Easier Entertaining is a new GFR series by Kathryn McLean, offering sensible advice on how to buy almost homemade items to harried cooks with guests on the way. – Malcolm Jolley, Ed.

Christmas cookies from the Hot Oven

The holidays are coming and even though I don’t exchange a lot of gifts or buy many decorations I’m getting excited. The entertaining spirit infects me early and I start thinking of all the foods and seasonal treats I want to make. Most years I do a lot of baking: Jam sandwich cookies and shortbread fingers dipped in dark chocolate, chocolate peppermint stars and snowmen cut-outs with sweet icing glaze.  And brownies and blondies and tarts topped with nuts.

However, sometimes I run out of time before I run out of things I want to bake, so I count on a few neighbourhood shops to help me out. Basically I pick up delicious homemade treats that weren’t made in my home. Cookies and bars and treats that aren’t mass-produced and packaged in industrial plastic wrap.

There’s a small bakery in Toronto’s west end, the Hot Oven, that offers more than a dozen cookies that look delicious, are appealing but not so perfect they appear fake, most importantly to me, they taste like the butter and sugar they’re made from. Every time I’m in the area I stop in for a few cookies. As back-up baking for the holidays I consider the treats made of dry dates sandwiched between two spiced butter cookies. Ginger snaps. Soft chocolate chip or raisin oatmeal cookies.  Also bars: sweet fillings and dried fruits and chopped nuts with caramel.

Holiday entertaining and homemade treats seem to go hand-in-hand. But if you and homemade treats don’t go hand-in hand, check out some local bakeries to fill the gap. The bakery’s fresh drop biscuits with homemade jam will taste incredible, whereas the grocery store’s shrink-wrapped jam drops will taste sandy in comparison. There will be much cookie eating this season; why not eat the true bakery’s cookies that we imagine, and the ones we remember eating straight off the cooling rack on the counter, and leave the tins of ‘butter’ cookies at the supermarket?

Kathryn McLeanKathryn McLean is a freelance food writer & recipe developer in Toronto. Visit her website at allfoodlove.wordpress.com.