Beyond the colorful decorations and after the initial rush of sugar, holiday cookies are about memories, tradition and sharing with those close to us. Be they humble or ornate, our baked goods are used to celebrate and give thanks — thanks for our childhoods, the blessings of family and friends and the magic that can be found only this time of year.
This fall, we again asked L.A. Times readers to share their special cookie recipes with us for our fourth annual Holiday Cookie Bake-Off and then to help us narrow down their favorites to the top 50.
We received more than 250 submissions, and more than 3,700 votes were cast. We took the top vote-getters to Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Pasadena, where students spent one Saturday morning baking batches of cookies. L.A. Times Food Editor Russ Parsons, Deputy Food Editor Betty Hallock and Times Test Kitchen Director Noelle Carter joined KCRW’s “Good Food” host, Evan Kleiman, to taste and test each cookie, narrowing it to our 10 favorites.
Earlier this week, the L.A. Times Test Kitchen was jammed with happy bakers and their helpers for this year’s photo shoot. Amazing cookies, memories and traditions were shared. The Czechoslovakian nut bars bring back memories of a finalist’s Slovak heritage. The holiday crescent cookies bring sisters together one afternoon each year to bake in their mother’s honor. The frosted orange crispies were given to a finalist years ago by a military wife; she would serve her cookies on a silver tray at the officers club. The candy cane chocolate mandel bread is a merging of holidays for one family, Hanukkah and Christmas honored together.
As much as holiday cookies might keep memories and tradition alive, they also help to share memories and traditions with new friends in new places. One family is known far and wide for its chocolate peppermint snaps: “Everywhere we have lived — Madrid, Nairobi, Suva, SoCal — we’ve given these cookies as Christmas gifts to friends.”