By Julie Lawrence Special to Published Nov 22, 2006 at 5:37 AM
Nothing beats holiday sweets, and lucky for us, tradition has conveniently associated each holiday with a different type of special treat. Chocolates have becomes an expression of love on Valentine's Day, Easter, for whatever reason, has its jelly beans, Halloween allows for reckless consumption of candy in all shapes and forms, and the winter holidays have proven themselves as the quintessential time of year to indulge in the almighty cookie.

This is where Nikki's Cookies comes in. Although the Milwaukee-based company has a cookie or confection for just about any season, it is the year-end holidays that Nikki Taylor, the creator and culinary inspiration behind the gourmet bakery, really defines her desserts as truly unique.

Her recipe repertoire is designed to include the usual Christmas icons, such as the Christmas Tree Box ($6.25) filled with an assortment of spicy gingerbread boys and buttery sugar cookie snowmen, as well as other winter holidays, with her 12 Cookie Hanukkah Bag ($7) stuffed with blue foil wrapped butter shortbread cookies.

"For the holiday season our gingerbread and cranberry (cookies) are the most popular," says Taylor. "My gingerbread recipe is authentic and is not as sweet as most American gingerbread recipes -- the flavor comes from the spices and rich molasses."

As is the case with her gingerbread, some of her cookie recipes date back to 17th century Europe.

"The original shortbread recipe came form my ancestor, Sarah Reed, from Blyborough, England in the 1600s. The recipe stayed in my family for many years (and) is so buttery that the cookies melt in your mouth."

Yet not all of her creations come from overseas, carrying with them centuries of perfection. Some of her more contemporary recipes are born in her own kitchen -- a log cabin in Wisconsin's north woods -- where she carefully crafts a delicate balance between mouth-watering indulgence and heart-warming health.

During the holiday season when calorie counting and fat content seem to be usurped by the power of decadent taste -- as it very well should -- it's refreshing to know that someone hasn't completely sold out our arteries to the lowest denominator. With no added chemicals, the bulk of Nikki's cookies are natural enough to be sold at Whole Foods and Outpost Natural Foods and use select flours, fresh Wisconsin Butter, Guittard single origin chocolate and pure flavorings.

"Nikki's Cookies was the first company to make American shortbread cookies and market them using Wisconsin Butter," she says. "We also introduced flavored shortbread cookies such as key lime and lemon."

This past July Taylor expanded her company to include a new line of confections -- hand-decorated and uniquely shaped shortbread cookies dipped in two ounces of Guittard chocolate. The adorable bears, bunnies, snowmen and hearts have been a hit, but it is her raspberry and mint Ladybugs-- all-natural, chocolate wafers double stuffed with creamy buttermilk mint or raspberry filling and triple dipped in rich dark chocolate -- that remain the reining confection when the holidays roll around.

Nikki's Cookies are found throughout Milwaukee and the suburbs at places such as Grasch Foods, Sendik's, Macy's, Williams-Sonoma, Larry's Brown Deer Market and at Taste of Wisconsin at the Milwaukee Public Market. All items are also available for purchase via her Web site.
Julie Lawrence Special to staff writer Julie Lawrence grew up in Wauwatosa and has lived her whole life in the Milwaukee area.

As any “word nerd” can attest, you never know when inspiration will strike, so from a very early age Julie has rarely been seen sans pen and little notebook. At the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee it seemed only natural that she major in journalism. When offered her an avenue to combine her writing and the city she knows and loves in late 2004, she knew it was meant to be. Around the office, she answers to a plethora of nicknames, including “Lar,” (short for “Larry,” which is short for “Lawrence”) as well as the mysteriously-sourced “Bill Murray.”