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Holiday goodies

If the pre-Christmas hustle and bustle leaves no time to get the visions of sugarplums and other holiday goodies out of your head and into the oven, local bakeries can help.

Almondtree Baking Co. in Jacksonville first started selling cookies at the town's Saturday farmers market during the citywide garage sale in September 2010, then owners Liz and Mike Nichols opened a shop one year later at 310 California St. The tiny storefront in a building that once housed a real-estate office offers a wide selection of cookies that Liz perfected baking for her own children and grandchildren.

Cookie prices range from $1.75 for classics such as snickerdoodles and chocolate chip (both of which I can recommend) up to $3.50 for decorated, gourmet options. Gingerbread men, sugar cookies and shortbreads, some dipped in chocolate, all have a particularly festive air.

Brownies, bar cookies, coffeecake, sweet and savory scones and several toffee varieties, all prepared in Nichols' certified home kitchen, round out the shop's regular offerings. Shoppers can stop in anytime and find treats to combine into a fine cookie platter or gift box. For something specific, Nichols recommends calling at least a day or two in advance.

She also takes special orders for cakes, which feature quality ingredients over elaborate decorations. A co-worker who doesn't have a sweet tooth and claims she couldn't care less about chocolate is still raving about a birthday cake from Almondtree. The confection featured layers of moist cake, caramel and fudge, stacked impressively high.

Another newcomer, Buttercloud Bakery & Cafe at 310 Genessee St., Medford, takes orders anytime for whole pies, priced at $22 for fruit-filled or $24 for cream pies and cheesecakes. For the holidays, baker Ellen Holub is taking orders for a slate of seasonal flavors including an eggnog or pumpkin-caramel cheesecake, chocolate-cranberry tart (all highly recommended) and cookies. Christmas cookies — gingersnaps or chocolate-peppermint crinkles — are priced at just 75 cents each because they are smaller than Buttercloud's standard cookies, which cost $1.75. Orders should be made 24 hours in advance.

The newest bakery in Medford — Berg's Bakery & Bistro, opened just this week at 101 S. Grape St. — is the work of an old pro. Bob Berg operated Jacksonville Bakery from 1977 to 1988, as well as Berg's in Central Point, and was one of the Bobs at the original Bobbio's Pizza. After 13 years in the corporate world, he was ready to return to the ovens.

Display cases at his downtown bakery are filled with simple, nostalgic baked goods: decorated cakes, doughnuts, Danishes, small cookies and pillowy loaves of bread. Prices recall earlier times, too, with cookies priced at just 25 cents each or $2.79 for a baker's dozen, and bread starting at $1.59 per loaf.

Fill a bag with oatmeal-raisin and chocolate-chip cookies, or grab a bow-topped Christmas platter piled with two dozen classics, including jam thumbprints, fudge fancies, Russian teacakes and butter-nut crisps, for just $7.49. For the holidays, Berg also is making buttery shortbread cut-out cookies sprinkled with colored sugar and sold for 75 cents. If they taste like they could be from a family recipe, that's because they are; Berg's sister, a wholesale baker in Merlin, perfected them.

Gia's Gluten Free Bakery at 310 N. Main St., Phoenix, offers a tasty alternative for people with gluten sensitivities who otherwise might miss out on holiday baking. Baker Jan Thorsell, diagnosed with celiac disease decades ago, has decorated sugar cookies, Russian teacakes, peanut-butter blossoms with chocolate kisses on top, pumpkin bread, fudge and other holiday favorites free of gluten. Order pumpkin or pecan pies in advance — online at www.giasglutenfree.com — and the bakery will be open for pickup during a short time Christmas Eve.

By avoiding mass-produced cookies and pies from chain grocers, you might even be able to pass these off as your own creations. I don't know if that sort of deception will land you on Santa's naughty or nice list, but the big guy is bound to appreciate these tasty treats.

— Anita Burke