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Stars and Stripes' holiday cookie contest: The winners

Bar cookie, drop cookie, frosted cookie, rolled cookie, icebox cookie — You name it and it arrived in our box for the first Stars and Stripes Holiday Cookie Contest.

It was difficult to narrow the field from more than 130 recipes to the top 10. Recipes were chosen for their originality and appeal. The top 10 were baked for the taste test and judges scored entries for originality (double points), appeal, flavor and texture.

I think you’ll find any of these winners, but two folks receive a $250 shopping spree from AAFES. The winning recipes are Kathy Bliese’s Apple Walnut Surprises for Pacific and Lourdes Gomez’s Rainbow Cookies for Europe.

Bliese and her husband, Mark, have been stationed in Seoul for 18 months and she was inspired by the contest notice to create the recipe for Apple Walnut Surprises. The soft cakelike batter plays a supporting role for apples, walnut and cinnamon. These cookies are a breeze to make and sure to satisfy.

Gomez, her husband, Juan, and their children have been in Germany for 5½ years. They are based in Kaiserslautern. She and her mother-in-law combined several recipes to come up with Rainbow Cookies. These take a little extra effort, but make a stunning presentation.

A few tips from the test kitchen:

¶ The Microplane Fine Zester makes easy work of orange and lemon rinds and the small zest mixes into dough beautifully. It is available at www.surlatable.com for $15.95.

¶ If you don’t have a double boiler, you can use a heat-proof bowl set over a saucepan of water.

¶ A miniature, airline-sized bottle of liquor is the perfect solution for recipes that call for a tablespoon or two.

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The soft texture and cinnamon-apple flavor gave this cookie a winning edge.

Apple walnut surprise

¾ cup butter or margarine, softened

½ cup granulated sugar

½ cup brown sugar, lightly packed

½ cup applesauce, slightly drained

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 egg beaten

2 cups flour

¼ cup quick-cook oatmeal

1 teaspoon cinnamon

pinch of nutmeg

¾ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cognac (optional)

For the filling:

¼-½ cup finely diced Granny Smith apple

¼ cup chopped walnuts

1 tablespoon brown sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Cream butter and sugars until light. Add applesauce, vanilla and egg stirring until well blended. Add flour, oatmeal, cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and baking soda. Stir until well blended. Add cognac. Stir until blended. Let this mixture stand while making the filling to allow the oatmeal to absorb the cognac.

For the filling: Mix diced apples, chopped walnuts, brown sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl until well blended.

Drop cookie dough by tablespoon onto cookie sheet. Use backside of a ¼ teaspoon dipped into flour to form an indentation on top of each cookie. Spoon filling into indentation.

Bake 10 minutes or until light brown around bottom edges.

Recipe from Kathy Bliese, Seoul.

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Grits in a cookie? We thought that was unusual, too. These are quite similar to an oatmeal cookie.

Grit-rai-wal cookies

1 cup raisins

1 cup water

¾ cup butter

1½ cups firmly packed brown sugar

2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

2½ cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons cinnamon

½ teaspoon baking powder

2 cups corn grits

½ cup chopped walnuts

Simmer raisins and water over medium heat until raisins are plump, about 15 minutes.

Drain raisins, saving the liquid. Add enough water to saved liquid to measure ½ cup.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Grease and flour baking sheet. Set aside.

In a bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla. Beat until smooth.

Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and salt. Add to the creamed mixture alternately with the saved liquid, raisins and grits. Blend well. Then stir in the nuts.

Drop dough by rounded teaspoonful, about 2 inches apart, onto the prepared sheets. Bake 10 to 15 minutes or until light brown.

Recipe from Edith Gonora, Yokota Air Base, Japan.

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Don’t be intimidated to try making biscotti. It’s really quite easy. You can also dip half of each cookie in melted chocolate.

Orange-cinnamon biscotti

1 cup sugar

1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons orange zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Grease a baking sheet lightly. Beat sugar and butter in a large bowl until blended. Add eggs one at a time, beating well after each. Beat in orange zest and vanilla. Stir flour, baking powder, cinnamon and salt into a medium bowl. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture; mix just until incorporated.

Divide dough in half. Place each half on the prepared sheet. With lightly floured hands, form each into a 3 inches wide by ¾ inch high log. Bake until logs are firm to the touch, about 35 minutes. Remove dough logs from oven and cool about 10 minutes.

Using a serrated knife, cut the logs on a diagonal into ½-inch thick slices. Arrange the biscotti cut side down on the baking sheet. Bake until the bottom sides are golden, about 12 minutes. Turn biscotti over; bake again until the other sides are golden, about 12 minutes.

Recipe from Carolyn Glassman, U.S. Embassy, Seoul.

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Nutmeg, vanilla and rum make these cookies taste amazingly like the real thing.

