About this time, you'd think I would have had enough of cookies. Since August, I've been looking at and assessing reader recipes, followed by weeks of testing, tasting and organizing this section. This year, that delightful annual task coincided with the publication of my cookbook, Cookielicious: 150 Fabulous Recipes to Bake & Share.
That means that weekly book-signing events were going on at the same time as the Keeler Elves were preparing the ninth annual St. Petersburg Times Christmas cookie issue. Suffice it to say that 2010 will go down as the Year of the Cookie in the Keeler household.
Am I tired of sweet treats rolled in sugar or dipped in chocolate? Hardly, thanks to the dear readers who seem to spend nearly as much time as I do thinking about cookie recipes. Your enthusiasm for our annual cookie project is contagious, and I thank each person who took the time to put pencil to paper or fingers to keyboard.
I worry when I put out the call for recipes. After all these years, will there be enough new and tempting recipes to fill the section? Why I get anxious, I'll never know. You always come through. This year, just like the last few, we had trouble winnowing the roughly 500 reader recipes to just two dozen because so many looked tempting. We chose 30 recipes for testing and selected the yummiest 25 for publication today.
I do the initial cull, weeding out recipes that can be found in most cookbooks, among them snickerdoodles, oatmeal raisin, chocolate chip and the Mexican wedding cookie, or as I like to call it, the Cookie With Many Names. Cookies that require special equipment or are more fussy and time-consuming don't often make the cut.
This year, my teenage son, home recovering from getting his wisdom teeth pulled, joined the effort. Margaret Lauck of Sun City Center can thank him for the inclusion of her over-the-top Rice Krispies treats. We renamed them Frosted Nutty Krisp-O's, and they are indeed an amazing treat. "Make these, Mom," he mumbled, dreaming of the day when he could eat solid food again.
From that point, Karen Pryslopski, a Times photo editor and the project's chief tester, and I got to work. We sat down one Sunday morning in September with a pot of coffee and an overflowing box of recipes. From that treasure trove, we selected the recipes that sounded good, but also those that represented a range of flavors, shapes and techniques. As always, we gave high points for simplicity. (The ranks of elves also include Times photographer Scott Keeler — yes, my husband, not my brother as some readers have wondered — and designer Jennifer DeCamp.)
Karen loves coconut and I adore peanut butter, so we have to work to keep our personal preferences in check during the selection process or you can imagine what the selection would look like. That's part of the reason that the Chocolate Magics and their peanut butter centers from Gayle Hackbarth of Summerfield and the Choco-Nut Sandwich Cookies from Kathy Schembs of Clearwater made it this year. The other reason is that they are delicious.
Each year, we detect trends in the recipes. A few years back, it was tropical flavors, and another year we were awash in raspberry. In 2010, coffee-flavored cookie recipes stood out. The Mocha Thumbprints from Barbara McGeever of Valrico and Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies from Lois Szydlowski of Tampa were the best of the caffeinated bunch.
The most surprising cookies were Merry Christmas Macaroons from Mary Ann Birchmire of Largo. It's ridiculous how loaded with ingredients they are — chocolate chips, peppermint candy, candied cherries, pecans and cornflakes. Really, though, we dare you to eat only one. Amazing.
Among my favorites are the Chocolate Raspberry Crumb Bars from Yolanda Cruz of Tampa. They are a gooey delight, and one I'll add to my regular holiday rotation. Like you, I plan to start my holiday baking this week. And that's why this year, just like last, we've rated each recipe for its "freezeworthiness." It's good to be able to make a batch or two when you've got time and squirrel them away in the freezer for later. Some cookies are better for that than others.
Am I tired of cookies? Hardly. In fact, we're already talking about what special way we can mark the 10th cookie issue in 2011. If you've got any ideas about what you'd like to see, I'd love to hear from you.
In the meantime, it's time to start your mixers. I hope you find a new favorite or two among this year's recipes.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at jkeeler @sptimes.com or (727) 893-8586.