Contest Winning Cookies!

What is your Christmas cookie tradition?  Growing up in a family where my mom was a first generation American, and my dad came from Europe as a child, traditional Christmas cookies were not part of our family tradition.  Pies seemed to be the Christmas dessert of the family.  I heard one time that either you are a pie family, or a cake family.  My mother’s specialty was a wonderful nut chiffon cake, but cakes were not the family tradition—it was more pies.

Definitely a pie family!

For Christmas, our family was known for Kifles (pronounced Kee-fla with an “s” on the end).  These were a treat on the Serbian/Croation side of the family.  I have also learned they are Hungarian Butter Horns.  At any rate, these are a dough of flour, sour cream, butter, and yeast, cut into pie shapes and filled with a filling made of either pecans, apricots, or plums, and rolled into crescents.  For years, I stuck with traditional American type cookies (butter cookies, chocolate chip, etc).  I realized my sisters and so many of my cousins made these kifles, and I needed to learn, and learn, I did!  They are now on my specialty list.

There’s nothing like delicious cookies and a cold glass of milk!
My mother’s oatmeal raisin cookies.
A family favorite–coconut oatmeal cookies–sweet, salty, and chewy–yum!
Apricot kifles getting ready to bake.
Baked kifles before being dusted with powdered sugar.
Apricot kifles.
This rifle has a pecan filling.

When we moved to Arizona, my cousin, Janine, invited us to a Christmas cookie party at her home.  It was a couples party, well, actually an everybody party.  The only rule was that you had to make the cookies at the party.  Now this was a novel idea.  It was a cookie baking contest.  All cookies had to be prepared at the party.  There was a three hour window in which everyone could get to the ovens with their cookies.  While some were cooking, others were feasting on the chili and visiting with the other guests.  At the appointed hour, all the cookies were set at the dining room table and a set of judges did the tasting, and declared the best cookie of the party.  After the judging, the hostess gave everyone a plastic container to take an assortment of all the cookies home with them.

Janine, our hostess, who like June Cleaver, wears her high heels cooking! Love that girl!

Then there was a break in the party.  The following year the host and hostess celebrated their daughter’s college graduation instead, and last year, was Covid, and no one was partying with anyone.  Boo!

This year the party was on, and I was on the hunt for the best Christmas cookie recipe ever!  The only party I attended, I won for the best tasting cookie, but didn’t win overall, because my cookie just looked like a cookie!  It has to be more holiday looking cookie to actually win big time.  

Oh, the many bakers!
Women at work
Every kid needs an extra helping of frosting!

I researched online for a great tasting and holiday looking cooking.  Then I made a batch of cookies, but didn’t know if they were to the perfection I was looking.  Not only that, we are trying to watch what we are eating, and having a lot of cookies hanging out, doesn’t help.  I made my sample batch of cookies.  I called my neighbor, Mari, across the street who was willing to be cookie tester.  She and her family loved the cookie, but it was missing the taste of the special ingredient to give it the extra zing I was looking for.  We decided I should remake the batch with the added secret ingredient, and this kindly neighbor is willing to test them out again.  She encouraged me to make another test batch—hmm, did I really need to, or was she just wanting a few more cookies?  Ha!  

The party happened, and this year it was much smaller.  Several people were not feeling well, and with Covid still hanging over us, they opted not to attend.  Therefore, there were fewer cookies to compete, and maybe this time, I might be the winner!

One of the things I love about this party is that everyone is participating.  Janine’s kitchen is large enough for us to work around each other.  There was a three hour window to complete and plate the cookies.  

The recipe I selected was found on “America’s Test Kitchen” website.  You cannot go wrong if they say it is a good recipe.  They are called “Peppermint Mocha Cookies.”  I love chocolate and I love peppermint.  I thought the idea of putting coffee in it was interesting, because I have loved a nice hot peppermint mocha from Starbucks on occasion.  Yes, coffee, or better yet, espresso, was the secret ingredient.

The first batch I made and sent to the neighbors just had strong coffee in it.  They could not taste the coffee at all, and since Mari is a fan of coffee, she and I decided to try a batch with espresso.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an espresso machine, so I went to Starbucks and ordered an espresso that would be at least 4 ounces, since that is the measure for the recipe.  That meant a double shot for over $5.00!  It provided 6 ounces.  I saved the 2 ounces for use later.  

Peppermint Mocha Cookies

The baked cookie had a very mild flavor of coffee.  Mari loved it, but her family voted against the coffee flavor for the less coffee flavored cookie.  I decided on a compromise, and I used the 2 ounces leftover espresso along with 2 ounces strong coffee for the contest cookies.  Strangely enough, one could not taste the coffee in this batch.

Yesterday, I found out from a family member who is a foodie and a professional food photographer that coffee enhances the flavor of chocolate, and although she could not taste the coffee in my cookie, she said the flavors were great.

Guess what?  I didn’t win the contest.  It didn’t help that one of the judges does not like the flavor of peppermint.  Really?  Who doesn’t like a candy cane at Christmas!

The party was fun, and I felt like we were all winners.  I won “most unique cookie.”  Back to the drawing board for next year’s cookie recipe!  

Here is the cookie recipe, because I believe it is a winner for many reasons: 1) they are pretty; 2) they taste great; and 3) they are quick and very easy to make.  It’s up to you if you want to add espresso to the recipe.  I have decided that strong decaf coffee would be the best and safest for my purposes.  I don’t want to keep little kids and old people up all night from eating these cookies!

I wish you happy cookie baking as we prepare for the Christmas holidays!


  1. Last year Tom made mini apple pies to give to our small group and neighbors. One of them said it was the best pie she’s ever had and she’s in her 80’s, so we’re definitely a pie family. They even started making pies at the cafe in Norway since Danica knows how to make pies also. Her dad taught her well!
    He’s getting ready to bake the coffee cake recipe and kifles for this year. We hardly ever do cookies but that party sounds fun!


    1. I do both cookies and pies because I’m a glutton for punishment! It dies satisfy everyone that way! Now we only have tiny gatherings for Christmas, if any at all.


  2. We’re all very fortunate that I’m not a member of your family, because my cooking skills have not really improved since our college days and my sense of taste is substandard. I wouldn’t make a good cookie baker (I’m not even sure whether my oven works) or a good cookie judge. But I’m glad you all enjoyed yourselves. I’m sure you were all winners!


  3. Janine’s party always looks so fun! I have to get there and participate some year – maybe after I retire?
    I have a cookie exchange next week so I’m going to try your cookies. I’ll do a sample batch this week to make sure I don’t mess it up.
    Merry Christmas to you and Dennis!


      1. The cookies turned out great! Ron really liked them and he is not a huge Christmas cookie fan. They were pretty too, with the pink frosting and candle cane sprinkles. It’s a keeper!


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