A holiday meal is not complete until everyone has had their blissful fill of cookies and cakes. And New York City harbors a wonderland of baked treats from holiday traditions of all sorts.
I’ve chosen pastries that span the sweetness spectrum, so you can find the perfect one to match your taste, from least to most sweet. Pick one, or a dozen. It’s the time of year to be merry, after all.
Hold the Sugar (Mostly)
Il Buco Alimentari
The East Village Italian hot spot has a new head baker, Sheena Otto, who previously worked at Bien Cuit and Atera. She has prepared two holiday loaves based off recipes that she makes for her family. The Chocolate Cherry Hazelnut bread is a regular holiday treat that Otto tweaks each year ($17). The bread has a pillowy, fluffy texture, studded with delicious nuts and tart cherries.
The Walnut Ginger loaf is Otto’s alternative for people who don’t like chocolate ($15). The combination of candied ginger and warm spices evokes the feeling of sitting by the fireplace. This is a great substitute for dinner rolls—butter ’em up!
Available until Jan. 8. Order in advance at the store or by phone. IlBucoVineria.com
Grandaisy (locations in Tribeca and Upper West Side) makes fresh batches of panettone for the holiday season, peppered with citron and candied orange peel for an intensely zesty pastry ($25).
Available through Jan. 1. Order online or by phone. GrandaisyBakery.com
For the Temperate Palate
Investment banker-turned-pastry-chef Umber Ahmad grew up in a neighborhood in northern Michigan with a heavy Finnish and Swedish presence. Maybe that’s why her nisu bread—a traditional Finnish pastry commonly eaten during the Christmas season—is so enchanting ($12). Tasting it is like having cardamom pods cracked right under your nose—it’s that aromatic.
Her Dark Chocolate Explosion Cookies are a delight: Their soft chewiness is akin to a brownie, but they’re not cloying ($12 for six). A layer of powdered sugar makes them look appropriately winter-themed.
The Butter Pecan Shortbread cookies are also a sure holiday favorite ($15 for 12). A fine balance of nutty and buttery, they make for addictive pre-meal snacks.
Purchase at the West Village bakery or online at MahZeDahrBakery.com
Holiday flavors are expertly captured in Boerum Hill’s Bien Cuit’s cookies. Chef-owner Zachary Golper’s Dutch-style speculaas cookies are like the best gingersnaps you’ve ever tasted, chewy and crispy with just the right amount of spicy and sweet ($6). They are seasoned with molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, and ground fennel seeds. The Chocolate Mint Brownie Cookies, meanwhile, taste like peppermint wrapped in dark chocolate ($5).
Golper also sizes down bûches de Noël into mini-cakes. The Chocolate and Chestnut has an unexpected savory edge, with a brown butter and Lapsang souchong tea buttercream filling, while the Blood Orange adds a dose of sunshine ($8 each).
For a treat that’s on the mild side, get the stollen, a German holiday bread studded with nuts and dried fruit. Its denseness makes it great for dunking into tea.
Available through Dec. 31. Preordering is encouraged. BienCuit.com
Four and Twenty Blackbirds
This Gowanus pie shop made its name on its salted honey and salted caramel apple pies ($40). The former has a luscious custard filling and a salt-inflected crust, while the latter sings the virtues of the humble but scrumptious fruit.
Available through Dec. 23. Order online or pick up at the two Brooklyn locations (the Gowanus pie shop at 439 Third Avenue, or at the Brooklyn Public Library Cafe). In Manhattan, pick up on Dec. 23 only at Little Owl the Venue (93 Greenwich St.) or Saxelby Cheesemongers (120 Essex St.). BirdsBlack.com
For the Sweet Tooth
For Hanukkah classics, get Breads Bakery’s sufganiyot (jelly-filled donuts) and knockout rugelach. The donuts have an irresistible bouncy texture that lend more heft (and thankfully, less grease) than typical American yeast donuts ($30 for 12). They are filled with jammy strawberry, decadent dulce de leche, or a lovely mascarpone, oozing from the inside.
The buttery rugelach come in marzipan or chocolate flavors, drenched in sugar ($18 for a dozen).
Breads also makes a spiced pear cake fit for afternoon coffee ($29). Though the cake is quite rich, it is seasoned evenhandedly and not too sweet.
Sufganiyot and spiced pear cake available through Dec. 31. Preordering is encouraged. Rugelach available all year. Purchase at the Union Square location or by phone. BreadsBakery.com
Maison Kayser makes extravagant versions of bûche de Noël, the French yule log. The chocolate version will satisfy chocoholics with its smooth, pudding-like mousse filling. Meanwhile, the raspberry bûche and yuzu bûche—brilliant in their race car–like sheen—tease the taste buds with tanginess. A bûche with chocolate and chestnut purée—a very French ingredient—round out the offerings ($42 each). A layer of hazelnut biscuit underneath gives a fun textural contrast. Multiple locations.
Available through Dec. 26. Order by phone. Maison-Kayser-USA.com
This Upper East Side bakery makes a homey pear gingerbread loaf that tastes like a gingersnap cookie embellished with bits of fruit ($16).
Pastry chef Rachel Binder, who grew up in Israel, also creates Hanukkah goodies. Padoca’s sufganiyot resemble little bites of pound cake—much different from the donuts we’re used to. Raspberry, strawberry, and dulce de leche are among the flavors, but the bakery will also sell a different surprise flavor during each day of Hanukkah ($18 for box of six, $34 for 12).
Gingerbread loaf available through February. Sufganiyot available through Jan. 1. Preorder at the store or by phone. PadocaBakery.com
Two Little Red Hens
This gingerbread cake will win over the sweet tooth and the sweet skeptic alike. There’s a dark, slightly bitter spiciness to the gingerbread, but mixed with the creamy lemon frosting, it’s a winning combination of flavors ($36 for six-inch, $49 for eight-inch).
Available for pickup in store on the Upper East Side through Dec. 24. TwoLittleRedHens.com
For the Incurable Sugarholic
After staying in Berlin for two years, baker Sandy Lee fell in love with lebkuchen (pronounced leeb-koo-hen), those chewy, spicy German holiday cookies, and made it her mission to develop the perfect recipe. Lee says that Nuremberg-style lebkuchen are of the best quality, because they are baked with more nuts than wheat flour, lending potent flavor. Nuremberg was also where monks in the Middle Ages first began making these cookies.
After researching old trade manuals, chatting with bakers in Germany, and lots of experimentation, Lee finally got the recipe down. Lee lavishes warm spices, ginger, nuts, orange peel, and citron on her lebkuchen—leaving you with a toasty feeling ($25 to $152, depending on amount, in regular, mini, and chocolate-covered varieties).
Available at Union Square, Columbus Circle, and Brooklyn Flea holiday markets through Dec. 24. Available online through the month of January. Leckerlee.com
Julia Huang contributed to this report.