For me, the holidays smell like stollen. The traditional Danish holiday yeast bread that is filled with raisins, currants, cranberries, almond filling, candied lemon and orange peel and dusted with powdered sugar, brings me back to childhood. (I am 100% Danish and the formula I use is authentic.)
I've been baking since my dad opened a bakery when I was 10, so I know that I'm not the only one who loves nostalgic baked goods during the holidays. For many, rich, moist fruitcake—yes, it can be delicious—bejeweled with luscious fruit and sanding sugar evokes warm memories of special family gatherings and gift giving. And I've never known anyone to turn down a slice of old-fashioned pumpkin pie—even after a huge holiday meal.
As a Certified Master Baker through the Retail Bakers of America, I'm also certain that the holiday season is a unique opportunity for food manufacturers to show consumers what they can do—and keep them coming back. Because people tend to remember foods they associate with pleasant experiences, giving them decadent treats to enjoy at holiday parties and gatherings can mean keeping them as customers throughout the year.
Consumers indulge in sweet treats more during the holidays than any other time of year, and those treats tend to be colorful and boast a bigger variety of flavors. I personally am partial to Jule Kage, a cardamom-kissed Danish holiday bread similar to stolen. Get creative with fresh, new takes on timeless favorites, and consumers will respond.
For example, during my years working at an in-store bakery, we couldn't make turtle spritz fast enough to keep up with the demand. This pressed butter cookie was a beloved favorite studded with pecan pieces before baking, then topped with a dash of caramel and striped with chocolate. After all, who doesn't recall passing around a box of DeMet's Turtles® at festive holiday parties?
Because they are time-consuming and can be labor intensive, treats like buttery spritz and vanilla-scented cutout cookies are especially welcome at parties and cookie exchanges. Even plain, undecorated cutout cookies sell very well because a home baker can add her own finishing touches or even make them the center of a cookie-decorating party.
The opportunities for innovation are really endless when you look to the classics for inspiration. This is a good time to think about making your holiday baked goods so special that they'll become a tradition, too. Happy holidays from all of us at Cargill!
Tim Christensen is one of only about 200 Certified Master Bakers in the US as well as a senior research scientist at Cargill. He has been with the company for the last 10 years of his 45+ years in the baking industry.