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Nice surprises in The Times' Holiday Cookie Bake-Off

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Many hands help make holiday cookies. That's true when you're gathered with family and friends and vats of colored icing. It's true when you're running a contest for cookie recipes, when it takes thousands of readers, dozens of cooking school students and five hungry judges to choose the best. And, it turns out, that's even true if you're one of the winners.

This year's Holiday Cookie Bake-Off attracted nearly 200 recipe entries. More than 7,000 votes were cast by readers on our Facebook page. We took the top 50 vote-getters to the folks at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, and students and faculty there baked them all off.

L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons, Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock and Times Test Kitchen manager Noelle Carter spent one Saturday morning tasting every single one along with Lachlan Sands, dean of Le Cordon Bleu, and one of his students, Katherine Berg.

Last Wednesday, the Los Angeles Times Test Kitchen was jammed with happy bakers and their helpers for the photo shoot for today's cover story. But none of them was happier than Nicole Cleghorn, who flew in for the event from Minot Air Force Base in North Dakota.

Her husband is a staff sergeant stationed there, and she follows the Times Food section online. So when she learned that her white chocolate turtle cookies were chosen among our 10 favorites in this year's contest, she planned to email us a photograph.

But then her friends came through. One, whose husband travels a lot on business, donated enough airline miles to get her a free ticket. Five others chipped in enough cash for a couple of nights in a hotel. And so Cleghorn was able to join the nine local winners in the Test Kitchen.

She brought a box of intricately decorated cookies she'd made at home and marveled at the turn of events. "That hotel!" she said. "My goodness, it has glass elevators and robes in every room."

Amazing what great cookies — and the hands of many friends — can do.

food@latimes.com

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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