Asheville-area food businesses prep no-sweat sweets for holiday gatherings

EAT YOUR VEGGIES: Baker Sheri Campos offers a decadent take on carrot cake for the holidays. Courtesy of Jan's Carrot Cakes

As the season for holiday gatherings draws near, the inevitable question of what dish to bring is one that guests and hosts should carefully navigate to ensure events stay delicious and diverse. Whatever your traditions, the one aspect of a holiday meal that is non-negotiable is dessert.

While many home bakers love to create cakes, pies and other holiday treats, time constraints, dietary preferences or plain old convenience can make buying a well-crafted dessert an appealing alternative during the busy months ahead. We’ve compiled just a few of the many Asheville-area food businesses that can help provide stress-free dessert contributions for any holiday party.

Geraldine’s Bakery (geraldinesbakeryavl.com) in North Asheville accepts Thanksgiving pie orders until Tuesday, Nov. 20, this year. According to co-owner Rosemary Dehlow, the shop’s best-sellers are seasonal favorites pumpkin and pecan. Other options include pies with assorted fillings that range from fruit to peanut butter. Dehlow also recommends the Swedish apple pie, which incorporates cheese in the filling.

At The Rhu (the-rhu.com), executive pastry chef Kaley Laird’s pie offerings creatively complement the snacks, breads and sides the shop is crafting for Thanksgiving meal orders. Customers can choose from apple crumble with rosemary and pecan, bourbon brown-butter pecan and pumpkin pies, all of which must be ordered by Saturday, Nov. 17.

Susannah Gebhart, owner of OWL Bakery (owlbakery.com) in West Asheville, is keeping it local with her heirloom squash pie made with Carolina Ground flour. She describes the filling as “a velvety custard made with several varieties of locally grown heirloom squash, including Appalachian candy roasters and seasoned with ginger, coriander and white pepper.” The deadline to place orders for Thanksgiving is Sunday, Nov. 18, and for Christmas, the deadline is Thursday, Dec. 20.

Last year, Kirsten Fuchs, owner of Baked Pie Co. (bakedpiecompany.com), sold more than 600 Thanksgiving pies from her Arden storefront. Although Fuchs stopped taking pre-orders for Thanksgiving on Nov. 10, select pies are always available at the counter in both the Arden and Woodfin Baked Pie locations. Fuchs notes that the cranberry muffin pie is one of her favorites. “That was the holiday pie that I took to dinners last year,” she says.

Fuchs and her team draw inspiration from all sorts of sources — from family recipes for Aunt Audrey’s chocolate cream pie to popular holiday drinks for the boozy eggnog cheesecake (both flavors that will be available starting Saturday, Dec. 1). Baked Pie Co. also accommodates a range of special dietary needs, including sugar-free, vegan and gluten-free, which can make sharing desserts easier in a group setting.

Speaking of sharing, hand-held desserts like pastries, cookies and candies offer distinctive options for hostess gifts or gatherings like office or classroom parties. In addition to the benefit of satisfying both curious and picky palates, these desserts are often easier to transport and require minimal space, refrigeration and cleanup.

Customers can mix and match from an assortment of cookies, pastries, rugelach, eclairs and doughnuts at Geraldine’s Bakery. Starting Dec. 1, Geraldine’s co-owner, Fred Dehlow, gets busy creating these special treats from family recipes. In addition to a gingerbread recipe that’s used to make cookies and an extremely limited number of sweetly decorated gingerbread houses (order early), Dehlow’s pfeffernusse cookies and fruit-filled stollen are made from carefully guarded recipes brought to the U.S. with Fred’s father, who emigrated from Germany after World War II.

Cookie lovers can steal the show at their holiday goodie swaps this season with some European-inspired favorites offered at OWL Bakery. On the menu are speculaas (better known as Dutch windmill cookies), giuggiulena (Italian sesame cookies) and jam-filled linzers among others.

Café Yuzu (yuzubycynthia.com) owner Cynthia Pierce also suggests seasonal cookies as a sweet contribution to a dinner party or event. Some of her featured treats are chocolate almond meringues, caramel crumb bars and pecan shortbread stars.

