Bakers Journal

Holiday bakery tour

November 27, 2023
By Colleen Cross

Learn how shops across Canada are celebrating the festive season

At Atelier Tony, Dieppe, N.B., the team have created a row of gingerbread “jelly bean” row houses. PHOTO: TONY’S BISTRO & PATISSERIE

Holiday spirit is in the air! We checked in with three bakeries to find out what they are planning for the holidays. How are they set up for staffing? What treats will be in their showcases? Are they packaging items with a holiday twist or hosting or taking part in special events? Here’s what we learned.

Cottage Creek Bake Shop, Powell River, B.C.
Janet Lyon runs Cottage Creek Bake Shop in Powell River, B.C., with daughter Lydia Line.

Located in an isolated area rural area ¬of the mainland – to reach it involves either two ferries or an airplane trip – Cottage Creek is a fully licensed and insured commercial kitchen in operation for 11 years and selling out of the local farmers market. 

“We do our sourdoughs, artisan breads, other pastries, sweets as well, and private orders,” Lyon says.

Line, a paramedic and volunteer firefighter, specializes in bread and pastry baking and leaves sales and other baking tasks to Lyon.

Cottage Creek Bake Shop’s version of Christopsomo, or Greek Christmas bread, features wine-soaked figs, anise and walnuts in a rich brioche-like dough. PHOTO: LYDIA LINE/COTTAGE CREEK BAKE SHOP

During the holidays they are swamped with their weekly farmers market baking and shelf space in the local pop-up Christmas store in the mall. Longer hours mean both Lyon and Line will be burning the candle at both ends and looking forward to a back-to-normal January.

The bakery makes fruitcakes using a family recipe from Lyon’s great grandmother. “We use Screech rum from Newfoundland,” she says. “I’m making five batches. That’s 49 cups of fruits per batch and a whole bottle of rum to soak.” The weighty treats are often ordered from afar as gifts to local residents and picked up in person. Conversely, locals buy and travel with fruitcakes as Christmas gifts.

During the holidays they sell cocoa bombs and last year they started selling gingerbread kits with enough supplies to make four houses. “Those are really popular,” Lyon says. “They are great for gifts, easy to mail and a great thing to keep your company busy during their visits.”

This year they are adding kits with a dozen gingerbread dudes. “It’s just another avenue and a lower price point. We like to help create memories and support people at the price point they can afford.”

Cottage Creek’s tins of cookies also are popular. This tradition started when people asked Lyon to do their Christmas baking for them. They would choose their favourites from the cookies Lyon baked and receive a frozen assortment. They’ve since narrowed this to a choice of two boxes, one featuring more white cookies and the other more chocolate, with some smaller, nut-free cookies. Customers still request their favourites on social media. “Most are picking things that we’ve done before, such as chocolate-dipped logs and lemony glazed shortbread,” Lyon says. “We can’t make enough of those. The other one is our Danish pecan shortbread – it’s like a shortbread roll you can slice off. Chock full of pecans, cranraisins, and fresh orange, it’s a community favourite. Other treats include stollen filled with homemade almond paste, chocolate babkas, individual panettone and upside-down pumpkin pies.

Bootsma Bakery, Lethbridge, Alta.
Steven Bootsma, owner of Bootsma Bakery in Lethbridge, Alta., is a fourth-generation baker specializing in traditional Dutch products. “Like a lot of my uncles, they had bakeries,” Steven says. “My dad sold his bakery two years ago. My grandfather started a few bakeries that are still operating: Moore’s in Vancouver and Glamorgan in Calgary.”

His grandfather, Rudy Bootsma, learned to bake in Holland, and moved his family to Canada, where the legacy continues. Many recipes have come down from family through the years and been carefully updated.

Bootsma Bakery sells a delightful cookie advent calendar, featuring their shortbread cookies with individual designs. PHOTO: BOOTSMA BAKERY

Steven and his wife Jamie worked at Glamorgan Bakery when owned by the Nauta family, and together the couple managed it for four years. They now own and operate Bootsma Bakery in Lethbridge, with the help of daughter Kendra and a strong team.

