Making the holidays sweet: Vail Valley bakers and confectioners share their favorite traditions

Kimberly Nicoletti
Special to the Daily
Sweet Mustache offers DIY cookie decorating kits.
Courtesy photo

Since well before the dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, the holidays have been associated with sweets. The tradition of giving kids candy started about 350 years ago in Germany when a choirmaster handed children sugar sticks shaped into a shepherd’s crook to keep them quiet through the long Christmas service, according to “The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets.”

These days, the Vail Valley offers plenty of sweet treats to help celebrate the holidays (or quiet kids at church); here are several starting points.

Sundae’s Egg Nog
Courtesy photo

A variety of sweets

From chocolates to cakes and cookies, specialty sweets make holiday memories all the more pleasurable.

While Cornerstone Chocolates in Edwards can incorporate cinnamon, chai and all kinds of spices into its artisan chocolates, it also makes eggnog truffles and Irish cream or liquor-based truffles.

“Chocolates are very popular because with all the food and festivities, you don’t want a heavy dessert,” said chef and owner Felicia Kalaluhi.

The Yule log, or buche de Noel, just might be the most festive way to celebrate the holidays. The thin and pliable chocolate cake is rolled with a layer of raspberry jam or chocolate or vanilla cream into a log. Kalaluhi creates two versions: a classic Yule log and a more modern log, shaped like a terrine, which resembles more of a loaf, “like a mousse dessert, instead of a jelly roll,” she said.

At Cornerstone Chocolates, you can also buy sugar cookies in the shape of mittens of snowflakes; cranberry orange pecan cookies; a variety of chocolate barks (including cranberry orange, peppermint and white chocolate); and caramel pecan chocolate turtles, which she said are also quite popular around the holidays.

Avon Bakery & Deli, known for its organic artisan bread, bakes fresh pumpkin bread with organic flour, pumpkin, sugar, sour cream, eggs, butter and a handful of spices, avoiding any and all preservatives. Its thick snowflake cookies, with their mild gingerbread flavor, are also a great way to celebrate the season.

Mountain Man Nut & Fruit Co. is known for its unique and sweet gifts: You’ll find gondolas, Christmas tree forms, sleighs, Santas (and Santa britches) all filled with festive cookies, chocolates and other candies, like eggnog taffy or peppermint Lindor bells. Other packaged cookies and candies include reindeer noses (chocolate-covered malted milk balls with a red one standing out), chocolate Santas, white-chocolate-covered pretzels and mor

Frozen sweets

Sundae’s Miracle on Bridge Street.
Courtesy photo

Both Häagen-Dazs and Sundae turn a portion of their premium ice cream into holiday specialties for the season.

Häagen-Dazs Dessert Café in Vail offers Peppermint Bark, a vanilla-based ice cream with chocolate chips and chopped peppermint candy, which can be savored in scoops, shakes or sundaes.

“It’s a really popular flavor,” Ric Almas said, so get it before he switches it out in mid-January.

Sundae’s flavor of the month is Miracle on Bridge Street. It has been running as the December flavor of the month since 2017 — Sundae’s first holiday season. Named after the location in which it was created, at Sundae in Vail, Miracle on Bridge Street swirls sweet-cream ice cream with peppermint candy bits and dark chocolate cookie pieces.

“As the quintessential holiday ice cream flavor, it is widely loved by guests and staff — it’s my personal favorite — and we are excited to bring this flavor back for its sixth year,” said Molly LaBrecque, executive assistant to Sundae founder Kent Beidel.

Sundae’s holiday seasonal flavor, available at all locations until New Year’s Day, comes in the form of eggnog ice cream, made by combining sweet cream ice cream with Sundae’s artisan eggnog spice blend, which includes cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla.

“It was created last holiday season by Marie, our production supervisor, and was just too delicious to not bring back this season,” LaBrecque said. “Even though Sundae’s eggnog is frozen, it still exudes the same feelings of warmth and celebration as a glass of eggnog.”

Cornerstone Chocolate’s yule log
Courtesy photo

DIY and more

While it’s convenient to buy sweets, making them at home can become a beloved tradition.

Allana Smith, personal chef and owner of FOODsmith, grew up participating in mother-daughter cookie exchanges in East Aurora, New York.

“We made gingerbread men — my mom did it every year I can remember,” Smith said. “The number of cookies you bring would be the number you take home with you, plus a half-dozen extra to eat during the party.”

She continues that tradition here in the Valley with her three daughters, using her mini-gingerbread men recipe.

“They have a nostalgia to them,” she said. “The earth spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and molasses are so fragrant, especially when you bake them.”

She also has cut snowflakes or animals out of the gingerbread recipe, and anyone can order her already baked gingerbread people to take home and decorate, to simplify the process during the busy holiday season. She and her husband also create custom gingerbread houses, which can be used as centerpieces; they’ve built everything from ski chalets to a miniature replica of a client’s condo in Florida, with chocolates and cookies displayed around the houses.

In the spirit of DIY, Sweet Mustache continues the candy cane tradition started long ago in Germany, particularly in its Kids Cooking Club this month. While the fun starts with gingerbread house decorating 4-6 p.m. Dec. 19, they’ll be guiding kids through candy cane making noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 26. That same day, kids can make rainbow bars from 3-5 p.m. Email for more information or to register.

Sweet Mustache also sells premade sets of cookies and icing to take home to decorate, including an 8-inch Santa kids can assemble. Plus, it offers a variety of holiday sweets at the shop, including shortbread dipped in chocolate, gingerbread, cranberry bliss bars, pecan bars, pecan and apple pies and sugar cookies in the form of snowmen, candy canes, gloves, boots and more in two different sizes.

“People love the holiday spirit of spending time with family and having something sweet to share with them,” said pastry chef and Sweet Mustache owner Amaya Laws.

Try these

FOODsmith Gingerbread Men

  • ¼ cup butter
  • ¾ cup brown sugar- cream ingredients together
  • ¾ cup molasses -add to butter and sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 ½ teaspoon ginger
  • ½ teaspoon sea salt
  • 3 ½ cup AP flour
  • combine all dry ingredients in a separate bowl
  • 1/2 cup water

-alternate adding wet and dry ingredients to the butter, sugar and molasses mixture until it comes together -roll out to ¼” thick, cut into mini (or large) gingerbread people, place on parchment  lined baking sheet, approximately 1 inch apart from each other, bake at 350° for 4-6 minutes -Yields 50-60 mini cookies

Royal Icing

  • 2 egg whites, whip till stiff
  • 4 cup powdered sugar

Add slowly to whites while mixer is running, then add juice of ½ lemon and add water until reaches desired consistency.

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