For those of us who love to bake, the holidays can be an especially sweet time of year. This is the season we stock up on festive cookies and family favorites to set out at parties and share with those closest to us. But beyond the colorful icing and sugar rush, these homemade creations are about so much more, speaking to memories, traditions and what it means to come together. This is true when you’re gathered in the kitchen baking, and it’s true when you’re lucky enough to receive a plate of homemade favorites. It’s also true when you’re running a cookie bake-off.
This fall, we asked Los Angeles Times readers to share their special cookie recipes and stories with us for our sixth Holiday Cookie Bake-Off, and then to vote for their favorites. We received 130 submissions, and close to 20,000 votes were cast.
We took the top 20 recipes and judged them to come up with our five favorites. It wasn’t easy. There were so many wonderful entries, some traditional, some novel, some homey and still others ornate, each inspired by family history and memories. Monday, we invited the finalists to the L.A. Times Test Kitchen to celebrate their recipes and stories.
Deborah Pappalau’s Mexican chocolate Christmas cookies are inspired by the cinnamon-sugar dusted churros and rich Mexican hot chocolate that signify the holidays for her family. The buttery cookies are dusted with cinnamon sugar, each one filled with rich Mexican chocolate. “My husband and kids think these cookies taste like Christmas,” Pappalau said.
For Suki Wada and Fiona Marshall, the cookies are all about fun. Wada cuts out her cookies using gingerbread people cut-outs, elaborately decorating each one. “They’re fun to make and decorating the cookies is even more fun,” she said. Marshall, who is 15 years old and our youngest finalist, paired her great-grandmother’s snickerdoodle cookie recipe with her father’s love of salted caramel ice cream. An avid baker, she created her salted caramel snickerdoodle cookies as a special Christmas surprise for her dad, each spiced snickerdoodle baked around a caramel square and garnished with a caramel drizzle and sea salt.
Jessica Levy’s linzer cookies take their inspiration from the nut-based Austrian linzertorte, a spiced, almond-based buttery crust filled with jam and covered with a lattice top. Her almond- and hazelnut-based cookies feature cutouts revealing a layer of raspberry jam. But instead of butter, Levy uses coconut oil for a vegan option. She also flavors the cookies with pumpkin spice, and as they bake away in the oven, the aroma for her is the smell of the holidays.
Beth Corman Lee’s rose, cardamom and pistachio snowballs represent tradition, her family’s various cultural backgrounds, and a bit of a mystery. The snowballs were a cookie her mother-in-law used to make, but when she passed away, she left no recipe. Lee experimented with various recipes to come up with the cookie her husband remembered from his childhood, then added spices and nuts inspired by the Middle Eastern cookies called ghraybeh. “These cookies represent our family’s past, our present,” said Lee, “and hopefully a long future appreciating the diversity of our heritage and the new flavor memories we will make for generations to come.”