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Naughty or Nice Cookie Challenge!

Annoucing the Winners of Our Naughty or Nice Cookie Challenge with the Albany Times Union!

Winning cookies packaged and on sale at Honest WeightThe winners from 2017's Naughty or Nice Cookie Challenge are:

• Naughty: Italian soft cookies, submitted by Regina Pike of Schenectady

• Nice: Pecan cranberry pinwheels, submitted by Leila Novakowski of Albany

Winners in each category will receive prize packages from Honest Weight. Even better: our bakers will craft the winning recipes and feature them for sale during the holiday season. Look for them in-store now! 

See the full article with photos in the Times Union and check out all six semifinalist's recipes below!

Three smiling HWFC Bakers in HWFC teeshirts with plates of cookies



Theresa Houghton, North Greenbush

1 cup rolled oats (can be gluten-free)

½ cup dry roasted peanuts

1 cup pitted medjool dates

¼ cup natural unsalted creamy peanut butter (I used Trader Joe's organic with Valencia peanuts)

¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 tablespoon raw cocoa powder (can substitute regular or Dutch processed)

Place the oats and nuts in high-speed food processor, and process until chunky and well-combined.

Add the dates, peanut butter and vanilla. Process until a sticky "dough" forms. (Add more dates or peanut butter if it's stubborn about sticking together.)

Form into balls, rolling each in raw cocoa powder to coat.

Store in an airtight container in the fridge.

About these cookies: They're called "Peanut Blossom Bites," adapted from the classic peanut blossom recipe. Peanut blossoms are a Christmas classic, but they're not exactly healthy. These plant-based bites are the perfect snack when you want that traditional cookie taste without added oil or sugar. They're oil-free and vegan and can be gluten-free if gluten-free oats are used, which puts them in the "Nice" category. I came up with the recipe last year as a way to enjoy more peanut blossoms — my favorite Christmas cookie! — without overdoing it on sugar. I'm not a big fan of sugary foods and prefer to snack on something nutritious. These gave me a way to "have my cookie and eat it, too," so to speak.




Leila Novakowski, Albany


2/3 cup butter

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

1 teaspoon baking soda

Pinch salt

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla

2 cups flour

1 teaspoon shredded orange peel


1 1/2 cups pecans

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1/2 cup orange juice

For filling: Finely chop the pecan and cranberries. Combine filling ingredients and bring to a boil in a medium saucepan. Reduce heat and stir for about 2 minutes until thickened. Set aside and cool.

For the cookies: Cream butter and sugar, add rest of ingredients in order as listed above. Divide dough in half, and shape into two flat squares (for easy rolling later!) wrap in plastic wrap, and chill an hour or so.

When dough is easy to handle, place the first square between two pieces of wax paper and roll out a 10-inch-by-8-inch rectangle. Remove top wax paper and spread half the filling within 1/4 inch of the edges.

To create the spiral, roll up from the short side, as tightly as possible, removing bottom wax paper as you go.

Pinch to seal and repeat with the other half of dough and filling. Wrap each length of rolled up dough in wax paper or plastic wrap and chill for about 4 hours, or until dough firms up enough to slice. You can also reserve one tube of dough to bake another day, as they are particularly good freshly baked.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Unwrap dough and cut 1/4-inch slices. Use a super-sharp knife, so you don't smush down the dough as you slice. Place slices on ungreased cookie sheets, 2 inches apart.

Bake 7-8 minutes or until golden brown. Leave on cookie sheet 1 minute before removing.

Cool completely on racks. Store in airtight containers. Makes about 50-60 cookies.

About these cookies: I got this recipe from my mom. She adapted it from a Better Homes & Gardens recipe. This is a delicious holiday cookie that has the appeal of nuts and cranberries. The visual spiral of filling also makes them attractive and appetizing!




Megan Brophy-McLean, Latham

3 cups flour

3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

1 tablespoon ground ginger

1 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

12 tablespoon non-dairy margarine (Earth Balance), softened

3/4 cup blackstrap molasses

2 tablespoon non-dairy milk

Coarse sugar for sprinkling

In a large bowl, mix together flour, brown sugar, spices, salt, and baking soda. Cut butter into small chunks and cut into the dry ingredients until it resembles cornmeal. (I use a stand mixer for all this. It's the same method one would use to make a pie crust with two knives or a pastry blender.)

Gradually stir in molasses and milk and mix thoroughly until combined. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least two hours. (I drizzle in the molasses from a measuring cup while the mixer is running until it's all evenly incorporated, then drizzle in the milk until the dough comes together. At this point, it's too soft to roll out, but you can roll it into a fairly smooth ball without it sticking to your hands.)

