I'll let you in on a little secret: I was nervous about this year's Christmas cookie issue.
Could we actually find two dozen cookie recipes that we hadn't published? I wondered if it was possible to find a new drop, bar or iced gem. Would the eighth annual cookie issue be a bust and would I need to solicit readers for fruitcake recipes? Somehow I don't think the fruitcake issue would be as popular.
Remind me never to doubt you again.
More than 600 recipes rocketed in, mostly through e-mail, reassuring me that you've got some new tricks in your recipe boxes. There were recipes I had never seen before, one that even sent us hunting for root beer extract. We found it at a Sweetbay, thank goodness, because we fell in love with frosted Root Beer Cookies from Mary-Ann Janssen of Dunedin. Subtle and unique, just what we want on the Christmas cookie tray.
As always, I am touched by the number of readers who take time to share their recipes and cookie memories. I am especially grateful to those who handwrite recipes, and head to the copy store to duplicate what's in their files and cookbooks. I love batter splatters.
The call went out in August for recipes and by the end of September we had selected 30 for testing. As happened last year, we couldn't winnow them to just 24. This year's issue features 26 recipes, about half with nuts, which are optional in many cases. Sometimes the Keeler Elves have a hard time making a decision. Must be all that sugar.
We bypassed recipes that can be found in lots of cookbooks. Snickerdoodles, chocolate chip and sugar cookies don't make the cut unless they include a twist. Also, we don't include recipes that are exceptionally fussy or that require special equipment.
Karen Pryslopski, Patty Yablonski and B Buckberry Joyce, all St. Petersburg Times staffers, helped me select this year's recipes from the big pile. And lots of people taste the cookies when they come in to the office for testing and photographing. Everybody loves the powdered-sugar project.
Karen is the head baker and she puts the cookies to the test in her home kitchen. She uses the same equipment that you do, so her results should be easy to duplicate. Her kitchen is something to behold when she's in full-baking mode.
Karen is a coconut lover so among her favorites this year are Lemon Coconut Chews, submitted by Gail Sloan of Tampa. Another favorite, Orange Spice Gems, are loaded with the flavors of the season: cranberries, orange and pecans. These lovelies were submitted by Elaine Patenaude of Tarpon Springs and Vernie Frigeri of Sun City Center. She's also tucked the Chocolate Walnut Puffs recipe from Florence Tirabassi of Kenneth City into her permanent file. That's high praise indeed from this expert baker.
Licorice Snaps from Patricia Kucera of Seminole got top marks, also. The licorice flavor comes from a tablespoon of anise seeds. The flavor is subtle, not like a licorice rope, and I'll go out on a limb and call this a perfect cookie. Buttery and crisp, with the licorice kick at the end.
I had several favorites this year. The treats most likely to make me chuck my diet are Snickers Cookies from Chris Ales of Spring Hill. Want to know how to ramp up a basic peanut butter cookie? Wrap the dough around a mini Snickers bar and drizzle the baked cookie with a chocolate glaze. Oh, yeah.
Mexican Hot-Chocolate Balls from Linda Spurgus of New Port Richey did taste just like hot chocolate as Linda told us in her submission. Perfectly delicious with a cup of coffee. Next time we make them, we'll add a shake or two of cayenne pepper for an authentic touch of heat.
Chocolate Coffee Batons from Ruth Langan of Largo is another winner. The finger-shaped cookies have a pleasant crunch, plus a nutty-chocolate dip at the end gave them a toffeelike taste.
In the over-the-top department are Raspberry Truffle Brownie Bars from Gayle Hackbarth of Summerfield and Butter Pecan Turtle Bars from Ann M. Ezrow of Clearwater. These are the treats to make if you're looking to impress someone.
I am proud of this annual section and thrilled that readers still look forward to it. It's inspiring, too, to think of the people looking at the paper today and circling the recipes they'd like to try.
Thanks to their fellow cookie lovers, there are plenty of tempting choices.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8586.