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Baker’s Dozen

Congratulations to the top three winners of our Reader’s Cookie & Candy Contest, plus 10 additional recipes to delight a holiday crowd. There’s something for everyone—sinfully rich fudge and nut clusters, coconut drizzled with chocolate, and cookie recipes that have stood the test of time

Readers submitted more than 100 luscious-sounding recipes, which we trimmed down to 28—and then came the baking frenzy and a day of tasting. We hope this sweetens your holiday season. Thanks for sharing!

1st Place — $150

Pecan Pie Cheesecake Fudge
Tammy Epperson, Nancy,  
member of South Kentucky RECC

16 saltine crackers
1⁄2 C butter
1⁄2 C light brown sugar
2⁄3 C sweetened condensed milk
Cooking spray

Cheesecake Filling
3 C white baking chips
1 1⁄2 Tbsp butter
Pinch salt
1 C sweetened condensed milk
7 oz jar marshmallow cream
1 (3.4 oz) instant cheesecake pudding mix
1 C pecans

Preheat oven to 425°. Line an 8×8-inch pan with nonstick foil, and spray with cooking spray. Arrange crackers on bottom of pan in a single layer. In a saucepan bring butter and sugar to a boil over medium-high heat. Boil 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in sweetened condensed milk. Pour over crackers. Bake 10 minutes; crackers will be brown. Cool 20 minutes, while making cheesecake filling.

In a medium saucepan combine white chips, butter, salt, and condensed milk; heat on low until melted, stirring until smooth. Add dry pudding mix; stir until dissolved. Add marshmallow cream; stir until melted and smooth. Pour hot fudge over cooled cracker mixture. Smooth with spatula. Sprinkle on pecans, press down with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate until set. Remove from pan and remove foil. Set onto wax paper and cut on cutting board into small squares. Makes 36.

EPPERSON writes, “I came across this years ago and made it my own. Now my family expects me to make it for all occasions and holidays. It is a cross between cheesecake and pecan pie—two things I love most.”

2nd Place — $100

Chocolate Peanut Brittle
Sharon Pyles, Mt. Washington,
member of Salt River Electric

1 1⁄2 C butter, no substitutes
2 C peanut butter chips, divided
1 3⁄4 C sugar
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
3 Tbsp water
1 1⁄2 C salted peanuts, coarsely chopped
1 C semisweet chocolate chips, divided

Place a sheet of parchment or wax paper in a 10×15-inch baking pan that is 1-inch deep. Sprinkle with 1 cup peanut butter chips and 1/2 cup chocolate chips; set aside.

In a heavy saucepan, bring sugar, corn syrup, water, and butter to a boil over medium heat, stirring constantly. Cook and stir until butter is melted. Cook, without stirring, until a candy thermometer reads 300°, or hard crack stage.

Remove from heat; stir in peanuts. Quickly pour onto prepared baking pan; sprinkle with remaining chocolate chips and peanut butter chips. With a knife, gently swirl softened chips over top of brittle. Cool before breaking into pieces. Store in an airtight container. Makes 2-1/2 pounds.

PYLES writes, “I first made Chocolate Peanut Brittle 11 years ago after adapting a recipe I saw in a magazine. My family enjoyed it so much, I have made it every Christmas since. This recipe has more of a chocolate toffee flavor, unlike traditional peanut brittle. Place some brittle in a glass jar or holiday tin to make yummy Christmas gifts for neighbors and friends.”

3rd Place — $50

Holiday Pistachio Cookies
Brooke Meece, Somerset,
member of South Kentucky RECC

1 box white cake mix
1 box instant pistachio pudding mix
2 eggs
1⁄2 C vegetable oil
3⁄4 tsp almond extract, optional
1 1⁄2 C white chocolate chips
1⁄2 C chopped pistachios
1-3 drops green food coloring, optional

In large bowl, stir the cake mix and pudding mix evenly before adding the eggs, oil, and extract. Add eggs, oil, and almond extract. (Note: Almond extract adds a more nutty flavor to the cookies.) Mix together with a spoon until it is a thick dough. Add white chocolate chips and chopped pistachios, folding into dough. Add food coloring for a stronger green color. Roll dough into 1-inch balls and place on parchment-lined cookie sheet. Bake at 350° for 10-15 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Let cool for 5-10 minutes. Makes 1-2 dozen.

MEECE writes, “This recipe is one of my favorites because it’s super easy and tastes homemade. Not to mention the green color of the cookies is great for the holidays. I love pistachios and pistachio pudding and wanted to combine them into something new, as well as an easy go-to recipe. This pistachio cookie definitely does the job. Surprise your family and friends this year with a not-so-common cookie that tastes amazing and looks super festive.”

