A baking student puts linzer cookies into the oven / Image via Rita Gower

The holiday season is the most wonderful time of the year—and perhaps the busiest for VIU’s Professional Baking and Pastry Arts department.

The department went through an intensive two weeks of holiday baking in early December to fulfill approximately $15k worth of orders for the VIU and Nanaimo community.

The holiday delicacies range from classic fruitcakes, tarts, and cookies to decorative bread, white chocolate Christmas trees, and gingerbread houses. Designs of the latter range from classic four-walled houses to pirate ships and replicas of London Bridge. The gingerbread houses were on display in the campus cafeteria for the annual Seasonal Soiree on December 3.

Missed it? Don’t worry; you can make your timeline a bit more mouth-watering by following VIU Baking on Instagram.

First-year Baking and Pastry Arts Management student Erik Cessford has enjoyed this semester’s holiday baking. “It’s been a fantastic little break,” he said, “[a] really nice change of pace.” He said the students would listen to Christmas music while baking.

Cessford helped create the centrepiece for the Seasonal Soiree—a braided bread display complete with tiny bread roses. He and fellow students worked for hours on the intricate details of the centrepiece.

When asked if he had a favourite holiday treat he’d baked at VIU this semester, Cessford mentioned stollen, a German sweetbread consisting of spiced dough, dried fruits, and almond paste.

Cessford is full of praise for his department.

“It’s been great,” he said, stressing the positive environment and “fantastic” professors. He studied baking for a year before coming to VIU, and he said his time in the program has built on his established skillset.

He said the biggest challenge of holiday baking was having to keep up with the large quantities, but added the mass orders were great practice for real-world professional baking.

First-year student Martika McLean agreed with Cessford on both the fast-paced nature of the holiday baking, and the essential preparation it provides.

“Our in-person classes were extended by one extra day, which seems like no big deal because it’s only one day,” she said. “We were all quite tired from working in the kitchen during the day and doing assignments in the evening, but I know our teachers were just preparing us for the real world, where you’ll only get one day off during the holiday season, if at all.”

McLean baked gingerbread snowflake cookies, Christmas tree sugar cookies, Nanaimo bars, and much more.

“I love our linzer cookies,” McLean said. “They have nuts and citrus in them. It looks like a half moon-shaped whole wheat cookie that would taste horrible, but it is deliciously sweet and nutty.”

McLean also made “a leaning donut tower out of gingerbread;” a true holiday masterpiece of supreme sweetness.

If you’re feeling culinarily-inclined yourself this holiday season, Rita Gower, chair of the Professional Baking and Pastry Arts, has kindly shared a recipe for cinnamon stars from the department. With only six ingredients, it promises to be a tasty treat for the most apprehensive of amateur chefs. Happy baking!


Cinnamon Stars – Vancouver Island University Holiday Recipe

2     ounces almond paste
18   ounces icing sugar (sifted)
90   milliliters egg white
18   ounces ground almond
3/4 ounces cinnamon (sift with flour)
2     ounces bread flour

  1. Mix almond paste and icing sugar with a paddle, on mixing machine, until incorporated.
  2. Gradually add a small amount of egg white, mixing in so it is smooth. Make sure there are no lumps.
  3. When smooth, gradually and alternately add the rest of the egg whites and the dry ingredients.
  4. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight or for several hours.
  5. Roll out to 1/4 inch thick and cut with a star cutter (or other shape). Place on parchment lined baking tray.
  6. Bake at 350 F until golden brown on edges. Remove and let cool.


Isabella Ranallo is a third-year Creative Writing student at VIU. She's loved storytelling ever since she stole a sheet of her mother's office paper at age four to write the first page of a story about ten kids stranded on a desert island. Her short story, "The Journal," was published in VIRL and Rebel Mountain Press' In Our Own Teen Voice 2019. These days, she spends her free time scribbling away in Moleskine notebooks or searching for cat-inspired stationery.

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