Egg nog cookies

4 cups flour

2 teaspoons nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

1 cup shortening

1 cup butter

1½ cups sugar

2 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons rum

For the frosting:

¼ cup butter

2 teaspoons rum

½ teaspoon vanilla

2½ cups powdered sugar

2 to 3 tablespoons milk

Mix and sift the flour, nutmeg and salt. Cream together the shortening, butter and sugar. Add eggs, vanilla and rum and mix well.

Slowly add dry mixture to creamed mixture. Chill several hours.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Drop 1-inch rolled balls of dough onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake 12 to 15 minutes (until bottoms turn light golden brown).

Cool on rack. When cool, frost.

To make the frosting: Cream butter, rum and vanilla. Gradually beat in powdered sugar. Beat in 1 tablespoon milk. Add remaining milk a teaspoon at a time until desired consistency is reached.

Recipe from Annette Wagner, Yokosuka, Japan.

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A shortbread crust and a cream cheese and pineapple filling make these bar cookies delectable.

Snowy pineapple bars

For the pastry:

2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted

½ cup powdered sugar

¾ cup cold butter, chopped up

Pinch of salt

1 tablespoon orange and lemon zest

Mix flour with sugar and the salt. Add butter and knead with finger tips until it resembles crumbs. Add orange and lemon zest and mix in.

Firmly press the mixture into a greased 9-inch pan. (You don’t have to use all of the pastry dough.) Bake at 350 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes until light golden at edges.

For the filling:

1 (8 ounce) package plain cream cheese, softened

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar

1 large egg

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/3 cup crushed pineapple, drained.

Combine cream cheese, sugar, egg and the lemon juice well.

Purée pineapple in blender or mash with fork until smooth. Add pineapple to cream cheese mixture, making sure it is well blended.

Pour mixture into hot pastry crust and return to oven. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes until light golden at edges — do not brown.

Let cool completely and cut into bars. Keep refrigerated.

Recipe from Mary LeCompte, Okinawa, Japan.

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Make sure you plan ahead to make this award winner. These cookies need to spend the night in the refrigerator.

Rainbow cookies

8 ounces of almond paste or marzipan (marzipan preferred)

1½ cups butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 eggs, separated

1 teaspoon almond extract

2 cups sifted all-purpose flour

¼ teaspoon salt

10 drops green food coloring

8 drops red food coloring

12 ounces apricot preserves

2½ ounces semisweet chocolate

Preheat oven at 350 degrees.

Coat three 9- by 13-inch baking pans with non-stick cooking spray. Line them with wax paper, allowing sides to come over the side ends. Coat the paper with non-stick cooking spray.

Break up the almond paste in a large bowl, add butter, sugar, egg yolks and almond extract.

Blend mixture with an electric mixer until light and fluffy; about five minutes.

In a separate bowl mix the flour and salt. Mix into almond mixture. In another bowl, beat egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold into the mixture.

Divide the mixture into three equal portions. Add green food coloring to one, red to another and leave the third yellow.

Spread each colored portion into a prepared pan. Bake in the oven at 350 degrees for 15 minutes or until the edges are golden brown.

Immediately remove the cake from the pans, using the hanging wax paper.

Heat the apricot preserves in a small saucepan; strain the preserves.

Coat a cookie sheet with non-stick cooking spray. Place the green cake on the sheet. Spread half of the preserves on top of the green cake, from edge to edge.

Place the yellow cake over the green cake and spread the remaining preserves on it. Place the pink cake on top of the yellow cake.

Cover with plastic wrap, weigh down with a large wooden cutting board or heavy plate and place in the refrigerator overnight.

The next day, trim the edges around the flattened cakes.

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over low heat and spread the melted chocolate on the top of the cakes.

Let dry for 10 minutes or until chocolate hardens. Cut into 2-inch squares.

Note: The recipe won with this version; however, after testing Gomez submitted a correction that she usually uses 12½ ounces of chocolate.

Recipe from Lourdes Gomez, Kaiserslautern, Germany.

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Pistachios give these cookies a festive appearance. You can also pipe the meringue onto the cookie sheet with a pastry bag.

Meringue fudge drops

2 egg whites, room temperature

1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar

1/8 teaspoon salt

½ cup sugar

¼ teaspoon almond extract

Beat egg whites until foamy. Add cream of tartar and salt. Beat until soft peaks form. Add sugar, one tablespoon at a time. Beat until smooth and satiny. Add extract. Mix well.

Drop by teaspoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet covered with parchment paper. Shape with a spoon into small walnut-size mounds with a depression in the center of each cookie. Bake at 250 degrees about 30 minutes. Remove from paper.

For the filling:

¼ cup butter

½ cup chocolate bits

2 egg yolks, room temperature

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 tablespoons chopped nuts (macadamia, pistachio or pecans)

Melt butter and chocolate in the top of a double boiler on low heat. Beat egg yolks slightly. Stir in sugar, then slowly blend into chocolate, stirring constantly. Cook at very low heat until mixture thickens. Cool, then drop the filling into the center of each meringue and sprinkle lightly with preferred nuts.

