A Decadent December gift guide - Christopher Atkinson, owner of Lilac Bakery

Christopher Atkinson, owner of Lilac Bakery

By: Mike GreenDecember 10, 2015 // Food Tours

Butter, sugar, flour; there's going to be a lot of that on this list.

Forget the Toblerone, along with that crappy chocolate orange that you have to smash on the counter, and even Ferrero Rocher, because this "buy local" guide will ensure that those sweet-toothed gourmands on your list get the good stuff.

I've consulted the experts for this one, that being all the "gals" (their word, not mine) at Tourism Winnipeg -- an advanced team who take their sugary escapades seriously. Below is what they came up with.

After a democratic process of some loud talking and posturing, a serious amount of votes were tallied for Chocolate Zen (553 Osborne Street South), with the consensus being that anything they do with white chocolate and raspberries is a masterpiece. There were also many shout-outs to the fact that a good deal of their decadent items are gluten free, making this the go-to spot for those chocolate loving celiacs on your list.

Lilac Bakery (920 Grosvenor Avenue) also received much in the way of passionate proclamations, particularly for the fact that they make customized cookie jars that make for easy gifts while their imperial cookies were tied for being described as, "the best in the city."

Russian Mints By Morden's of Winnipeg. (Photos by Robin Summerfield.)
Russian Mints By Morden's of Winnipeg (Photo by Robin Summerfield.)

And who shared this imperial cookie title according to our office staff? Well, that would be High Tea Bakery (2103 Portage Ave), whose assortment of butter and flour numbers includes cardamom caramel cookies, passionfruit creme cookies (December only), and an assortment of thumbprint cookies that are guaranteed to make the other secret Santas in your office look like chumps.

St. Boniface is blessed with some fine bakeries and confectionary shops, three of which were singled out by our panel. For starters, Le Croisant's (276 Tache Avenue) pain au chocolat was cited as an ideal gift for a nice neighbour (get at least half a dozen), while you can also put together a stunning gift basket with their house-made mustards, jams and pâtes.

The counter at Winnipeg's newest bakery, La Belle Baguette (248, avenue de la Cathédrale), was singled out for being stacked with a near ludicrous amount of eye-catching creations from chef/owner Alix Loiselle. Loiselle has an impressive pastry resume that really shines through in his creations like chocolate mousse eclairs (pictured at top, photo by Alix Loiselle) that are impossible to turn down and which surely your boss would love try this season.

Finally in St. Boniface, gift ideas are abundant at Chocolatier Constance Popp (180 Provencher Boulevard), where you could really impress some peeps who have made your "nice list." Many of Popp's creations come individually wrapped, and she also has great gift packages like window boxes and truffle boxes while her lineup of Iconic Manitoba creations -- including a Canadian Museum for Human Rights ChocoMonument ($62) -- is sure to stun people on your list who live outside the city. Plus all of Popp's chocolates are ethically sourced, making for gifts that give back in a way.

As anyone in Winnipeg with an Instagram account will tell you, Jenna Rae Cakes (580 Academy Road) and Baked Expectations (161 Osborne Street) are the unofficial image ambassadors of our city's respective macaroon and cake scenes. Jenna Rae Cakes has over 117 thousand Instagram followers (which surely must be a record for a Winnipeg business) while, based on the unscientific research of our #onlyinthepeg photo gallery, Baked Expectations just may be the most customer photoed restaurant in the city.

The always stunning Schmoo from Baked Expectations (PCG)
The always stunning Schmoo from Baked Expectations (PCG)

The gift of choice at Jenna Rae is surely boxes of macaroons, which come in all sorts of inventive flavours, while at Baked Expectations you'd better buy some gift certificates so you can let all your loved ones eat cake -- preferably their ridiculously good schmoo.

Our staff also brought up many classic establishments, with a large amount of votes going toward Morden's of Winnipeg (674 Sargent Avenue) for their boxes of Russian Mints. Morden's has been in the biz since 1959, and for the majority of our staff these mints are more than mint, they are a trip down memory lane. (That's right, with all the sugar going on in this article I decided to throw in a little cheese.)

This wouldn't be a proper list -- and I mean British proper -- without a fruit cake. Yeah, I know, for some people fruit cakes and Christmas puddings only bring up bad memories, but that's because they haven't had them from Dessert Sinsations (505 B St. Mary Avenue) where chef Barbara O'Hara and her crew have been prepping these artisanal loafs since the fall. I sampled some of last year's cakes this fall with a travel writer from England who specializes in historical baking; the verdict was that these fruit cakes are the real deal -- the real delicious deal.

Fruit cake from Dessert Sinsations (PCG)
Fruit cake from Dessert Sinsations (PCG)

Lastly, I have to add my own two cents, even though sweets aren't really my bag.

In the house where I grew up there were three food things that rang in the Christmas season, those being pickled herring (which we'd buy), along with Swedish thin bread and butter tarts that my gramps makes.

Now I would never tell me grandpa this, but my vote for this list is the butter tarts at The French Way Café (238 Lilac St), which are just about as good as it gets. The top has a sugary crunch like a freshly torched creme brûlée, the centre is so gooey you almost need a knife and spoon, and the pie crust is both flaky and sturdy. If you can eat just one, you should get a prize.

As to Swedish thin bread, I still haven't found any in the city, but everyone in the know knows that when it comes to herring, you gotta go with Elman's. They've been in business for over seven decades and they have six styles of herring to choose from, so look for it at your local grocer and anywhere else that sells kosher foods in the city.

Of course, there are so many more options, so please let us know in the comment section what your sugary gift of choice is.