakery features beautiful assortments of tarts, cookies, brownies, and quiches. tattecookies.com
16. Turtle Alley Handmade Chocolates Who doesn’t love turtles, those delicious combinations of chocolate, caramel, and nuts, shaped like the first (only?!) pets many of us had. At Turtle Alley on the North Shore, turtles come in a variety of flavors, from classic to cherry apricot to chipotle. But chocolatier Hallie Baker’s creativity does not stop there. Her wrapped caramels (let’s hear it for rosemary salted caramel!) and butter crunch could become addictive. Everything is handmade, hand-dipped, and beautifully packaged—which should keep you from eating it before it’s time to give it away. turtlealley.com
Andrea Pyenson is a Boston-based food writer who has a hard time passing up a fine chocolate or baked good. She is reachable at firstname.lastname@example.org.