Best Of The Best

For years, we've chosen our favorite holiday cookie recipes from readers. Now we revisit some of our most memorabel picks.

November 28, 2007|By Kate Shatzkin | Kate Shatzkin,Sun reporter

It's one thing to win that coveted title of Top Chef. It's another when you're back to compete against the winners from past seasons, each eager to claim ultimate bragging rights.

So instead of looking for new reader recipes for Taste's annual reader cookie exchange this year, we decided to step back and savor the delicious fruits of the recent past. Just since the year 2000, we've vetted and tested our way through hundreds of solicited recipes to give you the goods on about 75 favorite holiday cookies. Of those, which ones sprung to mind to create a "best of the best" plate of cookies for 2007?

The catch, of course, was that we could pick only 10.

The decisions weren't easy. Over just the past seven years, we've published the best cookies from readers in all kinds of categories: Best Fancy, Best Fast, Best Cookie for Santa, Best Classic, even Most Baltimore. We've sampled delicate butter cookies, chunky no-bake cookies, fragile snowballs, stars and twists, colorful mandelbrot, spicy pfeffernusse and dark-chocolate chewies.

Obviously, representing these diverse tastes on our plate of cookies would be key. That led us to our first choice, a rustic Glazed Apple Cookie from 2000 that delivers an ample hit of fresh fruit, along with frosting and nuts for holiday decadence.

Helen M. Radcliffe of Glen Arm, who sent us the recipe seven years ago, told us recently that she's still making this cookie at the age of 83. "It's different, and my family enjoys it," she said.

The same year's cookie issue featured a homemade version of the Berger Cookie from Suzanne Laubheimer of Parkville, which won for "Most Baltimore" cookie. When we baked it again recently, we agreed that this "Berger" mimicked the original very well, with a thick, crusty coating of icing covering a soft sugar cookie.

The following year brought us Cathy LaFleur's White-Chocolate-Dipped Gingersnaps, our pick for 2001's "Best Classic Cookie." The recipe actually had been sent in by LaFleur's neighbor in Bel Air, who loved the recipe so much she'd added it to her own holiday baking repertoire. LaFleur, disaster manager for the Red Cross in Maryland, told us she made about 1,000 cookies a year for friends and family. This spicy, pretty confection, which she got from her mother-in-law, was always one of them.

When we caught up with LaFleur recently, she said she was still keeping up that impressive pace. One of her secrets seems to be starting early. "I already made it this weekend," she said - before Thanksgiving had even come around.

Maria Springer, who runs a cooking school north of Baltimore, said she often uses her Linzer Schnitten - a festive bar cookie we picked from our 2003 cookie exchange - in her pastry classes, because they're quicker to produce than a traditional linzer cookie.

She said by e-mail recently that she came up with the bars this way: "One year I did not have much time to make a quick little pastry and, thought of the Linzer dough. I did not have time to grind the almonds ... so I just left them out. I did not have time to cut out the cookies and sandwich them."

Since then, Springer has come up with a number of variations for the bars. Sometimes she divides one cookie sheet into four sections with different types of jam. Sometimes she adds Droste cocoa powder to the dough for a chocolate version. Sometimes the cookies are cut in diamonds, sometimes in squares. And she sometimes adds almonds to the pastry, which makes it "softer and a little more crumbly."

Pam Polcaro's Walnut Cups, a pick from 2004, are still a hit with her family. The Elkridge mother of four got the recipe from Gourmet magazine in 1993, the year she got married. "They're just so good, and they're so special," she said. "It's almost like a little bite-sized pie." They also can be made with pecans, she said. (Another bonus: They freeze well.)

Austrian Twists from the same year, sent by Cheryl West of Lisbon, were another memorable fancy cookie. The simple dough is filled with a mix of sugar, pecans and cinnamon, rolled up crescent-style and drizzled with a sweet glaze.

We thought 2005 was an especially good year, with three recipes worth repeating. Donna Macek's soft, fudgy Espresso Thumbprints, which she found in a supermarket magazine, were such a favorite that one of our staffers had already incorporated it into her holiday baking. They'll satisfy lovers of both chocolate and coffee, with a grown-up hit of liqueur in the filling and a sprinkling of peppermint candy.

"I absolutely must make at least three batches during the holidays because they go so fast," Macek told us recently.

When we told Randi Braman we had selected her MomMom Shelly's Chocolate-Chip Mandelbrot to publish again, she said she'd just made them the day before. "It's still a big hit; it's still a staple," the doctor said of her mother's recipe, which features chocolate chips and maraschino cherries in a soft, festive cookie that's perfect for Hanukkah or Christmas.

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