The winners' circle

We talked strategy with a few past Taste Holiday Cookie Contest winners.

Scott Rohr of St. Paul, our 2010 winner for his Pistachio-Orange Cookies, recommends formulating original recipes.

"Yes, a cookie can come from any source, but the ones that really work make us think, 'Huh, that's an interesting flavor combination,' " he said. "For me, pistachio and orange was fun to play around with, and I went through a bunch of iterations before I came up with the right formula."

Rohr also advises simplicity.

"Remember, it's a cookie," he said. "Trying to turn lemon meringue pie or some other dessert into a cookie isn't a good idea. Let it be a cookie."

Patrice Johnson of Roseville, our 2011 winner for her Royal Sweets With Chocolate Balsamic Sauce, finds inspiration in the past.

"My philosophy for everything I create is to take something old — something that I value — and update it," she said. "It works for me, so it can probably work for everyone. I just won a blue ribbon at the State Fair, by updating an 80-year-old recipe with new flavors."