One of the secrets to making great-tasting cookies (or great-tasting anything, for that matter) is to start with really good ingredients. But, you may not want to spend big bucks for premium vanilla and whatnot, especially if you are not into baking year-round. I thought that I would share some of my favorite places to buy ingredients for holiday goodies.
I like to buy spices such as cinnamon, ginger, and coriander at an Indian market. There’s one right in Malden center, on Pleasant Street. The quality is soooo much better than that brand that starts with an “M,” and the price is much better too –~$4 for a 4-ounce bag of cinnamon. (If you think you can’t use that much cinnamon, go shopping with a friend and share everything). Indian markets are also good places to get golden raisins (for fruitcake!) and cashews (for nut brittle, mixed nuts, spiced nuts…).
Trader Joe’s has good prices on good-quality spices, nuts, dried fruit, and chocolate. I like their 4-ounce bottles of vanilla for ~$5 – swanky brands of vanilla are nice, but unless you’re making a cookie in which the vanilla is the main flavor (like a butter cookie), I think it’s a waste of money. Also Marty’s Liquors in Allston used to carry vanilla, chocolate and some nuts; I haven’t been there in a while but I got some good deals in years past.
If you want to spend a little more money for premium nuts and dried fruit, go to Dairy Fresh Candies in the North End. It’s a tiny little store that’s a baking junkie’s heaven. They also have chocolate, almond paste, and marzipan. Polcari’s, which is also in the North End, carries some nuts and dried fruit in bulk as well.
If price is no object, then try one of the mail-order companies offering everything that your little baker’s heart desires. Check out Penzey’s, or the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Catalog for a dizzying array of ingredients (just how many kinds of vanilla are there, anyway?). Maybe Santa will put a Penzey’s gift certificate in my stocking this year.