Among this year’s 325-plus entries, our judges enjoyed a few other submissions.

Goat Cheese and Cranberry Shortbread √

Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies.

Note: From Jennifer Pettit of Coon Rapids. She makes a box of cookies for family members each Christmas, “and it got to the point where the surprise in the cookie boxes was waning,” she wrote. “So I decided to change things up a bit and devise a new cookie to include in the boxes each year to keep the spark going.” This tangy, barely sweet treat is one of those surprise-inducing treats. Our judges were divided — “You have to warn people that it’s not a conventional cookie,” said one. But others were impressed. “I love the savory-ness of it,” added another judge, who added, “I would definitely put it out with cheese and olives, but I don’t know that it belongs on a cookie platter.”

• 2 c. flour

• 1/2 tsp. baking powder

• 2 tbsp. freshly chopped rosemary

• 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus extra for pan

• 1 1/2 c. goat cheese, at room temperature

• 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

• 3/4 c. powdered sugar

• 1/2 c. finely chopped dried cranberries


Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter bottom and sides of a 7- by 11-inch baking pan.

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder and rosemary, and reserve.

In a large bowl, combine butter, goat cheese and vanilla extract until creamy. Add powdered sugar, flour mixture and cranberries and, using your hands, knead until thoroughly combined.

Spread dough into prepared pan and bake for 20 minutes; do not overbake. Remove pan from oven and transfer pan to a wire rack to cool completely. Cut shortbread into small squares and serve.



Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Note: From Cheryl Francke of Arden Hills. Francke, a 2012 contest finalist, borrowed elements from a chocolate-caramel-sea salt cake to create this distinctive sandwich cookie. “Now I can have my cake — or cookie — and eat it, too,” she wrote. While some judges found them a bit overpowering (“They would be better without the glaze,” noted one), others were delighted. “Oh, I like them,” said one. “A rusticated Oreo,” declared another.

For cookie:

• 1 1/2 c. flour

• 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. baking soda

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1/2 c. plus 2 tbsp. (1 stick plus 2 tbsp.) unsalted butter, at room temperature

• 1 1/3 c. sugar

• 1 egg

For filling:

• 1/2 c. plus 1 tbsp. (1 stick plus 1 tbsp.). unsalted butter, at room temperature

• 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar

• 10 tsp. prepared caramel sauce

• Sea salt flakes

For glaze:

• 2 oz. semisweet chocolate

• 3 tbsp. vegetable oil


To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and salt.

In a bowl of an electric mixer, beat 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg and mix until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until a dough forms.

Roll rounded teaspoons of dough into 1/2-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using the bottom of a glass dipped in sugar, flatten dough until cookies are about 1/4-inch thick. Bake until cookies are slightly cracked and puffed, about 8 to 9 minutes. Remove from oven, cool 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare filling: In a bowl of electric mixer on medium speed, beat 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon butter and powdered sugar until creamy. Gradually add caramel sauce, mixing until smooth.

To assemble cookies: In microwave oven, melt chocolate and stir in vegetable oil until mixture is smooth. Place a heaping teaspoon of filling on the flat (underside) of one cookie. Sprinkle some flaked sea salt on top of filling. Top with another cookie, the flat (underside) against the filling. Drizzle glaze over cookies.



Makes about 2 dozen cookies.

Note: From Jenna and Dori Duesterhoeft of Minneapolis. “Baking has always been a large part of our lives, especially during the holidays,” they wrote. “More recently health and fitness has become an important factor as well. We love to indulge on our freshly baked goods, but wanted to find something a little more guilt-free that didn’t skimp on taste. We took out some of the guilt by eliminating both eggs and butter and this can be made completely vegan by using vegan chocolate chips.” As for the judges, this one put it best when he said, “This is not a backhanded compliment when I say that, for a vegan cookie, it’s not bad. It’s pretty good, actually.” Vegan chocolate chips are available at most natural food co-ops.

• 1 1/2 c. flour

• 1 c. sugar

• 1/2 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

• 1 tsp. baking soda

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1 tsp. ground ginger

• 1/4 c. coconut oil

• 1/3 c. unsweetened applesauce

• 2 tbsp. vanilla extract

• 1/4 c. (or to taste) chopped crystallized ginger chunks

• 1/3 c. (or to taste) dried cranberries

• 1 c. chocolate chips


Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda, salt and ground ginger.

In a medium bowl, stir together coconut oil, applesauce and vanilla extract. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix with a rubber spatula until a thick dough forms. Stir in the chopped ginger and dried cranberries.

Roll dough into small balls and place about 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using your fingers, gently flatten each mound of dough and smooth out the edges. Bake 14 minutes; do not overbake. Remove from oven and cool 15 minutes before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

In a microwave oven, melt chocolate chips. Dip each cookie into melted chocolate (or drizzle melted chocolate over cookies). Place cookies on a wax paper-lined baking sheet and refrigerate for 20 minutes to allow cookies to set.