Best Ever Caramels
David Bradley, West Liberty,
member of Licking Valley RECC

1 1⁄2 C sugar
1⁄4 C corn syrup    
1⁄2 C water
6 Tbsp unsalted butter
1 C heavy cream
1 tsp Fleur de Sel salt*, plus extra for sprinkling, optional
1⁄2 tsp pure vanilla extract
Parchment paper
Vegetable oil
Candy thermometer

Line an 8×8-inch cake pan with parchment paper, allowing enough paper to drape over two sides; brush lightly with vegetable oil. In medium saucepan place sugar, corn syrup, and water; stir only once to combine with a wooden spoon. Cook on medium-high heat just until it is a warm brown color. Occasionally, using caution, pick up the pot and swirl the mixture. DO NOT STIR. Watch the mixture closely. It can burn quickly near the end.

In the meantime, in another saucepan, combine heavy cream, sea salt, and butter, bringing to a simmer on medium heat, then put aside and keep warm.

When the sugar mixture is at the right color, pour in the cream mixture and add the vanilla extract. It will boil up violently. Using a candy thermometer, bring mixture to 248°, stirring constantly (approximately 9 minutes) with a wooden spoon. Once you have reached the desired temperature, pour mixture into the cake pan. Refrigerate immediately.

Once caramel has cooled (about 45 minutes to an hour), yet still pliable, grab the parchment paper to remove the caramel slab from the pan; peel the parchment paper away from the slab and place on a cutting board. Cut the slab in half down the middle, to make two pieces. Then, starting at one end and working across, roll the caramel tightly into a log. Repeat with the second piece of caramel. Once you have two logs formed, sprinkle Fleur de Sel, if desired, on top of each log. Using a large, wide-blade knife, cut into squares.

To wrap caramels individually, use 4×6 1/2-inch cut sheets of parchment paper or 4×4-inch premade candy wrappers, twisting both ends. Store caramels in a sealed container in the refrigerator or at room temperature. Makes 24 pieces.

*Note: Fleur de Sel is a French sea salt that is very flaky and not harsh like regular salt. Do not substitute regular sea salt; it is not the same. You can find Fleur de Sel online or in specialty food stores like Williams-Sonoma.

BRADLEY writes, “The inspiration for these caramels came from Ina Garten, Food Network’s Barefoot Contessa. I made some adjustments on the original recipe to make it just right. I changed the amounts of several of the ingredients, including sugar, butter, water, and corn syrup. After a couple of tests using my version, they were perfect. As my grandmother Thelma would say, ‘Tongue-slap-your-brains-out-good!’ I usually make one log with the sprinkling of sea salt and one without. They are rich and delicious. I place the caramels into tins and give as Christmas gifts or for special occasions.”

Chocolate Rum Balls
Amy Collingsworth, Lawrenceburg,
member of Blue Grass Energy Cooperative

1 C semisweet chocolate chips
2 C vanilla wafers, crushed
3 Tbsp light corn syrup
1⁄3 C light rum
1 C ground walnuts
Granulated sugar

In medium bowl, melt chocolate chips in microwave for about 2 minutes. Stir in corn syrup, rum, crushed wafers, and ground nuts. When mixture has cooled to room temperature, roll into 1-inch balls and then roll balls in granulated sugar to coat. Store in airtight container. Makes approximately 75.

COLLINGSWORTH writes, “This recipe was handed down from my grandmother and is a favorite around the holidays. Some friends think they are potent with alcohol but our family thinks they are just right. If you are a nut lover, you can coarsely chop the nuts; but if you do not care for nuts, you can grind them up finely and you won’t know they are there.”

Coconut Macaroons
Wynona Correll, Glasgow,
member of Farmers RECC

1 (14 oz) bag coconut
1 (14 oz) can Eagle Brand condensed milk
1 tsp vanilla flavoring
1⁄2 C chocolate chips, optional
Paraffin wax

Preheat oven to 400°. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. Mix all three ingredients together and spoon or scoop out (I use a melon scoop) onto paper about 2 inches apart. Bake until edges get slightly brown, about 10 minutes. (Oven temperatures vary; do not over bake or they will be dry.)

Optional: Melt 1/2 cup of chocolate chips in microwave 30 seconds at a time until melted. Add several shavings of paraffin wax to thin chocolate as needed. With spoon, drizzle across top of cool macaroons. Makes approximately 30.

CORRELL writes, “I’ve had this recipe for years and every time I take these to a gathering, people rave over them and want the recipe. Everyone is so surprised when I tell them how easy they are to make.”



More cookies and candies

For the remaining seven recipes—from Chocolate Covered Cherry Cookies, Raspberry Gems, nut clusters, and more—click More cookies and candies . 

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