It’s a very merry victory for a very delicious cookie.Pecan passion, with its decadent layers of crunchy pecans and gooey caramel atop chocolate shortbread, was named the best confection of them all by judges who tasted nine scrumptious treats in the Very Merry Ultimate Cookie Challenge. The Challenge let the public decide the grand-prize winner in the 10th and final edition of the Star-Telegram’s annual holiday reader cookie contest.Almost 400 people cast votes in two public tasting events at Central Market Fort Worth and Southlake recently, and nearly a third picked the deluxe bar cookie to take the top place on the platter.An even sweeter result was the money the events raised for the Goodfellow Fund. Challenge registration fees, a generous matching donation by Central Market and proceeds from the sales of the official contest “Cookie Book” have brought in more than $12,000 to help disadvantaged kids in the community this holiday season. Now that’s a delicious Christmas gift!About the winnerThe win is sweet for Lillian Greenslade of Fort Worth, who is, indeed, passionate for her pecan passion — and for baking, cooking and cooking contests in general. Pecan passion won the 2005 Very Merry Cookie Challenge; Greenslade’s entries also won the contest in 2007 and were a runner-up or finalist other years.“Are you serious? It’s wonderful,” she said when she found out she’d won the Ultimate Cookie Challenge.Greenslade regularly enters — and places — in the State Fair of Texas cooking competitions. And, ever the culinary student, she has been a regular at Central Market Fort Worth Cooking School classes and even took baking classes in Paris last year.As grand-prize winner in the Ultimate Cookie Challenge, she will receive a $100 gift card to Central Market, a holiday-themed cookie jar and plenty of bragging rights.“I taught myself to bake as a skinny, sugar-hungry teenager in order to satisfy my cravings for pecan pie, pecan pralines and chocolate fudge,” Greenslade told us when she won in 2005. That explains the pecan passion, which was inspired by a recipe in one of her favorite dessert cookbooks from renowned cook and author Maida Heatter.But, Greenslade said recently, “of all the recipes I make with chocolate, it was not one of my true favorites. It’s a little bit cranky.”By that, she explained, she means “you have to follow it kind of exactly; it doesn’t take as well to errors as some recipes do.”Greenslade told us in 2005 that she practiced recipes on her husband’s dominoes group, whose members eat anything and everything. She now regularly bakes for her fellowship group, for a big family that includes 11 grandchildren and for the many guests she and her husband entertain.After a move last year from Lake Worth to a smaller home in the newly bustling “midtown” area of Fort Worth, she’s still getting used to her downsized kitchen — she’s gone from a double oven to a single.“I kick it every once in a while,” she said. “I have to watch things carefully to make sure they don’t overcook or undercook.”Greenslade said she has “cut back” some when it comes to entering contests, but she does prepare year-round for her State Fair entries; she’ll likely enter cakes, cookies, pies and breads in 2014, she said.Her advice: “Bake what you enjoy. If that’s what you enjoy, other people will, too.”And if you’re as fortunate as Greenslade, some of those other people might happen to be contest judges.Cookbooks still for saleChristmas shopping may be done, but it’s not too late to buy the Star-Telegram Cookie Book, filled with 80 recipes — winners, runners-up and finalists from all nine years of the annual reader contest.Purchase them by cash or check at the Star-Telegram’s front desk, 808 Throckmorton St., in downtown Fort Worth. They’re available during regular business hours, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday (closed Christmas Day and New Year’s Day).Proceeds from the $10 sale price (or two for $15 for Star-Telegram Press Pass holders) go to the Goodfellow Fund.They’ll be available while supplies last.They would make a great Valentine’s gift for all the bakers you love!
Very Merry Ultimate Cookie Challenge winner
Makes 1 dozen
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
• 1/2 cup firmly packed brown sugar
• 1/8 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
• 1 large egg
• 1/4 cup cocoa
• 1/4 cup flour
• 1 tablespoon dark rum or cognac
• 1/3 cup whipping cream
• 6 tablespoons unsalted butter
• 1 1/2 cups firmly packed brown sugar
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1/4 cup light Karo syrup
• 2 cups toasted pecan halves
1. Make bottom layer: Using an electric mixer, blend butter, sugar, salt, vanilla and egg in a bowl. Add cocoa and flour and blend.
2. Spread mixture into a greased, 9-inch square pan. Bake at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let stand.
3. Meanwhile, prepare topping: Combine rum or cognac with the cream; set aside. In a heavy 3-quart saucepan, melt butter over medium heat. With a wooden spoon or spatula, stir in sugar, salt and Karo. Stir until the surface of the mixture is boiling well.
4. Place a candy thermometer in the mixture and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until temperature reaches 250 degrees.
5. Remove from heat and quickly stir in cognac-cream mixture, which will bubble up. Add pecans and stir well. Pour hot mixture over the bottom layer in the pan. Spread so pecans are evenly distributed.
6. Bake for 25 minutes — and no longer — at 375 degrees. Remove pan from oven and let cool completely. Turn out of pan and cut into bars.
Nutritional analysis per bar cookie: 377 calories, 27 grams fat, 35 grams carbohydrates, 3 grams protein, 56 milligrams cholesterol, 94 milligrams sodium, 2 grams dietary fiber, 61 percent of calories from fat.
— Lillian Greenslade, Fort Worth