With all the recipes submitted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s 2019 Holiday Cookie Contest, there were bound to be far more losers than winners. Because that’s how the cookie crumbles.
The fight to be anointed best holiday cookie was long and drawn out, and also sometimes rolled and cut into amusing or seasonal shapes. But eventually two winners emerged, one picked by the Post-Dispatch’s crack team of cookie experts, and the other by the readers themselves.
The winners are LaTonya Neely, who won the Judges’ Award for her Happy Dance German Choco Cookies, and Thomas Emmans, who was given the Readers’ Choice Award for his Ethel’s Nuthorns.
Neely, who calls herself “a very young 42,” created her frosted cookies as a way of spreading some German chocolate-inspired goodness with others.
“My husband loves German chocolate cake; that’s his favorite cake,” she said. “He doesn’t like to share, so I decided to make them into cookies, so I could share them with co-workers and friends.”
She has been making them for about four years, she said, with plenty of advice from other women on whether to make them richer or how to achieve the proper density.
Neely is the baker in the house; her husband does most of the cooking, while she creates the desserts. Even so, she said “I’m on the fence” about German chocolate cake. She admitted to being “more of a pie person,” and her favorite is lemon meringue.
Originally from Texas, Neely said she learned to bake from “an auntie who baked everything from scratch. She lived to be 102. Of course, everything had to be from scratch, no boxes.”
In the same way, she and her husband are passing a love of cooking to their sons, 15 and 17 years old. One even took a home economics class.
“He enjoys cooking, but I think it’s just to be around the girls because he doesn’t cook around the house,” she said.
The Readers’ Choice Award went to Emmans, 56, and it almost isn’t fair. Not only are his winning Ethel’s Nuthorns a recipe from a beloved grandmother, but Emmans is a chef.
He is classically trained, in fact, having learned his trade at the celebrated Culinary Institute of America. He works at the Art of Entertaining, in Webster Groves, where he specializes in pastries. But when he read about the Post-Dispatch’s contest, he knew he wanted to submit a recipe his grandmother used to make.
“She taught me how to make them, and I’ve been making them for probably 35 years now,” Emmans said.
Nuthorns start with a soft dough rich in both butter and cream cheese. After it rests overnight in the fridge, the dough is rolled out very thin and cut into 3-inch squares. A filling — walnuts, butter, sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and honey — is placed in the middle of each square, and the cookies are rolled from one corner to the other, to form a tube.
The cookies are then shaped into crescents and baked, before being sprinkled with powdered sugar.
Emmans moved to St. Louis from Connecticut about 16 years ago, he said, but his cookie-baking skills are still missed there.
“People in Connecticut still expect their Christmas cookies. I make 1,500 to 2,500 Christmas cookies a year,” he said.
Runner-ups for the Readers’ Choice Award were Sherilyn Krell (who is frequently among the winners in these contests) for her Chocolate Truffle Cookies, and Maria Martinez-BonDurant in third place for her Maria’s Baklava Cookies.
ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH