Small Bites Cookie Swap: The Recipes, the Photos and the Winners

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I am just overwhelmed at the response we got to our cookie contest. You guys really know how to bake!

Between Nov. 2 and Nov. 27, we got more than 150 entries in the Small Bites Cookie Swap. And every single one of them sounded delicious. It was so hard to choose only 12 finalists, but, after much agonizing, we narrowed it down.

The finalists:

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Clockwise from the bottom center, Guy Capozzo of Crestwood with his Christmas Ribbons; Tess Kelly of Blauvelt with her Candy Canes; Robyn Wild of Briarcliff Manor with Mamie’s Ginger Snaps; Theresa Kump Leghorn of New Rochelle with Christmas Trees; Rebecca Brehl of New City with Rugelach; Beth Beck of Yorktown Heights with Shortbread Sticks; Grace Wasilewski of Eastchester with Chocolate Crinkles; Marguerite Telesca of Eastchester with Chocolate Chestnut Surprise; Robin Gagliardi of Somers with Blitzen’s Biscotti; Matt Manno of Yorktown Heights with Honey Men; Sriram Sivaramakrishnan of White Plains with Saffron-Cardamom Shortbreads; and Debra Arena of Bronxville with Cherry Winks. They were gathered at the Small Bites Cookie Swap at Chef Central in Hartsdale Dec. 7, 2009. ( Angela Gaul / The Journal News )

The judges — Gustaf Maubrook, pastry chef of 42 in White Plains,  pastry chef Kristine Kreiness of Chef Central, and me — tasted the cookies while photographer Angela Gaul took a million terrific photos of all the finalists and their cookies.

To see the gallery of her photos, click here.

In the end, the judges loved texture and flavor of the chocolate crinkles made by Grace Wasilewski of Eastchester, and she took home the grand prize, a KitchenAid 5-quart Stand Mixer from Chef Central. And her story — how the squirrels tore through her screened-in porch to get at the cookies one year — really made us laugh.

The third-place prize of a hand-mixer went to Sririam Sivaramakrishnan for his shortbread; second prize of a $100 Chef Central gift certificate to Rebecca Brehl’s rugelach.

Here’s a link to Karen Croke’s story about it from today’s paper, as well as a searchable database of all our cookie entries.

Plus, here’s a beautiful presentation of all the recipes and a nice video from the evening.

I’m working to get photos of all the cookies up, but right now, everyone is clamoring to see the recipes, so… after the jump, the recipes from our 12 finalists.

One caveat: I did not test these recipes, so please read them through carefully before you begin to bake.

Happy Holidays!

Honey Men
Matt Manno of Yorktown Heights
As long ago as I can remember, and I’m 62, my mother made these cookies for Christmas. She said they had to be made right after Thanksgiving to give them a chance to ‘age’ and be ready for the holiday season. Mom’s gone now, and I inherited her recipe. It’s a family tradition.
2/3 cup honey
1 cup sugar
1/3 cup butter
1 egg
1/3 cup water
3 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
2/3 cup finely ground walnuts
Note: Start this dough 3 days ahead of baking.
Combine honey, sugar and butter, in a saucepan and boil for 5 minutes. Cool slightly.  In a small bowl, beat egg with water. In a large bowl, put honey mix. Combine flour, salt, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves. Sift dry ingredients into honey mix a little at a time, while stirring, and alternating with the egg/water mix. As you get toward the end, mix in the ground walnuts. Put dough into refrigerator, covered, for 3 days. Roll out to 1/8-inch thick, and cut out shapes. Bake at 350 degrees for 10-15 min. When cool, decorate with powdered sugar glaze (powdered sugar mixed with water until creamy) and add sprinkles for features and buttons. Store tightly covered.
Yield: 3-4 dozen, depending on size

