WINNER

Cranberry Cornmeal Shortbread Cookies

Baker: Mary Martin of Minneapolis.
Holiday favorites: “To me, this cookie just looks like the holidays,” said Martin. “It’s the cranberries, and the rosemary, and the orange glaze. Baking is a gift to your company. You put a little love into it.”
Our judges agreed: “I love that it’s not a sugary-sweet cookie,” said one. “The glaze is such an inspired touch,” added another. “The cornmeal really makes it special,” chimed in a third.
A baker’s tip(s): “Glaze when it’s warm, because the heat will make the glaze spread evenly,” said Martin. “Snip the cranberries using a kitchen shears; it’s so much easier than using a knife.”

Recipe:

Makes about 2 1/2 dozen (2-inch rectangle) cookies.

Note: This dough must be prepared in advance. Our 2017 winning cookie is from Mary Martin of Minneapolis, who prepares this recipe using the variation mentioned below. Use more or less rosemary and dried cranberries, according to your preferences.

For glaze:

• 1/3 c. powdered sugar

• 1 tsp. freshly grated orange zest

• 2 to 4 tsp. freshly squeezed orange juice

For cookies:

• 1 c. flour, plus extra for rolling dough

• 1/4 c. finely ground yellow cornmeal

• 3 tbsp. granulated sugar

• 1 to 2 tsp. freshly chopped rosemary

• Pinch of cayenne pepper

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

• 2 to 4 tbsp. chopped dried cranberries

Directions

To prepare glaze: In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, orange zest and 2 teaspoons orange juice, adding more orange juice (a teaspoon at a time) until glaze is slightly runny. Reserve.

To prepare cookies: In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cornmeal, granulated sugar, rosemary and cayenne. Using a pastry blender, cut in butter until mixture resembles coarse meal. (You may need to add water, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, to help dough come together.). Stir in dried cranberries. Form dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 325 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Use cookie cutters to cut dough and place cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Repeat with remaining dough, gathering up scraps, rerolling and cutting until all dough is used.

Bake until lightly brown, 21 to 24 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes. Brush cookies with glaze, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.

Variation: Form dough into a ball (do not refrigerate) and shape into a flat 8-inch circle on prepared baking sheet. Using a sharp knife, score dough into 16 wedges. Poke each wedge at least twice with a fork. Bake as directed. Remove from oven and immediately rescore cookies. Cool and glaze as directed.

 

THE FINALISTS

Chocolate Toffee Cookies

Baker: Bonnie Coffey of Pequot Lakes, Minn.
Did her research: For Coffey, chocolate was a natural, particularly after she studied the contest’s archives. “I think I counted six chocolate cookies that have won in the past,” she said. “People like chocolate; it always seems to hit a home run.”
What the judges said: “Before even tasting them, I want to eat the entire plate,” said one. “The salt is a really great touch. It bumps it up from an everyday cookie,” said another. “They don’t necessarily look like they say ‘holiday,’ but they sure taste that way,” added a third.
A baker’s tip: “Don’t forget the salt,” said Coffey. “I’ve always liked that salty-and-sweet component.”

Recipe:

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Note: This dough must be prepared in advance. To toast walnuts, place the nuts in a dry skillet over medium heat, and cook, stirring (or shaking the pan frequently) until they just begin to release their fragrance, about 3 to 4 minutes (alternately, preheat oven to 325 degrees, spread the nuts on an ungreased baking sheet and bake, stirring often, for 4 to 6 minutes). From Bonnie Coffey of Pequot Lakes, Minn., based on a recipe from Bon Appétit magazine on the Smitten Kitchen blog.

• 1/2 c. flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1 lb. bittersweet or semisweet chocolate, chopped

• 4 tbsp. unsalted butter

• 1 3/4 c. packed brown sugar

• 4 eggs

• 1 tbsp. vanilla extract

• 5 (1.4 oz.) chocolate-covered English toffee bars (such as Heath), coarsely chopped, or 7 oz. Heath bits

• 1 c. chopped walnuts, toasted (see Note)

• Flaky sea salt for sprinkling, optional

Directions

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

In a double boiler over gently simmering water (or in a bowl in a microwave oven), combine chocolate and butter, stirring occasionally, until mixture is melted and smooth. Remove from heat and cool until mixture is lukewarm.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat brown sugar and eggs until thick, about 5 minutes. Reduce speed to low, add chocolate mixture and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in toffee and walnuts. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Drop dough by a heaping tablespoon onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2 inches apart. Sprinkle each cookie with a pinch of sea salt, if desired. Bake until tops of cookies are dry and cracked but are still soft to the touch, about 12 to 14 minutes; do not overbake. Remove cookies from oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

 

German Sour Cream Twists

Baker: Rosemary Hall of St. Louis Park.
Friendly traditions: “Michele was my college roommate, and once we set up our own households, we would get together every year before Christmas and spend a whole day baking cookies and catching up on each other’s lives,” said Hall. “This recipe was one that her grandmother used to make. They’re a beautiful addition to a cookie plate.”
Our judges concurred: “That tender, flaky texture is amazing,” said one. “It’s Danish pastry-meets-Christmas cookie,” added another. “It’s sweetly old-fashioned,” added a third.
Speaking from experience: “When you get to that third rolling, you really need to cut them in half and then cut them into strips as quickly as possible,” said Hall. “If you don’t, the dough ends up getting too soft — the sugar sort of melts the dough — and it tears.”

Recipe:

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.

Note: This dough must be prepared in advance. From Rosemary Hall of St. Louis Park.

• 3 1/2 c. flour

• 1 tsp. salt

• 1/2 c. shortening, chilled and cut into small pieces

• 1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

• 1 package (1/4 oz.) dry yeast

• 3/4 c. sour cream

• 1 egg plus 2 egg yolks, well beaten (we recommend extra-large)

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 1 c. sugar, divided

Directions

In a large bowl, whisk together flour and salt. Using a pastry blender, cut in shortening and butter, until mixture resembles coarse meal.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast with 2 tablespoons warm water. Add yeast mixture, sour cream, beaten eggs and vanilla extract into flour mixture, stirring until thoroughly combined. Cover bowl with a damp cloth and refrigerate for 2 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

Remove bowl from refrigerator and divide dough in half, keeping second portion refrigerated while preparing the first. Divide sugar in half.

On a lightly sugared surface using a rolling pin, roll dough to an 8- by 16-inch rectangle. Working quickly, fold one end in and fold the other end to cover, as with an envelope fold. Sprinkle with sugar. Flip dough over and roll to the same 8- by 16-inch size. Fold again, sprinkle again, roll again. Repeat process a third time.

Sprinkle more sugar over the rolled dough. Cut into 1- by 4-inch strips. Twist each strip, stretching dough slightly. Repeat process with second half of dough.

Place twisted strips 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets and bake until lightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

Variation: Use flavored sugars, such as vanilla, cinnamon or cardamom, for extra flavor.

 

Limoncello Kisses

Baker: Joanne Holtmeier of Edina.
Hello to limoncello: “I love having cocktail parties,” said Holtmeier. “I’ve purchased so many different liquors and liqueurs over the years, and I got to wondering how I could incorporate them into my baking.”
What the judges said: “Now that’s a lemony cookie,” said one. “I love the overall crispness, and the chewy center,” said another. “It sure delivers on the limoncello name,” added a third.
Keep it cold: “Bake the dough in their frozen state, and they don’t spread as much,” said Holtmeier. “They’re such an easy do-ahead cookie. They’re uncomplicated, but they seem fancy.”

Recipe:

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Note: Limoncello is an Italian lemon liqueur. From Joanne Holtmeier of Edina.

For cookies:

• 2 c. flour

• 1 tsp. baking powder

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 1/4 tsp. baking soda

• 1 1/2 c. granulated sugar

• 1 tbsp. freshly grated lemon zest

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

• 1 egg

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

• 1/4 c. sour cream

For frosting:

• 2 c. powdered sugar

• 3 tbsp. limoncello

• 1 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice

• Candied lemon slices, freshly grated lemon zest or sprinkles, optional

Directions

To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt and baking soda, and reserve.