Recipe from Bettye Donley, Bad Aibling, Germany.

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Kids could help with these tasty cookies. Let them roll the dough in balls and give each a coating of ground nuts.

Almond roca cookies

6 ounces semisweet chocolate pieces

½ cup softened butter or margarine

½ cup shortening

½ teaspoon vanilla

1 cup sugar

1¾ cups sifted flour

¾ teaspoon baking powder

½ tsp salt

½ cup diced almonds

Ground nuts

Melt chocolate in the top of a double boiler over hot, not boiling water. Remove from hot water and set aside. Combine butter, shortening and vanilla and beat until creamy. Gradually beat in sugar.

Sift together flour, baking powder and salt. Blend into butter mixture. Stir in melted chocolate and almonds. Form into 1-inch balls and roll in ground nuts. Place on an ungreased baking sheet and bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes.

Recipe from Cheryl Johnston, Rota, Spain.

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These cookies live up to their name — packed with chocolate and an irresistible chewy texture.

Triple chocolate chews

1¾ cups all-purpose flour

2/3 cup sifted powdered sugar

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa

2¼ teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk chocolate chunks or morsels, divided

½ cup white chocolate chunks or morsels

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 cup firmly packed brown sugar

2½ tablespoons light-colored corn syrup

1 tablespoon water

2½ teaspoons vanilla extract

2 eggs

Vegetable cooking spray

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Combine first five ingredients in a bowl; stir well and set aside.

Combine ¾ cup of milk chocolate chunks and oil in a small saucepan; cook over low heat until chocolate melts, stirring constantly. Pour melted chocolate mixture into a large bowl and let cool for five minutes. Add brown sugar, corn syrup, water, vanilla extract and eggs to chocolate mixture; stir well.

Stir in flour mixture and remaining milk and white chocolate chunks.

Drop dough by level tablespoons 2 inches apart onto baking sheets coated with cooking spray.

Bake at 350 degrees for eight minutes. Let cool two minutes or until firm. Remove from pans; let cool on wire racks.

Recipe from Lynne Romero, Vilseck, Germany.

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Make the dough for this icebox cookie in advance and bake fresh cookies as you need them. Save a large cereal box to make the mold.

Chocolate and orange checkerboard squares

1¼ cups butter, softened

1½ cups powdered sugar

1 egg, lightly beaten

1 teaspoon real vanilla extract

3 cups plus 8 tablespoons sifted cake flour

1½ cups finely chopped pecans

¼ cup cocoa

¼ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons Cointreau (or Grand Marnier or orange juice)

1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest

Cream butter. Add sugar gradually. Add egg and vanilla and blend well.

Combine 3 cups flour and salt. Add gradually to butter mixture and mix just until blended. Stir in pecans.

Divide dough into two equal parts. To one part, add remaining 8 tablespoons flour, Cointreau and grated orange zest. Blend well. Place in a bowl; cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes in the refrigerator. Add cocoa to the other part and blend well. Chill in the refrigerator.

Cut two rectangles — 5 inches by 20 inches — from a cereal box. Fold so that you have a square tube shape that is 1¼ inches high by 20 inches long. When dough has chilled 30 minutes, work on a pastry cloth, wrap in wax paper and gently press into the mold so that it is nice and square. Tape outside of mold and chill in refrigerator until firm (at least two hours).

Cut each piece of dough in half horizontally. Brush cut surfaces with a little water and place the white dough and the chocolate dough together so that you have two sets, each half white and half chocolate. Then cut each piece horizontally in half again so that each cut piece is half white and half chocolate. Brush cut surfaces with water and put cut sections together so that white touches chocolate. This forms four checkers, two white and two chocolate.

Set in refrigerator to chill thoroughly. Cut into 3/16-inch slices. To make this easier, score the dough at 1-inch intervals and then cut five cookies from each inch.

Place on an ungreased baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake in a 340-degree oven for 15 to 18 minutes or until just starting to turn light brown. Remove immediately from baking sheet.

Recipe from Sandy Paige, Ramstein, Germany.


About the judges

Ann Amernick is the owner of Amernick bakery and co-owner of Palena in Washington, D.C. She is a former White House pastry chef, has been ranked as one of the top 10 pastry chefs in the United States and has been nominated for the James Beard award for outstanding pastry chef. Amernick is writing her third cookbook.

Warren Brown’s CakeLove offers gourmet cakes with unusual ingredients, such as Sassy, a poundcake flavored with mango, orange, vanilla and cayenne, in Washington, D.C. Brown left a career in law to fulfill his dream baking cakes. He was also named as one of America’s top 50 bachelors by People magazine in 2001. He’s opening a café by the bakery in the spring.

Sgt. 1st Class Alton J. Greene is a senior instructor of the culinary arts at Fort Lee, Va. Greene has been teaching for two years and has served in the Army for 19 years. Some of his tours included time in Korea, Germany, Guantanamo Bay, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Over the holidays, Greene is baking his granny’s sweet potato pie and pecan pie.

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