In the idyllic world of Betty Crocker, holiday baking is something that brings families together. A doting grandmother wearing a plaid apron lovingly guides her grandchildren’s cherub hands as they pipe frosting on gingerbread men fresh from the oven. Dad hums while peeling apples at the kitchen table, as Mom expertly rolls a velvety crust. Silky cream pies cool on the counter, Aunt Jane frosts a mile-high cake, and visions of sugar plums are dancing in everyone’s heads.
Baking together brings many rewards, but things don’t always go according to plan. Cookies burn, kids get grouchy, and then there’s the clean-up–sometimes a major clean-up–right before guests arrive. Don’t have the energy or time? Maybe consider a back-up plan.
Preparing a dazzling buffet of traditional holiday treats is as simple as picking up the phone. Northern Virginia is home to many fine bakeries that create luscious desserts almost too beautiful to eat, but don’t wait to make that call–most have deadlines for holiday orders.
If there is a pie heaven, it might be here. Start with the creams–chocolate, coconut, banana, lemon meringue, sweet potato, pumpkin cream latte, bananas foster, Boston cream, butterscotch Heath bar, peanut butter chocolate, bonfire s’mores, and raspberry key lime to name a few. Traditional fruit pies are topped with flaky crusts, as well as the open rustic apple and rustic cranapple, too pretty to cut. The fruit Bavarian cake will wow guests, and other cake choices are endless. Consider the stunning pineapple upside down, chocolate opera, or lemon coconut cakes. Lots of cookies to choose from, too, including sugar-dusted Linzers and tuxedo-like black and whites. Amphora can prepare an entire dessert table for you, complete with pastries, tarts, shooters, macarons, cremes, bon bons, and other tiny treats. 294 Sunset Park Dr., Herndon, 703-964-0500
It’s hard to decide on a cupcake when there are so many options, so get a few dozen. Good holiday selections are the pumpkin cream cheese and pumpkin salty caramel, with many vegan choices, too. Bread loafs, like iced gingerbread, pumpkin chocolate chunk, and carrot pecan, are great to have on hand. “Xtreme” three-layer cakes serve 15, or bring home a candy-cane whipped-cream cake. A plate of colorful macarons will brighten the buffet; choose the champagne, apple butter, or eggnog flavors. The bourbon chocolate pecan pie, pumpkin spice latte pie, and vegan gingersnaps will go great with coffee and tea after dinner. 100 E. Fairfax St., Falls Church; 1025 N. Fillmore St., Arlington
Dutch apple pie is a classic favorite here, with two pounds of lightly sweetened Granny Smith apples topped with buttery oatmeal shortbread crumbles. The decadently rich, salted chocolate cream pie is topped with fresh whipped cream and dusted with cocoa. Add variety with the almond frangipane tart, and pick up some soft brioche rolls to go with the turkey. Flourless brownies made with espresso and brut cocoa powder will make gluten-free guests happy, and biscotti and thick berry bars go well with breakfast coffee. House-baked pound cakes, muffins, and made-from-scratch cookies will be a hit, but the colossal “TowerCakes” are decorated to turn heads. 1512 Belle View Blvd., Alexandria, 703-768-0100; 1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington, 703-567-6698
A European bakery for pastries, cakes, cookies, and other decorative sweets. Petit fours, brownie, cookies, rugulah, breakfast pastries, and fudge can be ordered by trays, and apple caramel nut, coconut cream, Boston cream, and cherry pies look festive. The layered fruit flan and Linzer tortes are other beautiful desserts. Kids will love the individually wrapped iced cookies, and who can say no to luscious cream puffs? 2150 N. Culpeper St., Arlington, 703-527-8394
For many, Christmas is not complete without a genuine, flaky Viennese strudel. Little Austria specializes in traditional Austrian premium strudels. Handcrafted with locally sourced ingredients, the carefully stretched strudel dough is filled with juicy orchard apples, berries, nuts, or honey or soft, sweet farmers cheese, spinach, or other savories, and then baked until crisp. Preservative-free, the boxed strudels can be picked up locally in the bakery or shipped nationwide as gifts. You can also find them at local farmers markets, restaurants, shops and breweries – check the website for details. Want to learn how to make your own strudel? They have classes, temporarily halted for COVID. 45915 Maries Rd., Ste. 102, Sterling
