We tested and tasted hundreds of cookies to find 6 winners worthy of passing down through the generations

We tested and tasted hundreds of cookies to find 6 winners worthy of passing down through the generations

The aromas of vanilla, cinnamon and chocolate that hung in our offices during the weeks we tested this year's cookies brought back many memories from my childhood. My great-grandma baked oodles of cookies each year for the grand cookie platter that served as the only dessert on Christmas Day. She also filled 5-pound coffee cans with cookies to give to each family as a gift.

My mom started her own cookie-baking tradition when she got married 30-plus years ago. She hit her peak when my sister, Jennie, and I were kids, baking 1,000 cookies or more each holiday season. The process started right after Thanksgiving, when my mom would pull out her big stack of cookbooks and her overflowing recipe boxes and pick the 10 cookies she would make that year. She baked only one kind of cookie a day, and she baked at least 100 of each variety. Jennie and I always helped decorate the cut-outs, a recipe passed down from her grandmother.

As Mom baked each cookie recipe, she stored them in the freezer until it was time to put together gifts for our teachers and my dad's office. But the bulk of the cookies went into the car-top carrier for our annual Christmas trip to Michigan, where she assembled spectacular platters for all the parties we attended.

I'm not the only one with a little baking running in my blood. Take this year's Cookie Contest finalists. One of the winning cookies was entered by two sisters, Beatrice and Anne Ricart of California. "Baking a cake together for Sunday lunch was a tradition growing up in France," said Beatrice. "Now that we live in the States, we love sharing our passion for food with our family and friends. Cookies are the easiest and most fun way to do that." We think you'll love to share their bite-size almond-cherry cookies with your loved ones too.

Shyla Huber, who is our youngest finalist at age 21, grew up in a family who gave cookies as gifts. "The cookie-baking tradition started with my grandmother, who sent out holiday boxes of canned and baked goods to friends and extended family as Christmas gifts," she remembers. Her Orange Spice Molasses Cookies, fragrant with cinnamon, ginger, cloves and allspice, are a delicious addition to your holiday cookie tin.

And Amy Knapper, creator of Fig 'n' Flax Thumbprint Cookies, spent many days baking with her family. "My mom would use baking and the skill of following a recipe to teach us things like counting and fractions," she said. We think her cookie is a great one to bake with little ones, who can help make thumbprints in the dough. When you try this year's winning cookies you may just decide to start a baking tradition in your own family.

November/December 2009