Hey, sugar! These beloved bakeries go big on festive confections and holiday cheer.

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assortment of sugar cookies Rainbow Bakery
Sugar cookies from Rainbow Bakery in Bloomington, Indiana.
| Credit: Krisan Cieszkiewicz

Just after Thanksgiving, when the leftover turkey has been finished and the last crumb of pumpkin pie consumed, Erin Tobey of Rainbow Bakery in Bloomington, Indiana, starts creating magic inside her dairy-free bakery. Tinsel drapes the walls, and an old TV rolls VHS tapes of flicks such as The Santa Clause, while customers line up for seasonal cookies like jam thumbprints and shortbread. "We always try to make a big to-do for the holidays," Tobey says.

She's not the only Midwest baker to go all out for the season. Whether you're buying cookies for Santa (we know they're really for you!), cinnamon rolls for a festive brunch or a Yule log for the big day, the bakeshops on the next page answer the call. And they sell good vibes too. At Rainbow Bakery, Tobey shares the Christmas spirit with her crew as well as her customers. "I've been focused on our staff's well-being," she says, which means giving her team raises and taking care to ensure the bakery is a place where people enjoy working. It's a sweet reminder that everyone wins when we support small indie businesses, especially around the holidays—and that makes biting into a gingerbread cookie even more satisfying.

Rainbow Bakery

Bloomington, Indiana At the end of November, Rainbow Bakery regulars start looking for favorite seasonal vegan doughnut flavors, such as sugar plum and candy cane, plus the dairy-free Santa sugar cookies that have been a staple since the shop opened in 2013. The homey frosted cutouts go hand in hand with Rainbow's annual Santa art show. Customers submit their masterpieces—like crocheted Santa beards and reimagined board games—and Tobey hangs them in the bakery for all to enjoy."[Our customers] support us all year," says co-owner Erin Tobey, "so this feels like a way of letting them be showcased."

The Omaha Bakery

Bellevue and Elkhorn, Nebraska Michelle Kaiser excels at giving her customers what they want—before they know they want it. Take the Banana Caramelicious, a holiday treat introduced last year. The four-layer stack of banana cake, cream cheese frosting and caramel was so popular, Kaiser opted to keep it on the menu year-round. Other seasonal favorites at The Omaha Bakery include white chocolate-raspberry and chocolate-mint-Oreo cheesecakes, although this year's launch may crush them all—a 3-pound peanut butter-bacon cinnamon roll that serves 12. 

customers inside Nathaniel Reid Bakery
Credit: Erik Kellar Photography

Nathaniel Reid Bakery

Kirkwood, Missouri Fruitcake has transcended its reputation as a questionable hockey puck of a dessert, thanks to St. Louis-area chef Nathaniel Reid. He's honed his technique over 13 years, elevating the taste and texture with premium ingredients (no mysterious green bits). His tricks include soaking dried apricots, cherries, prunes and raisins separately in dark rum to preserve their individual flavors; candying his own orange peel; and sourcing pecans from McGraw Hilltop Pecan Farm in nearby St. Charles County. The icing on the cake? An apricot glaze. Order early; Reid says they sell out every year. 

Suzu’s Bakery dessert assortment
Credit: Courtesy of Suzu's Bakery

Suzu's Bakery

Champaign, Illinois Hear us out: strawberry desserts for the holidays. At Japanese bakery Suzu's, the sweet fruit stars on the holiday menu. This year's offerings include a chiffon roll cake topped with cream-filled Santa berries, and strawberry shu kurimu (cream puffs). Co-owner Jennifer Gunji-Ballsrud says they'll also offer mini Mont Blanc cakes, which feature a meringue base topped with piped kuri (Japanese chestnut) paste that looks like soba noodles. The elegant creations are the brainchild of chefs and co-owners Alex Sentowski and Suzuko Enomoto, who worked as a pastry chef in Japan for more than 20 years. You can also pick up a tin with cookies naturally flavored and colored with matcha, cranberry, kabocha squash and hŌjicha (Japanese roasted green tea). Talk about thinking outside the cookie box. 

O&H Danish Bakery

Racine, Wisconsin Not all states have an official pastry, but Wisconsin does—the kringle. Several bakeries make these crowd-size, ring-shape treats filled with fruit or nuts and glazed in white icing. One of the best comes from O&H Danish Bakery, where for 70 years, staff members have made the 36-layer dough using the same three-day method. Innovation comes in the fillings. In 2019, third-generation owner Eric Olesen introduced a Very Danish Christmas Kringle, pairing sweet almond filling and tart Door County Montmorency cherries. Olesen estimates the bakery sells more than 10,000in November and December, in stores and online. 

Chris Hanmer's mini bûche de Noëls
Credit: Courtesy of CH Patisserie

Yule Logs

Rolled cake. Chocolate frosting. Meringue mushrooms. Go. Here are three Yule logs to try.

CH Patisserie

Sioux Falls, SouthDakota, pastry chef Chris Hanmer spins sugar and flour into works of art. His mini bûche de Noëls often feature sleek designs and unconventional fillings like raspberry jam.

Leviathan Bakehouse

At holiday time, this Indianapolis spot known for crusty breads and flaky Danishes unveils a stunning Yule log that upgrades the classic with a nutmeg custard filling.

Sugar Leaf Bakery

The family behind this Branson, Missouri, bakery has been rolling Yule logs together as long as they can remember. Stop in for a slice and homemade hot chocolate while in town for the Christmas festivities.