The old-fashioned two-layer frosted cakes behind the glass at the Marker-Miller Orchards bakery counter bring back memories of the ones Grandma used to make. Choose from apple, German chocolate, coconut, pumpkin-carrot, yellow, spice, or devils food cakes, frosted with choice of peanut butter, chocolate, or caramel buttercream. Orchard-fresh fruit pies include apple, blueberry, cherry, pumpkin, and fruit of the forest, but don’t overlook the pecan pie. Lots of breads, rolls, scones, cookies, and cider donuts. Vanilla and peanut butter whoopie pies are popular. 3035 Cedar Creek Grade, Winchester, 540-662-1391
Mom’s Apple Pie has been the go-to pie source for Northern Virginia families since 1981 and offers just about every kind of pie imaginable. Their classic fruit pies include apple, butter pecan apple crumb, blackberry, blueberry, sour cherry, rhubarb, and strawberry rhubarb. Cranapple, pumpkin, and sweet potato are holiday favorites, as are the cream, nut, chess and custard pies. 220 Loudoun St. SE, Leesburg, 703-771-8590; 35246 Harry Byrd Hwy., Round Hill, 540-338-1800; 126-A Commerce St., Occoquan, 703-497-7437
Looking for holiday Buche de Noel stollen? This is your place, along with sweet bread panettone and decorated sugar cookies. Apple walnut and apricot pistachio danish, cinnamon rolls, brioche beignets, and chocolate croissants make great treats to eat while opening gifts. The large apple rustic, French apple tart, pear bourdaloue, apple feuillete, walnut dacquoise, chocolate mousse cake, and ladyfinger Charlottes are beautiful enough to double as buffet centerpieces. Add a luscious sugar-dusted pecan pie or a whipped cream topped chocolate cream pie, and a tray of brownies or macarons, and you’ve got everything you need to sweeten your holidays. 2987 District Ave., Fairfax, 571-327-5686
Rise Bakery (Gluten Free)
Happy, sweet holidays to those on gluten-free diets! Everyone deserves a yummy holiday treat. Rise Bakery offers vegan and gluten-free options, including double chocolate, red velvet, vanilla confetti, and carrot cupcakes. Cookies and bars include butterscotch blondies, Nutella brownies, chocolate chip, and oatmeal cherry. The apple pies are filled with granny smith slices and cinnamon, and are free of gluten, dairy, eggs, and nuts. Other options are pecan and pumpkin pie, plus a host of gluten-free breads, including brioche rolls, chocolate babka loaf, buttermilk biscuits, cinnamon raisin loaf, challah, and many others. So many options for holiday entertaining, including devil’s food cake, mixed berry scones, eclairs with chocolate glaze, and raspberry danish. To ensure safety, all products are plainly labeled with primary allergen markers (dairy, eggs, soy, nuts), and the staff can help identify a wide variety of other common allergens. 201 Davis Dr., Ste. K, Sterling, 703-259-4702
The next best thing to visiting Switzerland in person. A full-service bakery specializing in artisan breads, French pastries, cakes, European desserts, and fresh ice cream, The Swiss Bakery also offers hard-to-find gourmet goods imported from Switzerland. There are so many choices for genuine swiss chocolates, including dark, white, milk, nougat, almond, mint, mousse, hazelnut, wafer, caramel, and sea salt. Watch the bakers as they prepare show-stopper cakes, including a glossy hazelnut espresso with chocolate ganache buttercream frosting, white chocolate mousse, tiramisu, black forest, and raspberry truffle. So many beautiful tarts, pastries, decorated cookies, and breads to choose from, but do not leave without a giant heart-shaped gingerbread, piped with colorful icing and decoratively wrapped in cellophane and ribbons–a gift sure to bring smiles. Ravensworth Shopping Center, 5224 Port Royal Rd., Springfield, 703-321-3670
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