There's a long tradition of Christmas cookies in Northern Europe, where the custom derives from a number of different influences, mostly Catholic and Germanic. In the late medieval period, German decorated their Christmas trees (that's a whole other pagan can of worms) with decorated communion wafers. Those eventually morphed into cookies, around the same time that spices like cinnamon, cardamom and nutmeg became available in that part of the world. These spiced-based cookies, called Moravian cookies, were a common Christmas treat. Somehow, over in England, Queen Elizabeth I got word of gingerbread cookies, and she had them made in the likeness of her favorite courtiers — gingerbread men!
In the United States, leaving cookies out for Santa Claus first gained media attention during the Depression; it was meant to be a teaching tool for children learning about sharing and generosity. Of course, it’s the same spiritual tradition that humans have always engaged in: leaving food offerings for supernatural beings, in the hopes of reward. Specifically, the American Christmas tradition can be traced back to the Norse custom of kids leaving treats for Odin and his eight-legged horse.
All that is to say: An abundance of cookies is one of the greatest things about December. Here are some of the best bakeries in L.A. for holiday-themed cookies this time of year.
Gingerbread cookies are a relative rarity in L.A., but they can be found at Bouchon Bakery in Beverly Hills. It is unsurprising that these cuties are a bit pricey, given their ZIP code, but they're baked and iced with care. They've got that good combo of crunchy edges with a (sorry) moist center, too.
235 N. Canon Drive, Beverly Hills. (310) 271-9910, thomaskeller.com.
Viktor Benes is the Old Faithful of L.A. bakeries. Your grandparents love it. And truthfully, it does do the most reliable spritz cookies (that's butter, sugar, vanilla, salt, eggs and flour, pressed into shapes, topped with sprinkles) in the city. Mix and match with all the other teensy cookies behind the counter, and you've got yourself a respectable hostess gift.
Various locations, viktorbenes.com.
These sugar cookies are stunning. Who knew a cookie could be described that way? The bakers at this Palisades shop do work with the icing that's similar to coffee foam art, but much more intricate. Ornaments, trees, stockings and snowflakes are painted in an almost psychedelic style — these could be a centerpiece.
17338 Sunset Blvd., Pacific Palisades. (310) 573-9900, thekbakery.com.
This bakery hasn't been around for a huge number of years, but it is already an Atwater Village legend. It is just that good. All of the baked goods are pretty great, and the bakers are pretty handy with the icing bags — every holiday gets themed cookies. The most whimsical this month are the sugar cookies decorated to look like palm trees with Christmas lights, and people in hula skirts and aloha shirts.
3119 Los Feliz Blvd., Atwater Village. (323) 662-8600, thevillagebakeryandcafe.com.
This local line of cookies in available in some grocery stores, but for maximum freshness, pre-order and pick up from DeLuscious' headquarters in Hollywood. The offerings here are pretty all-American: chocolate chip, peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, etc. The bakery has a sugar cookie, too, but it's called cinnamon brûlée. They're not explicitly Christmas cookies, but any cookie eaten in December is a holiday cookie. Vegan and gluten-free varieties can be found here, too.
829 Highland Ave., Hollywood. (323) 460-2370, delusciouscookies.com.
Eagle Rock Italian Bakery
Most of the cookies for sale here in the winter are very close to the Northern European Moravian style — small, intensely flavored and crispy. They just have a slightly more Southern European flavor profile, so a lot more nuts and herbs, like pistachios and anise seed. Eagle Rock Bakery also has biscotti, of course. Everything you need to put together a traditional Italian cookie table.
1726 Colorado Blvd., Eagle Rock. (323) 255-8224, facebook.com/Eagle-Rock-Italian-Bakery.