If it's the first week in December, then it must be time for the results of our annual Baltimore Sun Holiday Cookie Contest.
This year we tried a new approach. We asked bakers to submit their favorite recipes to our website along with a picture of their cookie and how it came to be. We then asked our online audience to weigh in and vote for their favorites. The 10 cookies with the most votes were judged by a panel of "experts" from The Sun.
In the end, we narrowed it down to a half-dozen finalists. The winner: Jimmy's Chocolate Crisp Caramel cookies, created by Eleanor King.
The Towson resident is a frequent contributor to the annual cookie contest and has had a cookie selected a number of times in the past.
King, 79, said this year's entry came about after she made what she thought was a delicious chocolate cake for her family. However, her son Jimmy said he liked the filling more than the cake. His comment inspired her to experiment with the filling ingredients and come up with a cookie that had the same rich chocolate flavor and crunchy texture accented with smooth caramel and just a touch of salt.
She tried making a simple chocolate thumb print cookie with the filling in the center but it spread out too much and ended up a mess, King said. Her solution was to make the cookie in a mini cupcake pan so the filling would be contained.
The cookie turned out great and it received a large number of online votes as well as the unanimous approval of all of the tasters.
The first runner-up was the White Chocolate Macadamia cookie submitted by Kennie Martin, 49, of Pasadena, who said, "About five years ago, I started developing cookie recipes I could call my own. I have this pipe dream of opening a cookie shop some day, so I knew I had to develop my own unique recipes."
The cookie might seem pretty basic but her little tweaks paid off in the end. While Martin said this was not her personal favorite, it seems to be a hit with friends and family.
Jenny Masche's Better Cream Cheese Bars received the most votes in our online poll, perhaps because they are rather unusual and also happen to be diabetic-friendly.
Masche, 52, said that she has always loved to make treats for the holidays, but when she was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes a few years back, she had to rethink recipes. Since she didn't want to miss out on all her holiday favorites, Masche began experimenting with ingredients she could substitute for white sugar and white flour.
The cream cheese bars are a result, and as she says, "The beauty of this recipe is that you can switch out the sugars and flours, it's very forgiving and can be adapted to people's own particular dietary needs." Masche made her bars with a combination of Splenda brown sugar blend and regular Splenda, however none of our tasters could tell that an artificial sweetener had been used.
Another cookie that received a lot of online votes was submitted by Mary Lou Wickham for Nutmeg Logs. Wickham said she loves to make these cookies because they are so festive, and the wonderful nutmeg aroma fills the house as they bake.
And what's nice about this cookie is that it can be made a few days ahead, which is convenient around the busy holidays and "sort of like fine wine, they taste even better with a little age," said Wickham, 78. The original recipe came from a friend; this is her quicker and slightly spicier version.
For sheer beauty as well as excellent taste, the Christmas Linzer Trees baked by Erin Carroll stood out.
Carroll, 25, moved to Baltimore eight years ago to attend college, but she travels home for the holidays and always brings along lots of her homemade cookies to share with her family. These cookies are her grandfather's favorite and she said it has now become a tradition for her to deliver a batch to her grandparents' home upon her arrival.
And how could we not give Dotty Cristy, 65, an honorable mention for her Rudy the Reindeer treats? Of all the entries these certainly had the most spirit. Perhaps more cupcake then cookie, these little brownie bites were almost too cute to eat. Christy, who lives in Dundalk, loves to bake and enjoys coming up with new creations to share with friends and family.
Find more holiday cookie recipes at baltimoresun.com/cookies.
2015 Holiday Cookie Contest winners
Jimmy's Chocolate Crisp Caramel Cookie, Eleanor King
White Chocolate Macadamia, Kennie Martin
Better Cream Cheese Bars, Jenny Masche
Nutmeg Logs, Mary Lou Wickham
Christmas Linzer Trees, Erin Carroll
Rudy the Reindeer, Dotty Cristy