If sweet treats are among your holiday traditions but baking is not, you might be looking for a spot to snap up some festive cookies for your family or special gathering.
I’m happy to report that there are many, many options in Southern California, but let’s keep things simple. Here are six bakeries that are guaranteed to please – if you plan ahead and order early.
At this spot in Atwater Village, which has housed bakeries since the early 1960s, the classic chocolate chip is the year-round best-selling cookie. “It looks like your humble chocolate chip,” says Operations Manager Andrea Sung, except that it includes high-end Valrhona chocolate and a sprinkling of sea salt. “It’s sort of that perfect bite.” They sell 150 to 180 a day!
They try to keep chocolate chip available whenever they are open, along with three to four other types of cookies. During the holidays, they offer assortments of 24, 36 or 50 cookies that Sung calls “a little bit of comfort all-American, a little bit European.” It might include ginger molasses, Bretons, rugelach, Linzer cookies, bite-size biscotti and classic coconut macaroons. “We always do one decadent double-chocolate something,” she says.
And because the bakery is known for sourcing local ingredients and experimentation, you might also find fun flavors such as orange cardamom shortbread. “It’s always a little unpredictable,” Sung says. She recommends calling at least a week ahead for your holiday assortment.
3156 Glendale Blvd., L.A.; 323-664-8633; www.proofbakery.com
Manhattan’s Lower East Side isn’t the only place to get excellent black-and-white cookies – those delicious spongy shortbreads frosted half in chocolate and half in vanilla. Food writers regularly cite this longtime Valley bakery as on par with the black-and-white bakers of New York. “We’ve always been on top,” says Manager Irma Santana.
The bakery now offers all-chocolate and all-vanilla versions of the cookie, with the vanilla frosting tinted in seasonal colors during the holidays. Other holiday favorites are their frosted and decorated sugar cookies in the shape of bells, stars, candy canes and snowmen. They also make rugelach and mini Linzer tarts, as well as 25-30 kinds of little butter cookies that they sell by the pound.
Santana recommends calling a day or two ahead if you want something specific, as some varieties do sell out.
18450 Clark St., Tarzana; 818-344-0100; www.beasbakery.com
Little Flower Candy Co.
If you love caramels, you might already know about this tiny café and candy shop on the western edge of Pasadena. If you haven’t been there, their cookies are another good excuse to visit.
Try the sea salt caramel cookies for a delicious bite of chocolate plus a dab of that signature caramel. The chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin and peanut butter cookies, and the brown butter shortbreads, are also popular
The pecan sandies are available year-round, but during the holidays they’re scooped and rolled in powdered sugar. “During the holidays, it morphs into a snowball cookie,” says pastry chef Cecilia Leung. They also do chocolate crinkles, dipped in powdered sugar before baking, which Leung describes as “a fudgy brownie cookie.” A new variety, jammers, has become a big hit. Jammers are jam-filled shortbreads with a crumble topping.
Leung recommends calling two days ahead to make sure your favorites are in stock.
1422 W. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena; 626-304-4800; www.littleflowercandyco.com
The Sycamore Kitchen
Chefs Karen and Quinn Hatfield, who are also busy L.A. parents, created this cozy spot in District La Brea in 2012, with Karen overseeing the sweet side of things. She says their rice crispy cookies are probably their most popular. “I think it’s just that everybody likes rice crispy treats,” she says, but explains that these are in a class by themselves. “We puff our own rice. It’s by no means like a Kellogg’s Rice Crispy treat meets a cookie.”
They always have several other types of cookies on the menu as well, and add gingerbread ladies, fennel shortbread and rosemary sugar cookies to the mix at the holidays. “I love our gingerbread cookies,” says Karen. “They have just the right amount of spice and they’re very tender.”
They package cookies and other holiday treats – including their rice toffee bark – into fun boxes to make it easy for shoppers. But they’re also happy to create custom orders. “We’re very Mom and Pop,” says Karen. “You just come in and talk to the manager and we find a way to make it happen.”
143 South La Brea Ave., L.A.; 323-939-0151; www.thesycamorekitchen.com
In Westwood Village, Diddy Riese has been a cookie mainstay since 1983, and chocolate chip is the most popular variety, hands down. “It outsells everything else three to one,” says General Manager Steve Smith. The bakery sells nine other types of cookies as well – all variations on the chocolate-chip theme – plus ice cream sandwiches and other treats.
Varieties don’t change during the holidays, but the bakery does a booming seasonal business. “We get a lot of very sizable orders for our gift line,” Smith says. This includes bags, boxes and tins of cookies, and it isn’t unusual for someone to call and order 100 small tins at a time.
You can order online to have your cookies shipped, or call to pick them up at the bakery. “When you know what you need, call us,” says Smith.
926 Broxton Ave., L.A.; 310-208-0448; www.diddyriese.com
Valerie Gordon is known for her chocolate, which keeps customers flocking to her boutique in south Silverlake,
Valerie at Grand Central Market and Valerie Echo Park. But the enterprise she founded with her partner, Stan, in 2004 also serves up handmade preserves, cakes, pastries – and cookies.
The most popular of these is the Durango, which Gordon describes as “a modern version of a chocolate chip cookie made with milk chocolate chips, roasted almonds, cocao nibs and a dusting of a Durango hickory smoked salt.” They’re thin and buttery, crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside.
For the holidays, the boutique will also have gingersnap cookies – chewy treats with molasses, brown sugar and crystalized ginger. There are also, of course, lovely boxes of Valerie’s signature chocolates.
“All three locations are super busy during the holidays,” says Gordon, who recommends calling ahead to pre-order cookies and allowing at least four days for orders to be baked and transported to whichever of the three locations you’d prefer for pickup.
3364 W. First St., L.A.; 213-739-8149. 317 S. Broadway, L.A.; 213-621-2781. 1665 Echo Park Ave., L.A.; 213-250-9365. www.valerieconfections.com
Christina Elston is Editor of L.A. Parent.