In a medium bowl, combine granulated sugar and lemon zest. Using your fingers, rub zest into sugar until fragrant, about 30 seconds.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add lemon sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, vanilla extract and 1 tablespoon lemon juice, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low and add the flour mixture by halves, alternating with sour cream, and mix until just combined.

Shape dough into 1-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Bake until cookies are just firm and tops barely begin to brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare frosting: In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, limoncello and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Add more powdered sugar or lemon juice, as necessary, to make the frosting spreadable. Top each cookie with the frosting. Place on wire rack for frosting to set. If desired, top each cookie with a candied lemon slice, freshly grated lemon zest or holiday sprinkles.

 

Mocha Cappuccino Cookies

Baker: Joan Hause of Lake Elmo.
Brewed inspiration: “As I was drinking a cappuccino one morning, I looked at the swirly top and started thinking that it might be kind of pretty in a cookie,” said Hause. “I’ve never made a cookie with coffee in it before. And I do like frosting.” Who doesn’t?
The judges’ reaction: “Look how pretty this is!” exclaimed one. “This is the first cookie that anyone would reach for on a cookie platter,” said another. “Truly, deeply chocolaty,” added a third.
Insider’s tip: “You need to mix up the two frostings to get that nice swirl,” said Hause.

Recipe:

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Note: This cookie has two types of frosting for added effect. From Joan Hause of Lake Elmo.

For cookies:

• 2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder

• 1/2 tsp. salt

• 2 tsp. granulated fine-ground espresso or dark roast coffee

• 2 c. flour

• 1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

• 1 1/3 c. granulated sugar

• 2 egg yolks

• 1/4 c. milk

• 2 tsp. vanilla extract

For the frosting:

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

• 1 1/4 c. powdered sugar

• 1 tsp. vanilla extract

• 3 oz. white chocolate, melted and cooled slightly For bittersweet chocolate frosting:

• 3 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled slightly

Directions

To prepare cookies: Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, salt, espresso (or coffee) and flour, and reserve.

In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1 cup butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg yolks, milk and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, and beat until thoroughly combined. Reduce speed to low, slowly add flour mixture and mix until just combined.

Shape dough into 1 1/2-inch balls and place 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using a wide-bottomed glass, carefully press dough to 1/2-inch thickness before baking. Bake until cookies are set and tops are dry, about 8 to 9 minutes. Remove cookies from oven and cool for 2 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

To prepare frostings: In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat 1/2 cup butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce speed to medium-low and add 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and mix until creamy. Remove half the frosting from the bowl and set aside. Add the melted white chocolate to one bowl, and the melted bittersweet chocolate to the other, stirring until thoroughly combined. If either frosting needs to be thicker, add more powdered sugar.

Using a frosting gun, fill container with alternating spoonfuls of white chocolate and then bittersweet chocolate frosting. Create a white chocolate/bittersweet chocolate swirl on top of each cookie, about 2 teaspoons per cookie; a medium-size star tip works well. If using a pastry bag, there is a coupler that can be used to attach 2 pastry bags, one for each frosting. The same effect can be made by placing 1 teaspoon of each icing on top of a cookie and swirling frosting with a butter knife.

COME TRY THE COOKIES:

Taste all five of our winning cookies — while supplies last — starting at 11 a.m. Thursday, Nov. 30 in the atrium of the Star Tribune Building (650 3rd Av. S.), and cast a vote for your favorite recipe. We’ll be accepting nonperishable food items and cash donations to Second Harvest Heartland. Cost: Free.

On Dec. 2 from 12:30 to 4 p.m. Saturday at Mill City Museum, greet this year’s bakers and sample their winning recipes at this annual fun-filled event in the Baking Lab of the Mill City Museum (704 S. 2nd St., Mpls., 612-341-7582, millcitymuseum.org). The event will also include a cookie demonstration from Patrice Johnson, a past winner of the Taste Holiday Cookie Contest and the author of “Jul: Swedish American Holiday Traditions.” Admission is $6-$12.