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Isabel's Cherry Date Skillet Cookies (winner)
Isabel's Cherry Date Skillet Cookies (winner) (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun)

Paula Rees was more than a little taken with the cookies that her friend Donna Campagna brought to church a few years back.

"I asked if I could have the recipe and she said, 'Sure, it was my mother's.'"

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When it came time for The Baltimore Sun's holiday cookie contest, Rees asked her friend if she could submit the recipe in honor of Campagna's mother, Isabel Bross. These were the cookies that our judges deemed to be the best out of a strong field: Isabel's Cherry Date Skillet Cookies.

"I'm not a tremendous cook, and the wonderful thing is that these are made on the stove, not in the oven, so you can be baking something else in the oven while you make them," said Campagna, who, like Rees, lives in Columbia. "And they're kind of hard to mess up."

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Campagna said her mother got the recipe about 40 years ago from a woman who worked for Campagna's father, Steward Bross, an attorney in New York. They were a hit, and Isabel Bross, who died in 2005, made them every Christmas.

"She was a good cook. I can't cook the way my mother did," Campagna said. "I think she would be pleased that the recipe she gifted all of us for so many years went on to others.

"One of the wonderful things in life is that continuum. Traditions are just warm blessings for all of us, don't you think?"

Isabel's Cherry Date Skillet Cookies

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1 cup sweet butter

1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar

8 ounces chopped dates

1 large egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 1/2 cups flaked coconut, separated

1 cup Rice Krispies

1/2 cup maraschino cherries, chopped

In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium heat and stir in the sugar and dates. Cook for 4-5 minutes

Remove from heat, add the lightly beaten egg. (Drizzle a spoonful at a time so the egg does not scramble.) Return to heat, continue cooking over medium heat. Stir constantly until mixture boils to the top (4-6 minutes).

Boil for another minute and keep stirring. Remove from the heat, stir in vanilla, 1 cup of coconut, Rice Krispies and chopped cherries. Stir until all ingredients are moist and well mixed. Let the mixture stand 10 minutes.

With a teaspoon, make 1-inch balls and roll them in the remaining coconut.

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