Rough gig I have here. Especially when I “have to” sample three dozen cookies for a Christmas cookie hunt-down.
Always willing to take one for Team Reader, I toured locally owned, small and independent Pierce County bakeries that sell cookies with a nod to the holidays.
This year, I expanded my search to include a dozen bakeries with great cookies (almost double the bakeries I featured in 2013, and triple those in 2012).
The standard for judging was pretty simple: Would I want to serve them at a holiday party at my home?
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For the dozen cookies featured here, the answer would be a big, fat “yes.”
Now please excuse me. I have a few hours of treadmilling to do.
Celebrity Cake Studio
314 E. 26th St., Tacoma; 253-627-4773; celebritycakestudio.com.
The bakery: Owner Odette D’Aniello has been decorating elaborate wedding cakes for more than a decade in Tacoma, but her retail bakery case also brims with sweet pastry finds. This bakery specializes in gluten- and dairy-free and other custom items.
The cookie to try: Her frosted sugar cookies are prettiest in the region, but also are the largest. I found soft blue frosted snowflakes dusted in crystal sugar, trees strung with frosting dabs sporting Christmas colors and snowmen displaying sly smirks. The buttery sugar cookies were coated in thick frosting that had been well-set. These are edible works of art with good shelf life, too. $3.75 each.
More cookies: Just the frosted cookies on my visit.
Also try: Cake balls, cupcakes or several styles of cake by the slice.
602 S. Fawcett Ave., Tacoma; 253-627-5070; corinabakery.com.
The bakery: Molly Ott has created an airy and bright bakery at the base of the Merlino Art Center (and next door to The Grand Cinema). Corina is an all-purpose bakery, but does terrific cake by the slice, brownies, pastries and the city’s finest puddings. Gluten-free, vegan and custom orders available here.
The cookie to try: I was skeptical after seeing the gluten-free and vegan labels on the sugar plum fruit-nut balls dusted in sparkly crystal sugar. But one bite of the tasty spiced date-apricot-almond chews was convincing for even this gluten lover. Get yourself a half dozen of these, whether you eat gluten free or not. $2.25 each.
More cookies: Gingerbread tiles, available at the front counter ($5.50).
Also try: Sweet and savory pastries, cupcakes, cinnamon rolls, truffles, two kinds of pudding, cannoli, petit fours, muffins.
Dolce Si Sicilian Bakery and Cafe
5005 Main St., Tacoma; 253-678-1229; dolcesi.com.
The bakery: This colorful Italian bakery and espresso cafe in the Point Ruston development was opened in November by Steve and Elisabetta O’Shea. Find Italian ceramics for sale, as well as a full espresso menu. This is the region’s only Italian bakery.
The cookie to try: A crumbly mocha-pistachio strasburgo, a cookie dipped in a mocha icing and coated in crushed pistachios (also in chocolate or lemon icing). Cookies here are priced $13 a pound, which works out to be about $1.50 a cookie.
More cookies: Chewy almond cookies, iced cookies, sugar cookies and more.
Also try: Three styles of cannoli, plus house-made gelato. Also find sweet buns, pastries and cakes, including panettone, pandoro and seven veils cakes.
El Zocalo Tortas and Bakery
701 S. 38th St., Tacoma, 253-474-9000.
The bakery: This well-stocked Mexican bakery in Tacoma’s Lincoln neighborhood is also the city’s most economical. Most every cookie is priced two or three for $1.
The cookie to try: Marranitos — cute pig-shaped molasses cookies also known as puerquitos pan — are my go-to cookie here. With a cakey texture and deep molasses flavor, they’re reminiscent of the base flavor of gingerbread cookies, minus the ginger spicing. Priced three for a dollar.
More cookies: Sugar cookies, jam thumbprints, cream-filled butter cookies and cinnamon palmiers.
Also try: Fresh-baked bread buns, sweet buns, pastry cones filled with cream and flaky turnovers. A torta shop serving Mexican sandwiches is attached.
Boulangerie Bakery Cafe
9701 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood, 253-682-3488.
The bakery: Tucked just beyond the front door of the Paldo World Korean grocery store, find a French-Korean hybrid bakery serving everything from cream puffs to Parisian macaron cookies and bean-filled manju pastries.
The cookie to try: Get your bar cookies here. Coconut florentines were the best of all tried, with a pastry crust base topped with a sticky layer of creamy coconut. Priced $2.49 each or a five-pack for $6.99.
More cookies: Butter cookies, almond meringue cookies, several flavors of Parisian-style macarons, chocolate-dipped vanilla cookies, coconut tuile, Russian tea cakes and several others. Cookies here were boxed in delicate plastic cases ready for gift wrap.
Also try: Sweet buns, cake, fruit tarts and doughnuts.
British Bites Grocery and Bakery
720 E. Main, Puyallup; 253-200-2342, britishbites.net.
The bakery: This British grocery store and bakery in downtown Puyallup, founded by transplant Terri Williams, doubles as a tearoom and bistro with multi-course tea service offered by appointment. Casual tea service offered for walk-ins.