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees and roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/4 inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters (Gingerbread men are a great choice!) and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Alternately, roll into log and cut into 1/4-inch slices, and sprinkle with sugar. Bake for 9-11 minutes or until touching the cookies barely leaves an impression.

About these cookies: I think it would probably qualify as "nice" because it's vegan, but it's full of sugar and fat, so not really healthy, but it's also a spicy one which could make it naughty! This is adapted from a recipe that I believe originated in the New York Times in the '90s.


ITALIAN SOFT COOKIE ("Naughty" winner)


Regina Pike, Schenectady

2 sticks of butter

2 cups sugar

4 cups flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 pound ricotta cheese

4 tablespoons, and then some, lemon juice

Confectioners sugar

Sprinkles, optional (though not chocolate)

For the cookies:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees

Cream butter and sugar with electric mixer until smooth. Add flour and ricotta, one cup at a time, into the creamed butter and sugar. Add one tablespoon of lemon juice, too, with each flour addition (meaning four total tablespoons). Add baking powder with the first flour addition, add baking soda with the second, salt in the third, and the remaining ricotta and lemon juice with the fourth cup. Mix well until all ingredients are blended (But don't overmix — this prevents the cookies from baking up tough).

Drop by rounded teaspoons on greased cookie sheet. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes — don't let them brown, but just becoming slightly gold in color.

Let cookies cool on wire rack

For the glaze:

Mix confectioners sugar and lemon juice together to form a not-too-runny glaze. Frost cookies, add sprinkles (NOT chocolate).

Let glaze harden before putting cookies in container for storage. Separate layers of cookies with plastic wrap.

About these cookies: This recipe has been handed down in my family over the past 150 years. It originated in Sicily, Italy, when my great, great-grandmother passed it on to my grandmother, who then brought it with her when she moved to Albany to live with her two brothers, who immigrated a year before her. This cookie always was present at birthdays and holiday feasts. My grandmother passed it on to my mom, and I have fond memories of her teaching me how to be sure they bake up tender and moist. This recipe is not in the traditional format, due to the fact that it was never written down until my grandmother gave it to my mom by word-of-mouth and she wrote it down on a recipe card for the first time for me. My kids love them and I make them often, especially for Christmas and New Year's.




Diane Sabo, North Bethlehem

1 cup sugar

1 cup shortening

16 ounces molasses

4 eggs

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon cloves

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 cup cocoa

4 teaspoon baking soda

7-8 cups flour, divided

Cut shortening into sugar. Add molasses and eggs. Mix well. Sift in 3 cups flour, cinnamon, cloves, salt, baking powder and cocoa. In a separate cup, dissolve baking soda in one cup of hot water. Combine with flour mixture. Beat well.

Stir in last 4-5 cups of flour to stiff consistency. Remove dough from bowl and roll out to 1/2 inch thickness. Cut with a donut cutter. Bake 10-12 minutes in a 350-degree oven.

Frost cooled cookies with your favorite frosting recipe — we always use a buttercream frosting. You can use food coloring for different holidays.

About these cookies: This recipe was acquired from my mother's neighbor many years ago. Mom remembered Mrs. Hotaling making them when she was a child growing up in Sharon Springs, NY. My mom made them often when I was growing up and still does. The molasses and chocolate are a wonderful combination!




Erika Hudgens, Waterford

13/4 cup unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or more if you like it more spicy, up to 1/2 teaspoon)

10, plus 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (total 3/4 cup)

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoon vanilla

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

11/4 cup dark chocolate chips

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (optional)

Whisk flour, baking soda, cayenne pepper in bowl. Add rosemary and "rub" mixture with hands to combine. Set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons of the butter in skillet till melted, continue heating for about 2-3 minutes, using a spatula and swirling in pan about another 2-3 minutes until the butter is dark brown and foam has dissipated. Remove from heat and put in a bowl. Stir in the other 4 tablespoons of butter into the brown butter and stir until completely melted..

Add both sugars, salt and vanilla to butter. Whisk until combined.

Combine the granulated and brown sugars in a bowl. Add egg and yolk to sugar mixture. Whisk until smooth. Stir in flour mixture. Add chips & nuts (if desired). Bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 14 minutes, depending on size.

About these cookies: I adapted an old recipe found years ago (I can't remember where) using a brown butter chocolate chip cookie, with added heat and rosemary for extra flavor and the outcome was this great cookie, an alternative to the everyday favorite. The initial bite is sweet. Then you get the hint of rosemary ... and then it hits, the gentle heat to the back of the throat that lingers just long enough for you to remember that was no ordinary chocolate chip cookie!

Photos by John Carl D'Annibale / Times Union