CLAYTON, CA—Reprinted from the Dec. 20, 2013 Clayton Pioneer.
[It’s been a few years since we held the annual Christmas Cookie Contest, which ran for more than 10 years. While we can’t gather as we would like with family and friends this year, we can still bake cookies and treasure memories of holiday’s past. If you were one of the contest winners in 2013, congratulations, you win again!]
Cookies have been part of Western culture for more than 13 centuries, rapidly spreading out from Persia (ancient Iran). That’s where farmers first cultivated cane for sugar.
Originating as thin wafers, actually bits of cake batter placed in an oven to test its temperature, cookies became essential to bakers. The sweet little cakes took the name “koekje” from the Dutch, eventually Anglicized into the “cookie” we so revere today.
And make no mistake, Claytonians love their holiday cookies.
Never was that so apparent as when more than 70 local bakers and cookie aficionados crowded into Hoyer Hall at the Clayton Library for the Clayton Pioneer’s 10th annual Holiday Cookie Contest on Dec. 12, 2013.
The five judges touched, sniffed and ultimately tasted 25 decadent desserts. And when finally the cookie crumbled, Priscilla Williams and McKenah Alton walked away the winners in their respective categories.
Williams won the Master Baker category for adult cookie makers for her strawberry almond bars. McKenah came in tops in the Junior Baker category with A Little Slice of Heaven. This confection included a graham cracker, chocolate and peppermint.
Coming in a close second and third, respectively, for the Master Baker category were Linda Mieczkowski with a white chocolate raspberry cookie, and Jessie Hoppie with traditional Christmas “Shuggies.”
Joanna Rogers took second place in the Junior Bakers category with her Reindeer Cookies, while third place went to Sarah Mieczkowski with her homemade “Snicker Bar.”
It was a close race this year, said head judge Nicole Hackett, gardening columnist for the Pioneer. “There were some really outstanding, original cookies.”
“My teeth hurt,” said judge Chris Thorson, Clayton’s Chief of Police, after muttering that, “there were some to die for.” Big praise coming from the police chief. Junior judge Caitlin Reimer, a teen correspondent for the Pioneer, said what she looks for in a good cookie is “chocolate, chocolate and more chocolate.” The contest had plenty of that.
Judge Tamara Aszklar was perhaps best prepared for her job. She took the top honors in the past three contests. This year, she hung up her apron and picked up a clipboard. The winners impressed even her discerning palate.
“My favorite was the one that ultimately won,” she said. Clayton’s Sue Elliot rounded out the judging panel, and was instrumental in helping set up the busy crafts table that kept children occupied for the hour or so while the judges rated the cookies. There was face painting, origami and bookmark making.
Revelers were treated to the music of local family band the Van Liew Family — dad Kris, mom Becky, and children Justin, 19, Lynnsae, 18, George Curtis, 17, Peter 12 and Joshua, 8 with sing-along caroling and a several children shaking bells and snapping belts helping the band keep time with “Sleigh Ride.”
Here comes Santa Claus
However, the highlight of the evening was an appearance by the Big Man himself, Santa Claus. Santa sang along with the band, shook hands and gifted the patient children with candy canes while they waited for the judging to be over and the sampling to begin.
Some of the experts in the house shared what they look for in a good cookie. “Taste,” said 10-year-old contestant Maddie LaVenture. “Texture,” said 9- year-old Megan Perkins. “Not too crunchy,” said her brother Tyler, 10.
There were enough soft cookies to satisfy Tyler, as well as some crunchy ones to appeal to Megan’s love of texture.
Contestant Hilde Chan has lived in Clayton for four years. But this is the first time she ventured to enter the cookie contest with her German hazelnut cookies.
“My husband made me do it,” she said. It became a family affair, as her daughter Natalie entered with mocha nut balls. While neither took home a top prize, their cookies disappearing the fastest after the sampling began.
“This is a great event,” said first-time attendee Mara Rogers, whose daughter Joanna took home second prize. “Joanna loves making kid-friendly treats, and this was a great experience for her.”
First Place, Master Baker
Strawberry Almond Bars
- 1/2 cup butter or margarine
- 12 ounces chopped white baking chocolate
- 2 eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/2 cup sugar
- ¼ teaspoon almond oil
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup strawberry jam
- ¼ cup Strawberry Jammy Bits (King Arthur Flour)
- 1/4 cup sliced almonds
In a small saucepan, melt butter over low heat. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup of the chocolate pieces (do not stir). Set aside. Grease a 9x9x2-inch baking pan. Set aside.
In a medium mixing bowl, combine eggs and sugar. Add butter mixture to egg mixture; stir just until combined. Stir in almond oil.
In a small bowl, stir together the flour and salt. Add flour mixture to egg mixture; stir just until combined. Spread half of the batter into prepared pan. Bake in a 325°F oven for 15 to 20 minutes or until edges are lightly browned. Remove from oven.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan, melt jam over low heat, stirring occasionally. Stir in Jammy Bits. Spread melted jam mixture evenly over warm crust. Stir the rest of the chocolate pieces into the remaining batter. Drop the batter in small mounds onto the jam filling. Sprinkle with almonds.
Bake about 35 minutes more or until a toothpick inserted near the center comes out clean and top is lightly browned. Cool on a wire rack. Cut into bars. Makes 16 bars.
Adapted from Midwest Living Recipe for Blueberry Almond Bars
Second Place, Master Baker
Raspberry Filled White Chocolate Bars
- 1 cup butter
- 4 cup vanilla chips, divided
- 4 eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 2 cup flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons almond extract
- 1 cup seedless raspberry fruit preserves
- 1 cup sliced almonds
Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Remove from heat and add 2 cups of the vanilla chips. Let stand, do not stir.
In mixer bowl beat the eggs until foamy. Gradually add sugar, beating at high speed until lemon colored. Stir in vanilla chip mixture. Add flour, salt, and almond extract and mix at low speed until blended.
Spread 1/2 of the batter in a greased 9”x13” pan. Bake at 325° for 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.
Stir remaining 2 cups of vanilla chips into remaining batter and set aside. Melt raspberry jam in a saucepan and spread evenly over cooked batter. Gently spoon remaining batter over fruit. (Some fruit may show through). Sprinkle with almonds. Bake at 325° for an additional 30-35 minutes. Test for doneness. Let cool completely and cut into 1” squares.
From Buffet on the Bayou (Texas II), but compiled from “Recipe Hall of Fame Dessert Cookbook”, Brownies and Bars.
Third place, Master Baker
Sugar Cookie Dough:
- 2 sticks salted butter
- ¾ cup sugar
- 3 egg yolks (reserve egg whites for royal icing)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking power
Cream butter and sugar for about 2 min. Then add remaining ingredients until well mixed.
Roll out dough to about a ¼ inch thickness. Use desired cookie cutter.
This should make approximately 2 dozen cookies (depending on the size of your cookie cutter).
Bake at 350°F for eight minutes. Allow to cool and add royal icing.
- 3 egg whites
- 4 ½ cups powder sugar
- ½ tsp cream of tartar
- ½ tsp vanilla
Mix all ingredients until well mixed. Add desired food coloring and frost cookies.
Adapted from recipes featured by Williams and Sonoma.
For the recipes for the Junior Baker winning entries, click here.