Bootsma has been in operation for about five years. The bakery is 100 per cent pickup with the exception of a patio out front during the summer. 

“We usually make the Christmas fruitcake, we’ve already made that,” he said, speaking to us in late October. “We  soak the fruit for about a year in alcohol. We start planning that right after previous Christmas.”

Bootsma sells a delightful cookie advent calendar full of shortbread cookies with individual designs. “Calendars take a while to make and assemble,” he says. “The cake decorators get to do the cookie decorating.”

At this time of year they promote the bakery to corporate clients such as accountants and real estate agents treating their employees. “They usually leave it up to us to give a variety. Some like to do doughnuts (including their popular spudnut doughnuts), but squares, cookies and tarts last a lot longer,” he says. 

They also push their cheese buns as a savoury staple. “They sell quite well,” Steven says. “So we just have to remind people that they’re there.”

As for staffing, they’ve got it covered. “My dad is actually going to come down for two months and help out. He’s been retired and is looking for something to do. Jamie’s sister usually comes in and helps with the front end and the extra packing and all that. We have part-timers from our pool of students. So we don’t need to hire.”

Bootsma’s seasonal favourites are almond rings and filled speculaas and he hopes to visit the Netherlands, where cousins run bakeries, for the first time this summer. 

Tony’s Bistro & Patisserie, Boulangerie Tony and Atelier Tony, Moncton and Dieppe, N.S.
When we reach Tony Holden in Moncton in early November, he is buzzing with excitement. His team of about 60 is working on their large gingerbread centrepieces. Every year these showstoppers are on a different theme.

Holden owns and operates Tony’s Bistro & Patisserie, known by regulars as Tony’s pastries, in Moncton. Before opening the Bistro in 2007, his illustrious career included positions as a pastry chef at Jasper Lodge, Keltic Lodge on the famous Cabot Trail in the Cape Breton Highlands and Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. In 2020, Boulangerie Tony and Atelier Tony, an adjacent bakery and café in Dieppe, N.B., were added to the fold. 

It’s a family affair. Tony looks after the bakery with his wife June, oldest son Christopher looks after the dining rooms, youngest son Jordan is a corporate chef focusing on the savoury side. 

As for the centrepieces, this year the Bistro is home to a rocking horse made in pieces and carefully assembled. “We started making it, it’s mechanized with different parts,” Holden says. “My pastry chefs designed it. We have a very, very good loyal and creative team at each location. I give them creative licence and a bit of guidance.”

The Atelier team has created a 15-foot row of colourful “jelly bean” row houses.

“We do a lot of different Christmas cookies. We have gingerbread cookies, decorated shortbread, speculaas, Christmas trees made of meringues, florentines – every one with a holiday twist such as festive meringue garnishes. A full showcase of three rows greets people when they come in the door. It’s our cookie showcase.”

They also make stollen featuring marzipan in the middle and a different flavour of yule log every year. This year it’s chocolate orange in small and large. “We put them in their own special yule log case. They are chocolate Bavarian cream with creamy orange custard in the middle, and soft almond chocolate sponge on the bottom, he adds.

Another eye-catching treat, bright-red-glazed Santa’s hats of chocolate caramel mousse and creme brulee sit on a crispy hazelnut base and are capped with a marshmallow tassle dipped in coconut. 

“We go all out for the holidays,” Holden says.

The season would not be complete without a much-loved event that raises funds for local children- and youth-serving charities including a school breakfast program. “They connected with us during the first COVID Christmas to take part in the Progress Club’s Antler Breakfast. There are a few restaurants involved to assist with this yearly fundraising effort. The Antler Breakfast is the kickoff to the Santa Claus parade weekend. People buy tickets through their website and they get a table at one of three seatings on Friday morning. Everyone gets reindeer antlers and funds are raised through ticket sales, sponsorship packages, a 50-50 draw and donations.” 

With all the effort these independent bakeries put into the holidays, it’s easy to see why they are at the heart of the community.

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