We asked for your holiday cookie recipes, and you responded like Santa with a bag full of snickerdoodles.
Nearly 50 people entered our first-ever MaineToday.com Holiday Cookie Contest. We were inundated with Italian cookies and variations on the traditional Christmas sugar cookie. There was a vegan nut cookie from a 22-year-old newcomer to Portland, and a peppermint cookie with candy cane drizzle created from scratch by two 11-year-olds.
All of the entries also had their own stories. Some cookies were a childhood favorite, while others were brought to this country by immigrant grandparents.
We whittled the entries down to six finalists, then invited the bakers to a party at Grace, where they were served hors d’oeuvres while their cookies were judged by three professionals: Ilma Lopez of the Portland restaurant Piccolo; Tara Smith, head baker at Standard Baking Co.; and Alysia Zoidis of East End Cupcakes. The finalists and their families also got to vote, and proclaimed a People’s Choice winner.
The prizes were provided by King Arthur Flour.
Kransekake Sticks Dipped in Chocolate, Alexandra Daley-Clark, Lyman
The first thing Daley-Clark did when she discovered she’d won the contest with her simple Norwegian kransekake cookies was call her parents in Minnesota.
“I called them in the car on the way home,” she said. “And they’ll be getting their shipment (of cookies) soon.”
Daley-Clark’s grandmother emigrated from Norway when she was 18, and the 38-year-old photographer has always taken an interest in her Norwegian heritage. She learned Norwegian, and even traveled to Norway to meet family.
She also makes Norwegian Christmas cookies every year. Kransekake is a traditional Norwegian celebration cake consisting of rings of butter-and-almond dough stacked in concentric circles to form the shape of a tall cone. It’s usually served for weddings, baptisms and holidays – Daley-Clark had one at her own wedding – but the dough can also be used to make stick-like cookies that are dipped on one end in chocolate and nuts. This cookie is not Daley-Clark’s favorite, but of all the Christmas cookies she makes, “it’s the one that means the most to me.”
The Kransekake Sticks are simple and buttery, and their simplicity is one of the things the judges liked. They judged the cookies on appearance, texture and flavor, and as far as Lopez was concerned, Daley-Clark hit it out of the ballpark.
“It looks really nice,” she said. “The texture was perfect, and the flavor was spot on.”
Zoidis and Smith agreed. “For me, it felt like it had everything,” Zoidis said. “It was a nice almondy flavor, but it wasn’t overpowering. The texture was great. Just a little bit of chocolate was a nice touch. It had balance, and nothing about it was overpowering.”
Daley-Clark said she was surprised but excited that she won.
“I’ve never entered any sort of a cooking or baking contest before,” she said. “This was just kind of done on a whim. I knew it was a good cookie.”
Makes 10 dozen
2 cups of Kate’s Butter, sea salted
14 oz. of almond paste
2 cups sifted confectioner’s sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
4 room-temperature egg yolks, from our backyard hens, slightly beaten.
5 cups of sifted King Arthur flour
Sliced almonds (about a cup)
Dark melting chocolate (12 oz. bag of Ghirardelli melting wafers)
Heat oven to 350.
Grate the almond paste on a cheese grater.
Cream together the grated almond paste, butter, almond extract and confectioner’s sugar until smooth.
Add egg yolks gradually.
Slowly add in the flour, dough will be very thick and firm.
Roll dough (or use a cookie press) into 1/2-inch thick ropes, approximately 3 inches long.
Bake 13 minutes on parchment paper until bottoms are nicely browned. Cool on wire racks.
When cool, dip ends into melted chocolate and sprinkle with crushed, sliced almonds.