Mamie’s Ginger Snaps
Robyn Wild of Briarcliff Manor
My grandmother, Bessie Wild, or Mamie to her grandchildren, always had a batch of ginger snaps waiting for us when we visited her in State College, Penn.  I can still remember opening the tin with waxed paper hiding the fabulous smell and Mamie’s cookies! I love it that they start out as little dark brown golf balls rolled in sugar, and then they turn into perfectly formed circles glistening with sugar.
3/4 cup Crisco
1 cup sugar, plus extra for rolling cookies
1 egg
1/4 cup molasses
2 cup sifted flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
Preheat the oven to 350.
Mix the Crisco, sugar, egg and molasses until combined well. In another both, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.
Add the dry ingredients to the first bowl and combine well.   Using the palms of your hands, roll dough into balls, almost the size of a golf ball, and roll in granulated sugar.  Place on lightly greased cookie sheets, about three inches apart.  Bake for 10-12 minutes.
Cool on cookie racks.
Yield:?40 servings.

Cherry Winks
Debra Arena of Bronxville
My parents were born in Wisconsin. I’m a native Texan and lived there for the first three decades of my life. Then I moved to New York. Through the years, Christmas cookies sent across state lines have been the ‘glue’ that keeps us close despite the miles.
2 1/4 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup shortening
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons milk
1 cup chopped pecans
1 cup chopped dates
1/3 cup chopped maraschino cherries, plus 9 additional cherries cut into quarters for garnish
2 1/2 cups crushed cornflakes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.
In a separate bowl, cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and milk.
Stir in flour mixture.
Add the pecans, dates and cherries.
Mix well and shape into balls. Roll the balls in the crushed cornflakes. Top each with a 1/4 maraschino cherry.
Bake on greased cookie sheet 10 to 12 minutes.
Yield: 2-3 dozen

Chocolate Crinkles
Grace Wasilewski of Eastchester
These cookies are a family favorite. We have a screened-in porch outside the kitchen. One Christmas season, I baked these cookies and put them out on a table to set. Within minutes, squirrels tore through the screening and ate the cookies.
1/2 cup butter
4 squares (4 ounces) unsweetened chocolate
1 teaspoon instant expresso powder
2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups sugar
4 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
Confectioners’ sugar
Melt butter and chocolate with the coffee in double boiler over hot water until smooth.
Combine flour, baking powder and salt in medium bowl. Beat chocolate mixture and granulated sugar in mixer bowl at medium speed until combined. Add eggs, one at a time; beat well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. On low speed, beat in dry ingredients until just combined.
Refrigerate until firm, about 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 2 cookie sheets. Put confectioners’ sugar in a bowl. Drop chilled dough by teaspoonfuls onto sugar, thoroughly coat, and roll into balls. Place balls 2 inches apart on prepared cookie sheets. Bake 10-12 minutes until tops of cookies are just set. Don’t overbake. Cool on cookie sheets 1 minute and transfer to racks to cool completely.
Yield: 5 dozen

Chocolate Chestnut Surprise
Marguerite Telesca of Eastchester
This culinary delight was always made around Christmas by my great-grandmother Maria. She came to the United States in 1910 at the age of 14. I don’t remember tasting her cookies but her daughter (Aunt Gloria) continued the tradition.
Filling:
2 pounds chestnuts
1 pound walnuts
1/2 pound thick chocolate
1/2 cup of black coffee (demitasse)
1 (8-ounce) jar of golden blossom honey, some reserved for coating at the end
Dough:
4 cups flour
6 eggs
3 heaping tablespoon Crisco, melted and cooled
Canola oil for frying
Decoration:
Christmas sprinkles
To prepare the filling:
Chestnuts must be cooked and skinned. To prepare chestnuts, wash and cut a cross on the flat side of the chestnut. I use a pressure cooker. Cover the chestnuts with water then cook for 20-25 minutes. Start timing when the top of the pressure cooker starts to jiggle.
If you don’t use a pressure cooker, then cook in water for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. After skinning the chestnuts, mash them like you would a potato.
Chop the walnuts (not too fine).
Grate the chocolate. (I buy the block of chocolate from Trader Joe’s.)
Add all the dry ingredients together, then add the coffee and honey.
The consistency should be like thick mashed potato.
To prepare the dough:
Make a well with the flour. Beat the eggs separately then add to the well with the cooled Crisco. Work the eggs into the flour gradually so the well does not break. Keep kneading the dough until a nice soft ball forms.
Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes.
Roll out the dough. You are going to make these as you would ravioli.
Put 1 teaspoon of filling, cut around with a cookie cutter and press the edges firmly with a fork.
Cover until ready to fry.
In an 8-quart pot, heat oil.
Fry the chestnut pillows in very hot oil until golden brown. Place on paper towels to absorb oil.
When finished, heat the reserved honey and coat the cookies. Sprinkle with little Christmas sprinkles
Yield: Approximately 24; depends on the size you make them.

Blitzen’s Biscotti
Robin Gagliardi of Somers
“I have sent them to my nephew while he was serving in Iraq, where they were a hit with his buddies — they travel well! I host an annual cookie exchange and always include these cookies!”
1/4 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1 1/2 teaspoons anise seed
2 1/4 cups flour
1 cup pistachios
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon orange rind
1 cup of dried cranberries
1 extra egg and 1 tablespoon water to brush over cookies before baking.
Cream butter and sugar.
Add baking powder, soda, salt.
Beat eggs, vanilla and almond extracts. Add the flour and stir in the nuts, seeds and rind. Put in fridge for about three hours.
Preheat oven to 350.
Shape into two logs on a greased cookie sheet and brush with egg and water. Bake for 1/2 hour. Let cool completely. Slice and bake at 325 for 10 minutes. Flip over and bake other side for 10 minutes. Let cool on rack.
Yield:?About 18 servings.

Rugelach
Rebecca Brehl of New City
When my grandmother saw another customer buying rugelach at the store, Grandma commented that these cookies weren’t very good and that she didn’t have a good recipe.
“A third customer commented that she did have one. The woman promised to share her recipe, and so Grandma self-addressed a stamped envelope. The recipe arrived in the mail two days later, and we still have it. It’s so weird to look in your recipe box and see someone’s name that you don’t know! The recipe has been modified, but it’s a crowd pleaser! “This is a traditionally Jewish (cookie) — but it’s part of our Christmas tradition!”

1/2 pound butter
8 ounces Neufchâtel, room temperature
2 tablespoons sugar
2 to 2 1/4 cup flour
Filling choices:
1/2 cup finely chopped walnuts
1/2 cup cinnamon sugar
1/2 cup apricot preserves
Milk and cinnamon sugar for sprinkling.
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
Cream butter, Neufchâtel and sugar. Knead in flour. Roll out flat to rectangle, about 1-inch thick. Refrigerate for 2 hours.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
When firm, cut into 4 pieces. Roll out each piece to about 9-inches by 14 inches. Work each piece separately, keep each quarter in fridge until ready to work.
Spread each piece with your choice of filling, then roll from long side. Place roll on cookie sheet. Brush all four rolls with milk and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.
Cut each roll almost through into 1-inch pieces. Bake for 45 to 60 minutes.
Yield: 48-50 cookies.

Candy Cane Cookies
Tess Kelly of Blauvelt
These cookies were introduced to me by a family friend the Christmas after my father passed away. My older sister, Courtney, and her best friend, Emma, always made these cookies at Emma’s house at Christmas. This year, Emma’s mother invited all of us over. This ritual has stuck because that first Christmas was really difficult for my family to get through. We had suddenly lost our father, and our mother was overwhelmed at the prospect of raising four children alone — the oldest of which was only 13. For Emma’s mother to take the time out of her day and invite all of us over was just amazing. She helped us forget about our sadness for a while, and we have kept that joy and love alive ever since.
3/4 cups soft butter
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
2 3/4 cups sifted flour, plus extra for shaping
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
Red food coloring
Cream together butter and sugar in a large bowl, add eggs and vanilla extract beat well. Slowly add sifted flour baking powder and salt. Dough will need to form a ball — more flour will be needed, close to 1 cup or more.
Preheat oven to 350.
Divide dough in half, and color one half red. Flour up your hands and roll dough into ropes, twist them to look like candy canes.
Bake 10-12 minutes on greased cookie sheet at 350 degrees.

