Holly Ebel: PB’s 12th annual Holiday Cookie Contest
What began as an idea for a festive holiday event has turned into a local tradition many of us look forward to — the Post Bulletin’s annual Holiday Cookie Contest.
Over the years we’ve toyed with the idea of including candy or breads, but at the end of the day cookies rule, especially now. So, for the 12th time, a team of judges gathered last week and did what we do — taste once, taste twice, and then again, just to be sure. (Editor’s note: It’s a tough job, but somebody’s got to do it.)
This year there were well over 100 entries, and in a definite sign of the times most came in via computer rather than being handwritten, though there were some of those.
How are finalists chosen from just a piece of paper with a list of ingredients? It’s a process. I sort through them all, looking at every one and make piles on my dining room table with labels: “Yes,” “Maybe,” and “Not this time.” I cull over them many times, moving them around the piles, consulting with Jeff Pieters until we have the final 10.
Cookies from a cake mix don’t fare well, nor do those with cereal as an ingredient (though for decades I made cornflake wreaths). Favorites like spritz, snickerdoodles and basic cutouts are recipes most of us have and therefore don’t usually make the cut, though there are exceptions.
Unusual entries like the Dutch keefals and the French macarons catch my attention, though I wondered about the cottage cheese in the keefals in this year’s batch. Never mind — they are delicate and delicious and came in second place.
Taste, texture and appearance count. The Austrian peach cookie would win any beauty contest, hands down, we all agreed, and the winning mitten cookies were all decorated in different designs.
Finally, it’s taste that takes a cookie over the top. The eggnog cookie is a simple one that brought all elements together.
Isn’t it amazing how just four ingredients — flour, sugar, butter and eggs — can produce so many hundreds of wonderful confections with just additional ingredients and flavors. All of the entries this year brought that fact home.
In fact, the judges agreed that this year’s top ten were the best ever in each category. (We say that every year.)
Judges included Jeff Pieters, Life editor; Cynthia Daube, former owner of Daube’s Bakery; and PB employees Randi Kallas, Emily Wessing and Brian Todd; plus myself.
A big shout out to Hy-Vee, which from the very beginning has provided generous gift certificates to the top three winners. This year’s prizes are $100, $75, and $50.
And to all of you, near and far, who sent recipes, please try again next year.
So, with all of that said, here are this year’s winners. Bakers, start your ovens!