Well, you've done it again. Just when we think we've seen every Christmas cookie recipe on the face of the Earth and tasted every drop, bar and cut-out ever conceived, you amaze us. The seventh annual Christmas cookie issue holds some sweet surprises, among them Peanut Butter and Jam Bars that made us want to curl up with a glass of milk and take a long winter's nap. Especially after we ate a couple. Thanks to Dolores A. Haase of Clearwater for that recipe.
Back in August, before the excitement of the local boys in the World Series and a historic presidential election, we were thinking about Christmas cookies. So were you, dear readers.
As always, you responded to our call for recipes. Some 500 came via e-mail and regular old post. This year, as last, more recipes were sent in electronically. A sign of the times for sure.
Still, we are touched and impressed by the number of people who painstakingly penned multiple recipes by hand. Page after page. We appreciate the time and care you take.
This year was a little different than the rest. We tested more cookies than usual, nearly 35, to come up with the 26 we publish today. (That's two more than in previous years, but heck, we all deserve a little extra sugar this year.) Many tasted alike, so we continued our quest for something different.
That's why Pistachio and Cherry Mexican Wedding Cakes from Kathy Hocker of Spring Hill caught our eye. Dried cherries and chopped pistachios were the twist on the traditional powdered cookie balls. Heather Greenway of Seminole sent in a recipe for White Christmas Shortbread that didn't sound all that revolutionary until we saw the frosting was made from browned butter. This gave the cookie a deep, nutty flavor.
Creme de Menthe Squares, submitted by Sue E. Conrad of South Pasadena and Margie Sambets of Dunedin, was another winner. They are a big, chocolate mess of a bar, and so tasty they'll disappear from the cookie tray in minutes.
My favorite recipe this year is Santa's Special Squares submitted by three readers, though each gave their cookie a different name. We went with "special squares'' because that sounded more festive. Thanks to Gail Sloan of Tampa, Sue E. Conrad (again!) and Beverly B. Millar of Seffner. With just four ingredients, one being graham crackers, these cookies come together in a snap. Watch them carefully, though, because the crackers burn quickly.
The cookie issue is the result of a group effort that starts with readers generous enough to share their favorite recipes. A handful of cheerful colleagues in the St. Petersburg Times newsroom — I call them the Keeler Elves — gamely assist in the powdered-sugar project.
Patty Yablonski and Karen Pryslopski helped winnow recipes. This year, we all noticed that the recipes seemed simpler and we wondered if that wasn't a response to a tumultuous economy. Maybe people were intuitively seeking something unfussy.
Karen is the chief tester. She is a recipe interpreter extraordinaire and a super baker. All the recipes are tested in home kitchens so that our experience will mirror yours. In addition to some of the cookies we've already mentioned, the Crunchy Fudge Bars, sent in by Sandy Gatewood of Tampa, were on the top of Karen's list.
Colleague Barbara Moch puts the recipes into our computer system and lets me know when something doesn't seem quite right. Holly Braford designed the section and copy editors Dawn Cate and Kate Brassfield worked hard to find errors so you won't.
We are proud of this annual section and thrilled that readers continue to participate. What is even more exciting to me is the prospect of lots of people looking at the section today and picking out the cookies they want to make this season.
There are lots of good choices, thanks to you. Again.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8586.