On Monday, the small town of Occidental, California, hosted it’s 2009 Cookie Exchange. It was a holiday food experience that I will not soon forget. Beyond just an exchange, the party was like the Cookie Olympics. It was a friendly, but very heated competition to be crowned Cookie Queen 2009. Only after the judging and voting, does the actual exchange begin. To enter, all you need is 6 dozen of your most perfect and most creative cookies, plus nerves of stainless steel to handle the pressure! The venue was Negri’s Italian Family Style Dinners and Bar. In the banquet room, there were massive tables set with all types of cookies. The cookies aren’t just placed out in platters. Oh, no. They were displayed in elaborate set ups, designed to showcase the treats and also to help express the theme. Alongside each display was a sampling of the cookies for judging, and a card with the name of the cookie and the baker. Each baker could enter as many types of cookies they liked, as long as they adhered to the rules- 6 dozen uniform cookies- no brownies or bars. My favorite display was the Bacon, Egg, and Cornflake cookie, presented like breakfast in bed, on a tray, with the Sunday paper, and a cup of coffee!
I took my judging duties very seriously. I mean, tasting cookies is an intense responsibility, nay, duty! Voting categories included the expected- “Best Looking”, “Best Tasting”, and “Most Creative”. And the unexpected- “Best PMS Cookie” “Totally Road Kill” and “Martha, Martha, Martha”. The pressure was on, because while everyone wanted to win first place in a category, the real prize comes with the most overall votes. The baker with the most cross-category votes is the one crowned Cookie Queen, and who wins the coveted bedazzled apron. It was a very stiff competition, with my personal favorites being the Quince Wreaths with Prince Edward Island Liquor, the Caramel Truffle Thumbprint Cookies, Root Beer Cookies, and the cookie that took it all home, Jenny Mountjoy’s Belgium Chocolate and Hazelnut Shortbread Pinecones with Caramel. Jenny Mountjoy set her cookies up on a beautiful tiered pedestal. To work with the pinecones, and complete the woodland theme, she added tiny mushroom decorations, and a really adorable squirrel. The cookies themselves were almost too pretty to eat. She made the scales of the pinecone with a silicone mold designed for making ceramic dragons. And then she dusted each one with gold powder to give them a pretty glimmer. Beyond their spectacular appearance, the cookie was crispy and yet soft, buttery yet light, and made me nostalgic for all things sweet that I ever ate in childhood. She won Best Tasting, Best Looking, Martha, Martha, Martha, and she took home the title of Cookie Queen 2009. This is her fourth win, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2009, a true accomplishment, and something that I think should make her both revered, and feared in the kitchen. I can’t wait for next year!