Christmas Trees
Theresa Kump Leghorn of New Rochelle
On December 6, 1996, my husband’s 40th birthday, I was involved in a serious car accident (on the way to Toys R Us to do some Christmas shopping). My car (a Volvo wagon) was totaled, but I walked away unhurt, and the experience left me deeply grateful and inspired in me the desire to share this gratitude with my friends. So I put together a Christmas coffee party, a simple open house on the last day before school vacation. It was designed to give other busy mothers a breather in the middle of the busy holiday season — an opportunity to relax and enjoy each other’s company. Over the years, my Christmas Coffee has become a tradition, and the guest list has grown, but the party always includes a selection of homemade cookies, including the Christmas Tree cookies. I clipped this recipe from Parents Magazine about 15 years ago and have modified it a bit. Also, the original recipe called for dividing the dough into three portions and coloring it. Instead, I use it to create cut-out cookies with icing.
For cookies:
1 cup (2 sticks) butter
1 (3-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
For royal icing:
2 large egg whites
2 2/3 cups confectioner’s sugar, divided
Green food coloring
Sprinkles for dusting
Microwave butter 20 seconds to soften.
In a large bowl, at medium speed, beat butter, cream cheese, sugar, egg and vanilla for three minutes.
Add flour and continue to beat for 2-3 minutes until blended.
Divide dough into two portions, wrap in plastic wrap, and refrigerate till firm.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. On lightly floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/4-inch thickness and cut into shapes. Place on ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake 7 to 10 minutes, till edges are lightly browned. Remove to cooling racks.
When cool, ice with green royal icing and decorate with sprinkles to resemble Christmas trees.
To make royal icing:
Stir together 2 large egg whites and 1 1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar.
Microwave on high 2 minutes, add 1 1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar, beat at high speed in mixer until icing cools. Color with green food coloring to desired shade.
Yield: 2 dozen cookies, depending on their size.

Christmas Ribbons (Cartadate)
Guy Capozzo, Crestwood
These cookies are a Christmas tradition peculiar to the town of Matera, Italy in the region of Basilicata. My mother’s family comes from this area. Every one of my cousins make them. We all use the same recipe that my mother and her older sister used. It is a connection with the past and my Italian heritage. I feel that these traditions are very important and should be handed down to every generation.
1 package yeast
1/4 cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon sugar
4 cups sifted flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
Vegetable oil for frying
3 cups honey
Colored sugar sprinkles (mille-mille)
Mix yeast, wine and sugar. Let proof for about 5 minutes.
Sift flour and salt into a large bowl. Add eggs, shortening and yeast mixture. Mix to a soft dough.
Knead until smooth, about 10 minutes, adding flour, if necessary. Let dough rest for about 30 minutes. It will rise slightly.

Take a piece of the dough about the size of a grapefruit and roll it out to about 1/8-inch thickness. With a ravioli cutter, square off the piece of dough and cut dough into pieces 5 inches long by 2 inches wide. In the center of the strip make a cut about 1 1/2 inches long. Thread one end of the strip through this cut. It will form a bow cookie. Lay out on a floured surface until ready to fry.
Heat about 3 inches of oil in a deep, heavy pan to about 360 degrees. Fry a few of the cookies at a time. Be very careful not to splash the oil when dropping them in. They should fry to a light brown. Do not let them overcook. As they cook, remove them with a slotted spoon to a paper towel lined surface. They can be stored after they cool until you are ready to finish them.
To finish them, heat the honey in a heavy, deep frying pan. Add about 1/2 cup of water to thin it a bit. Just bring to a simmer, do not let it boil. Put in a few cookies at a time and coat with the honey. Do this very carefully so as not to break the cookies. As they are coated, place them on a serving platter. When you fill one platter, sprinkle with the mille-mille decoratively. Do this over the sink, as some of the sprinkles bounce off the cookies onto the floor. If you like, you can also decorate with Christmas wrapped chocolate kisses & Jordan almonds. The almonds are available at Italian pastry shops.
You can make these a few days in advance as they keep very well. Just make sure nobody knows where they are because they will disappear before Christmas Day.
Yield: about 20 servings.