Pierce also creates some special winter sweets in December. In addition to smoked cardamom molasses cookies, she is also offering Mont Blanc, an individual dessert she describes as a “shortbread cookie base piped high with chestnut paste and topped with powdered sugar and/or edible white candies to resemble a snow-capped mountain.”

Café Yuzu’s offerings frequently change, so Pierce invites folks to call or stop by to check on what’s currently baking in her River Arts District café. And, while some of Pierce’s desserts are gluten-free, she does not offer vegan options or take special orders.

Instead of bringing along a bottle of bubbly to your holiday party, The Chocolate Fetish’s (chocolatefetish.com) general manager Elizabeth Foley suggests surprising your hosts with a life-size chocolate Champagne bottle. These hollow-form bottles molded from chocolate are meant to be smashed open to reveal chocolate morsels that can be shared by guests of all ages. Foley explains that the bottles are “packaged in festive seasonal boxes that are easy to transport — no gift wrap required.”

Chocolate Fetish also sells assembled and wrapped hostess trays. Each of these party-ready offerings comes with more than 25 pieces of chocolate, including New England buttercrunch toffee, chocolate rochers (which Foley describes as “our version of a nut cluster”) and chocolate mini-rounds accented by seasonal chocolate shapes like leaves and snowflakes.

In the realm of holiday desserts, cakes serve a bounty of people and can anchor the meal with a specific flavor profile that ties everything together. From multilayered masterpieces to simple, single flavors, cakes are versatile enough to suit a range of occasions.

OWL Bakery’s elegant chocolate gingerbread torte features Farm & Sparrow milled heirloom cornmeal, molasses and gingerbread spices for a wheat-free dessert that can be served at the Thanksgiving table and beyond.

Sheri Campos founded Jan’s Carrot Cakes (janscarrotcakes.com) in June, specializing in creating gourmet carrot cakes based on her late mother Jan’s recipes. For the holidays, Campos suggests her traditional carrot cake, which includes carrots combined with spices, pineapple and walnuts and is finished with a cream cheese frosting. Customers also have the option of a pumpkin spice frosting for Thanksgiving and an additional coconut frosting option in December.

Since Campos does not have a brick-and-mortar location yet, she offers home delivery. Order Thanksgiving cakes by Friday, Nov. 17, for delivery on Tuesday, Nov. 20, and Wednesday, Nov. 21. The Christmas cake deadline is Wednesday, Dec. 19, for a Saturday, Dec. 22, delivery.

Another long-standing cake business that has built its reputation on a similar model is Cakes By Jane (cakesbyjane.com), founded by the late Jane Tomlinson in 1997 and continued since 2003 by current owner and baker Melissa Russell. The Southern-style cream cheese pound cakes — now available in 15 flavors — make good gifts and can be shipped or picked up at the bakery at 55 Monticello Road, Weaverville, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday.

And finally, for a fun ending to a winter party, you would be hard-pressed to find anything more festive than a yule log cake. Geraldine’s Bakery makes the list again with its traditional version consisting of a rolled chocolate cake layer filled with chocolate buttercream covered in fudge icing.

The Hop Ice Cream Cafe (thehopicecreamcafe.com) owners Greg and Ashley Garrison continue a yule log tradition established in the shop’s earliest years. In 2017, The Hop sold a total of 300 logs, “which was amazing and crazy at the same time,” says Greg. The Hop’s logs start with a homemade chocolate cake layer baked in-house. The cakes are then filled with the customers’ choice of salted caramel, vanilla bean or peppermint stick ice cream and coated with a layer of chocolate ice cream before being decorated. The Hop also offers gluten-free and vegan versions of this dessert. Garrison suggests that customers pre-order their logs at the end of November to be picked up any time on or before Christmas Eve.

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2 thoughts on “Asheville-area food businesses prep no-sweat sweets for holiday gatherings

  1. Suzanne Noble

    Jan’s Carrot Cakes are the best I have ever tasted. I was not a carrot cake person until she encouraged me to try hers. OMG, it is awesome! The BIG plus is you cannot hardly tell the Gluten Free from the regular cake. Both are awesome.

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