Winner: Cappuccino Flats


Baker: Dianne Sivald of White Bear Lake.

Tradition: “I can’t even remember Christmas without cookies,” Sivald said. “It’s my absolute favorite part of the holiday.” When she was growing up, Sivald’s family spent many happy hours turning out spritz, Russian tea cakes, cutouts and other favorites. “Dad ran the spritz gun; we couldn’t touch it,” she said with a laugh. “That’s my job now.”

Sivald has directed the family holiday baking ritual for decades, gathering her sister, mother, mother-in-law and two daughters for a cookie-baking marathon (often combined with her Dec. 14 birthday), turning out more than a dozen different sweets, including maple yule logs, thumbprints and, of course, Cappuccino Flats. By nightfall, husbands and now grandchildren join the group for cookie decorating and pizza eating, and everyone leaves with cookie-filled containers.

Family favorite: Sivald discovered Cappuccino Flats in a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook “so long ago that I can’t remember the exact date,” she said. It wouldn’t be Christmas at the Sivald home without these elegant, richly flavored cookies, and it’s easy to see why. “They would be equally good with a cup of coffee or a glass of champagne,” noted one of our judges. “So elegant,” said another. “They would really stand out on a cookie tray,” added a third. “You just can’t beat that combination of coffee and chocolate, and they’re not too sweet,” was a fourth’s endorsement.

Gluten-free: After her daughters switched to gluten-free diets, Sivald began experimenting with different formulas. Giving up baking altogether was not an option. “I would have felt so deprived,” she said. “My motto was, ‘So many pastries, so little time.’ ” After some instructive trial and error, she now swears by Authentic Foods brand gluten-free flour. Over the years, she and her daughters have converted all of their recipes to gluten-free formulas, “and people can’t tell the difference,” Sivald said.

For Cappuccino Flats, Sivald substitutes with a ratio of ¾ cup gluten-free flour for 1 cup all-purpose flour. “The results are fabulous,” she said. Other gluten-free baking lessons learned: Use butter, not shortening, and if the recipe calls for milk, use cream. “With gluten-free, more fat is better,” she said.

Friendly nudge: Patrice Johnson, our 2012 contest winner — and 2013 finalist — played a role in Sivald’s win this year. The two women are colleagues. “And when we were sharing baking stories, she told me that I had to enter this cookie,” Sivald said. “And so I did.”

Best for last: One of the recipe’s most endearing attributes is how easy it is to prepare, a simple cut-and-bake refrigerator method. “They’re so good that I sometimes wonder why I only make them at Christmas,” said Sivald. “But maybe that’s what makes them so special. You have to wait for them.”