Shortbread Sticks
Beth Beck, Yorktown Heights
The Beck family has been making these cookies for 40 years. My daughter-in-law is a physical therapist. She recently met a former neighbor of ours through her work and through conversation they realized that her mother-in-law was a former neighbor. Dennis (the neighbor) raved about the Shortbread Sticks that he remembered as a small boy and asked my daughter-in-law if she could possible get him some — he is now 40. You can make the dough ahead of time, refrigerate and bake when convenient.
1 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/2 cups sifted all-purpose flour
3/4 cup chocolate pieces, melted
2/3 cup chopped walnuts
Cream butter. Gradually add sugar, creaming till light and fluffy. Stir in flour; chill several hours. When ready to bake, warm dough a bit in microwave (about 1 minute). Roll dough to 1/4 inch; cut in sticks 1/2-inch wide and 1 to 1 1/2 inches long. Bake on ungreased baking sheets in a 325-degree oven about 12-14 minutes. After cool, spread half the sticks with melted chocolate and stack a plain stick on each. Dip one end in melted chocolate, then into the chopped nuts.
Yield : 5 dozen

Saffron Cardamom Shortbread Cookie with Fruit & Nuts
Sriram Sivaramakrishnan of White Plains
I am a big fan of shortbread cookies. A very popular combination of ingredients in India is using saffron, cardamom, pistachios and cashews. I wanted to touch upon those flavors in this cookie and also add cranberries to give the holiday colors of red, white and green.”
1 tablespoon warm milk
1 pinch saffron threads
1/4 cup pistachio nuts, chopped
1/4 cup broken cashews, chopped
1 stick of butter, soft
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder (grind your own from seeds if you like)
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup dried Ocean Spray cranberries chopped
Before baking:
In a small cup, add 1 tablespoon warm milk to the saffron and keep aside for 30-45 minutes.
Roast raw pistachios and cashews separately in a pan or oven until they turn slightly brown.
For the cookie:
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix the butter, sugar, milk steeped with saffron threads, cardamom powder and salt with a fork until everything is mixed well together. Add the flour, cranberries, toasted pistachios and cashews at this point, and knead with your hands to form a soft dough.
On an ungreased baking sheet, transfer the dough and pat it flat to a 1/4-inch thickness. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Bake the shortbread cookie until golden, around 15-18 minutes.
Take the baking sheet out of the oven and let it cool for 10 minutes. While still warm, you can cut the cookies into any desired shape or form.
Yield: 20-25 cookies.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

6 Comments

  1. Liz,
    This was a beautifully conducted event. I would like to say that I had a ball participating in the contest, glad that I got the opportunity to do so, and very thrilled at having won the 3rd prize.
    Sri

  2. Robin Gagliardi on

    Liz, I had a wonderful time participating in the cookie swap at Chef Central ! You & all the staff treated the bakers like rock stars ! The gift bags were a really sweet ending to a fun event! Thanks ! Robin Gagliardi

  3. Liz, This was terrific! Chef Central and your staff put on a great show. The photographer was great and the photos on line are super. All had fun. My recipe was not one of the 12 but was in the newspaper on Sunday. Grandma’s Gennets. you also put in my story on the first page of the article and I have been trying to get a hold of it. It does nto appear on-line. Many have told me they saw it in there in the Northern Westchester edition. I am glad you liked my tale! Thank you again!
    -D

  4. Liz,
    Great feature here, will you please release the extra feature that appeared in the Weschester edition here for us I live in Carmel, but grew up in Yorktown Heights, NY.

  5. Thanks to everybody for coming and participating.

    I realize the Express stories did not make it to the Web. I’m trying to fix that.

    In the meantime, check out the database to find all the recipes here:
    http://www.lohud.com/FLASH/cookieswap/

    The link at the bottom says “Search all 150 recipes.” Click on that and you can see everything.

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