Hagerstown home baker snags top prize in cookie exchange contest

December 13, 2011|By CHRIS COPLEY |
  • In addition to winning The Herald-Mail's annual Cookie Exchange Contest for a second time, Carolyn Etzler won The Herald-Mail's pie contest, baked goods categories at the Washington County Ag Expo, and an Iron Chef-style barbecuing contest at Washington County Rural Agricultural Center.
By Ric Dugan/Staff Photographer

Carolyn Etzler of Hagerstown has returned to the top of the heap. Her Lemon Lavender Cookie Sandwiches were selected as the winning entry in The Herald-Mail's 19th Cookie Exchange Contest.

She won $100, beating a field of 22 entries.

Cookies were judged on taste, appearance, quality and originality of the recipe. This year, for the first time, entries were required to be original or significantly adapted from another recipe.

The 10 judges liked Etzler's creative cookie, awarding it 181 points out of a perfect score of 200.

The irony is that Etzler wasn't happy with her recipe.

"I was surprised I won, because I really didn't like the cookies," she said by phone when contacted about contest results. "I'm a perfectionist with my baking. They weren't the way I wanted them to be. Even my other half said, 'These are not your best cookie.'"

She said she wanted the icing in the middle of the cookie sandwich to be less sweet. She considered adding more cream cheese. But her taste-testing team — her co-workers at U.S. Army Materiel Development Activity at Fort Detrick in Frederick, Md. — liked the recipe she submitted in The Herald-Mail's contest.

"They might say too much lemon, too little lavender," she said. "They all told me to put in the lavender. This was my third batch. They said this combination was the best."

Contest judge Amy Stouffer, chef of the refectory at Saint James School, south of Hagerstown, praised the cookie's dense texture, and called it "decadent."

Hagerstown home cook Bev Abeles loved the "good, old-fashioned ingredients, but with a twist of lavender."

Payne Dixon, owner and baker for Payneless Desserts at Hagerstown City Farmers Market, liked the cookie's "light, wonderful scent" and "good flavor."

Other judges in the contest were Katie Martin, co-owner and baker for Cake Walk Specialty Cakes & Pastries, a bakery in South Pointe Shopping Center, south of Hagerstown; Veeda Bassett, owner of Inner BeYouTy in downtown Hagerstown, and a dessert lover; Angie Youngblood, co-owner of Youngblood Studios in Hagerstown, and a dessert lover; Suzanne Beckwith of Hagerstown, a home cook; Carol Mendelsohn of Hagerstown, a former caterer; Julia Brugh of Hagerstown, a home cook; and Wanda Daney, baker and owner of Hugs N Cookies, a Frederick pastry shop with a table at Hagerstown City Farmers Market.

Judges were divided into three groups for a preliminary round of tasting. Each group sampled one-third of the entries and advanced three cookies to the final round. Each judge taste-tested each entry in the second round, and a winner and five runners-up were selected.

Etzler has entered and won many local food contests — The Herald-Mail's pie contest, baked goods categories at the Washington County Ag Expo, and an Iron Chef-style barbecuing contest at Washington County Rural Agricultural Center.

This is her second Herald-Mail Cookie Exchange win.

One source of inspiration for Etzler is her collection of cookbooks.

"I had to have supper on the table when I was 14. Both parents worked. I started looking at cookbooks for ideas," she said. "Now I have more than 10,000 cookbooks. I have a room for them that looks like a library."

She'll be back for another try at the cookie contest, but she savored her win this year. And she knew what she would do with her $100 prize.

"Buy a cookbook or two," she said.

Lemon lavender sandwich cookies

For the cookie:

1/4 cup butter, softened

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 box lemon cake mix

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon culinary lavender (see cook's note)

For the filling:

1/4 cup butter, softened

2 1/2 cup powdered sugar

4 ounces cream cheese, softened

3 tablespoons milk

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Zest of 1 lemon

1/2 cup chopped pecans

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream butter and cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Gradually add cake mix, flour and lavender to creamed mixture and mix well.

Shape into 48 1-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets, flatten slightly. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until set.

Cool for 1 minute before removing from pans to wire racks. Cool completely.

For filling, beat butter and cream cheese until fluffy. Add powdered sugar, milk, vanilla and lemon zest until smooth. Add chopped pecans. Spread filling on bottom of a cookie, top with another cookie. Store in airtight container in the refrigerator.

Makes 2 dozen cookies.

Cook's note: Culinary lavender is lavender that is suitable for eating. Etzler gets hers from Willow Pond Farm in Fairfield, Pa. Go to

— Adapted by Carolyn Etzler of Hagerstown

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