Give Santa the good stuff 

Cookie Monster

We love baking around the holidays, but sometimes it's more convenient to let a bakery do all the work. And, let's face it, your very best chocolate chip cookies probably can't compete with the deliciousness some local bakers are churning out. Whether you're looking for a sweet hostess gift, a surprise delivery for your coworkers (hint, hint), or you just need to satisfy your own holiday-fueled, over-active sweet tooth, Charleston bakeries have a drool-worthy assortment of festive fare.

Take Baked, for instance. The East Bay spot is all decked out for the holidays with cute vintage decorations, and pastry chef Melissa Fritz-Walters has stocked the counters with loads of creative holiday treats. Try the winter mint cake with eggnog buttercream frosting, fig and nutmeg cupcakes, chocolate gingerbread bundt cake, and, of course, decorated sugar cookies ($2.50 each) and cupcakes ($1.75/each, $24/dozen). Then there's their yule log ($50/large, $22/small), based on a traditional French bûche de Noël, which was featured in Food + Wine back in December. Looking exactly like what it sounds like, it's a chocolate roulade (sponge cake) filled with chocolate ganache frosting and topped with vanilla malted buttercream and meringue mushrooms.

Sugar Bakeshop on Cannon Street has an equally impressive selection of holiday goods. Festooned with sparkly lights, the cozy bakery is stocked with sugar cookies in simple shapes made from owner Bill Bowick's mother's recipe — try the ones with a peppermint glaze and crushed candies sprinkled on top ($1.50). Gingerbread men and women are decorated with ginger crystal, and the chewy ginger molasses is dressed up with raw sugar. You can also pick up a gingerbread house kit, or try their Lady Baltimore cake, an almond cake with meringue frosting filled with raisins and figs soaked in sherry with ground walnuts that's known as the holiday cake of Charlestonians. Now that's a mouthful. Bonus: you can pay an extra $4 for a cute tin if you're giving the goodies as a gift.

If cupcakes are what you want — and only cupcakes — head to (of course) Cupcake downtown or in Mt. Pleasant. Just for the holidays, they've got gingerbread- and peppermint-flavored cupcakes decorated with their signature gigantic dollop of icing in rich, bright Christmas colors. They're $2.75 each, or $30 for a dozen.

James Island's Charleston Cookie Company may not have a fancy storefront — they mainly specialize in online orders — but cookie-seekers are welcome to stop by their facility during the week. They make all of their cookies to order, using as many local ingredients as possible — and their iced sugar cookies are adorable. Also try the white chocolate cranberry cookie and the candy cane brownies — rich, dark chocolate layered with peppermint-flavored brownie batter. (We hear it's good with a cabernet sauvignon.) The soft gingerbread cookies pair well with cider or tea.

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