The cookie to try: Shortbread, of course. The British specialty tasted buttery and came with that delicate crunch only fresh-baked shortbread can yield. A box of eight was $9.95.
More cookies: Only shortbread in the case on my visit.
Also try: Mini victorian cakes, eccles cake, macaroon tarts, scones and bread pudding. The bistro has a sandwich menu.
Cottage Bakery and Cafe
212 Washington Ave. N., Eatonville; 360-832-1959.
The bakery: Mother-daughter team Laurie Tartaglia and Alicia Nelson have operated the small bakery and cafe in Eatonville for about four years. A long haul for Tacomans, but a terrific find for those living in that part of East Pierce County.
The cookie to try: Egg-sized coconut macaroons get a decadent dunk in dark chocolate here. The secret to the cookie’s terrific texture, Nelson said, is superfine coconut. The resulting texture tastes more feathery-soft than mealy. Priced two for $1.75.
More cookies: Giant peanut butter cookies, oatmeal-raisin, chocolate chip and Russian tea cookies.
Also try: Doughnuts, pastries, cannoli, brownies and more. Be sure to take a look at the cafe’s sandwich menu.
German Pastry Shop
6108 Mount Tacoma Drive, Lakewood; 253-588-5777; germanpastryandcoffeeshop.com.
The bakery: Find a bakery case filled with sweet German treats and a spacious cafeteria for lunching on German cold cut sandwiches and coffee. This is a popular haunt for finding cake by the slice. Bagged cookies are offered only this time of year, stacked on the baker’s rack near the front door.
The cookie to try: Hazelnut macaroons. These were more light and airy, rather than the soft, moist texture you’d expect of a coconut macaroon. A few in the bag tasted a bit powdery. Sold by the bag for $4.95.
More cookies: Find three other bagged cookies: spritz, butter and Basler lebkuchen.
Also try: Strudel, cake by the slice (large selection), bear claws, turnovers, and occasionally Berliners and eclairs.
7214 26th St. E., Fife; 800-445-0655; kusherusa.com.
The bakery: This is the region’s only Eastern European bakery with a specialty in Old World-style bread. Find bakery racks filled with breads at the rear of the store and bakery owned by Anatoliy Zaika. The bakery also doubles as a grocery store with all kinds of Russian and Ukrainian finds. Find the bakery in an unexpected industrial neighborhood in Fife.
The cookie to try: The raspberry jam-filled windowpanes dusted in powdered sugar. The snappy cookies broke to a sweet, tart filling that made me want to pop them by the handful. Available in a variety box labeled “homestyle cookies.” $4.95 a box.
More cookies: Boxed cookies in all kinds of configurations, including several variations of jam spritz, windowpane and butter cookies.
Also try: Fresh-baked farmers bread, French bread, caraway bread and German-style rye.
Marvel Food and Deli
301 133rd St. S., Tacoma; 253-537-1008; marvelfoodanddeli.com.
The bakery: This expansive Russian-Ukrainian grocery store in Spanaway features a display case with bakery items made on-site, as well as treats from other bakeries. This is the area’s largest Eastern European deli and grocery store, and is an outpost of the company’s original store in Auburn.
The cookie to try: “Shell” cookies are an odd, but fitting name for these little delights. Folded-over pastry came with a sweetened cheese stuffing that was light on sugar, but quite rich. Priced $1.49 each.
More cookies: Cookies from other bakeries.
Also try: Cakes from other European bakeries. Made in house are cabbage, potato or mushroom piroshki, priced 99 cents each.
8720 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood; 253-582-4884.
The bakery: This is another Korean-French hybrid located in a Korean grocery store. Find Olive Bakery just beyond the front door at H-Mart. The selection changes frequently, and includes everything from red bean-filled pastries to mochi to sweet buns filled with pastry cream.
The cookie to try: Olive Bakery is my favorite destination for vanilla macarons, those Parisian style buttercream-filled cookies with the delicate exterior. The fragile cookies are tricky to make and you’ll occasionally find a cracked cookie in the basket, but this bakery’s macarons are the largest around here, and fairly priced at $1.49 each.
More cookies: Madeleines, jam thumbprints, butter cookies and more.
Also try: Sweet mochi, pastries filled with cream or chocolate, and eclairs.
Susanne’s Bakery and Delicatessen
3411 Harborview Drive, Gig Harbor; 253-853-6220; susannesbakery.net.
The bakery: Mike and Susanne Tunney have owned this bakery on the Gig Harbor waterfront for 17 years. It’s known for its cinnamon rolls, but this time of year features at least a half dozen holiday cookies in the bakery case.
The cookie to try: A delicate thumbprint cookie, filled with tart raspberry jam, was coated with crushed pecans, which added a decadent crunch. Cookies priced $1.50 each, or $12 for a baker’s dozen.
More cookies: Green-frosted Christmas trees, iced angel cookies coated in crunchy sugar, Russian tea cakes, coconut macaroons, jam-filled heart-shaped spritz and biscotti.
Also try: A variety of muffins, cinnamon rolls, strawberry cream cake.