Design a winning cookie: Past contest winners

November 11, 2009|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

Now that The Herald-Mail has canceled its food contests, we'd like to take this opportunity to answer an oft-asked question from readers: What made the winning cookies winners?

We rounded up the top recipes from the past five years with hopes of getting a sense of what the champions had in common.

We discovered that the winners were most likely to have as ingredients some form of fruit - specifically, lemon, lime or cranberries - nuts, and some sort of cake mix.

Oatmeal, chocolate chips and raisins? Not so much.

For more than a decade, The Herald-Mail has asked readers to submit their favorite cookies in our Cookie Exchange contest. The top cookie is chosen by a panel of judges, generally a mix of foodies, bakers and Average Joes. The winner walks away with a cash prize, a picture in the paper and a short profile. Also, we share their recipe with readers.


The Herald-Mail decided to suspend its food contests for the year due to concerns over H1N1 and seasonal flu.

The food contests will continue someday - next year, we hope. In the meantime, we present the past five winning recipes to give readers ideas for the next contest.

Keep this in mind: The judges don't have any biases against traditional favorites - chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal-raisin cookies and ginger snaps.

We accept and enjoy cookies of all kinds.

The problem is that the traditional favorites are common in our contest. Judges will eat so many chocolate chip cookies that a little lemon flavoring might stand out.

I say this having once been a cookie contest judge.

On the morning after, there's usually little evidence that the cookie contest ever occurred. Leftover cookies are placed in The Herald-Mail's newsroom conference room after judging. Herald-Mail editors and reporters don't discriminate.

Ginger-lime cookies2 cups flour
1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cream of tarter
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons softened unsalted butter
6 tablespoons chilled vegetable shortening
1 1/3 cup and 2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 tablespoons and 1/2 teaspoon grated lime zest

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornmeal, baking soda, cream of tarter and salt.

In another bowl, beat together the butter, shortening and 1 cup of the sugar until fluffy. Mix in the corn syrup, egg, vanilla extract and 3 tablespoons of the lime zest. Add flour and cornmeal just until combined.

Remove batter from bowl and wrap in plastic wrap, patting batter into a disk. Chill for 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Spread 1/3 cup of the sugar on a plate. In a bowl, combine remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and 1/2 teaspoon lime zest.

Pinch off tablespoon-sized pieces of dough and form round balls. Roll balls in sugar on a plate.

Place the balls 2 inches apart on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Press each with the bottom of a glass until cookies reach 1/4-inch thickness.

Bake 12 to 15 minutes or until edges are golden.

Sprinkle cookies with sugar-lime zest mixture while still warm.

Makes three to four dozen.

Cook's note: No, we didn't accidentally omit the ginger from the ingredients list. Suranno said she doesn't use ginger in this misleadingly named recipe, which her mother found in a magazine several years ago.

- Courtesy of Emily Suranno

2006 winner: Kelly's Sensational Fruit and Nut Bars

18.25-ounce package of Duncan Hines Coconut Supreme cake mix
1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter, softened (not melted)
1 cup white chocolate chips
1 cup dark chocolate chips
3/4 cup sliced almonds, divided
1 cup Welch's Tropical Sensation dried fruit
14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In large bowl, cut butter into cake mix with a fork or pastry blender until crumbly. Sprinkle evenly into an ungreased, 15-inch-by-10-inch-by-1-inch pan. Press lightly.

Sprinkle with white chips, dark chips, dried fruit and 1/2 cup of the almonds. Pour sweetened condensed milk evenly over all ingredients. Sprinkle with remaining 1/4 cup of almonds.

Bake at 350 degrees for 22 to 27 minutes or until top is golden brown.

Cool completely. Cut into bars.

Makes 48 bars.

- Courtesy of Kelly Rulle

2005 winner: Pecan-glazed butter crescents

For the cookie:

1 cup Land O'Lakes Butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup pecans, toasted, ground (Martin uses toasted, chopped pecans)
1/4 teaspoon salt

For the glaze:

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
3 to 4 tablespoons bourbon or water (Martin used water)
Finely chopped pecans, if desired (Martin used 1/2 cup crushed pecans)

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine butter, sugar and vanilla in large bowl. Beat at medium speed, scraping bowl often, until creamy. Reduce speed to low; add all remaining cookie ingredients. Beat until well mixed.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls, then form crescents (see cook's note). Place 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets.

Bake for 11 to 14 minutes or until set. Cool completely.

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