WINNER: This cookie recipe beat out nearly 400 others in the first Dayton Daily News holiday baking contest

The Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest began in 1990.
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The Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest began in 1990.

The 75-year-old Centerville grandmother who submitted the winning entry had never before shared the recipe

Editor’s Note: The first Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest was held in 1990 with nearly 400 bakers offering up their creations.

The cookie contest became an annual tradition. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, however, the newspaper did not hold a holiday cookie contest this year.

But cookie recipes are timeless, so we dug into our archives to find the winner of the very first baking contest, 30 years ago. The story also contained recipes for five other cookies that were judged to be close runners-up to the winner among the nearly 400 entries.

Ann Heller, the former Dayton Daily News food editor and restaurant reviewer, wrote the story, which was published Nov. 28, 1990.

Enjoy!

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The Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest began in 1990.

The Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest began in 1990.
caption arrowCaption
The Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest began in 1990.

By Ann Heller

Dayton Daily News

Nov. 28, 1990

If you’re looking for a great Christmas cookie recipe, talk to grandma.

Everybody’s grandma.

But, more specifically, to Anne Kapelovic, a 75-year-old Centerville grandmother who’s the winner of our first cookie contest.

We received nearly 400 recipes for Christmas cookies. Plenty of them were grandma’s specialties — from the lady herself or from family members who were passing it on.

Picking a winner was a sweet job for the staff, but the favorite was clear. It was the Ischel cookie recipe sent in by Mrs. Kapelovic, who says she got the recipe from an old Hungarian cookbook.

She has been making that cookie since she was a young mother trying to raise her two girls.

“I was 7 months pregnant when my husband was killed in World War II,” she says. She worked for AT&T in Cleveland, but providing for her little family was a struggle.

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“Every Christmas I would bake these cookies and sell them, so I’d have a nice tree and presents for the kids. I worked weddings, anything to make extra money,” she says.

She provided well. Both daughters - one now living near Lima, the other in Chicago - have master’s degrees.

Mrs. Kapelovic moved to Dayton after a bout with lung cancer nine years ago, but this grandmother-of-four is always on the go.

She still cooks, entertaining friends and in-laws with her Ukranian-style borscht, and filling her freezer with homemade tomato sauce, using the recipe she picked up from a fellow passenger on a flight back from Italy.

“Would you believe I still make my own noodles?” she says. Of Yugoslav descent, she learned that skill from her mother when she was about 12 years old.

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“When I wanted to go out and play, she’d call, ‘Anna, come here and watch me make noodles.’ She’d say, ‘Who’s going to marry you if you don’t know how to make noodles. Or how to make strudel.’

“But to tell the truth I met a lot of beaus but no boy ever asked me if I knew how to make noodles.”

Not only does she still cook, she travels. Her bookcases are filled with pieces of glassware collected on travels to Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Russia and others.

“I’m running out of places to go,” she says, though she will squeeze in a cruise in the Caribbean soon.

She’ll be here to celebrate Christmas. Even though she lives alone she puts up a Christmas tree for herself, decorated with the crocheted ornaments she makes.

When her daughters arrive the day before the holiday, she’ll have dinner that includes the hind quarter of a suckling pig, roasted in the oven, and a baked ham for those who might not like the idea of suckling pig.

“Then I’m going to make stuffed cabbage rolls, and I’ll have poppy seed roll and nut roll - and I’m going to have all my cookies.”

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That will include our winning cookie, which is a sandwich cookie, filled with raspberry jam, coated in sweet chocolate and topped with an almond.

They take a bit more work than a drop cookie, but they look very special on the plate.

Mrs. Kapelovic has never shared her recipes before, but, she says, “now that I’m 75 I want others to enjoy them.”

We’re also printing the recipes for five others that were runners-up in the contest. Here’s the recipe for her Ischel cookies.

ISCHEL COOKIES

Makes about 2 dozen

Ingredients:

1 cup grated hazelnuts

1 1/2 cup flour, sifted

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cocoa

3/4 cup unsalted butter

1 teaspoon grated lemon peel

1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar

1/4 cup thick black raspberry, seedless jam

3/4 pound semisweet chocolate

1/4 cup whole blanched almonds

Instructions:

Lightly grease cookie sheets. Grate nuts and set aside. Sift together and set aside flour, cinnamon, and cocoa. Cream butter, lemon peel and juice until butter is softened. Add sugar, gradually creaming until fluffy. Blend in grated nuts. Add the dry ingredients to creamed mixture in fourths, mixing until blended after each addition. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let dough rest 15 minutes.

Roll dough on lightly floured surface to 1/4-inch thickness. Cut in rounds or use a fancy cookie cutter. Place rounds about 1-inch apart on cookie sheets. Bake in oven at 350 degrees 15 to 20 minutes or until lightly browned. Watch closely. Remove cookies to cooling racks.

While cookies are cooling, set out the jam and the whole blanched almonds. When cookies are cooled, turn half of them upside down and spread 1/2 teaspoon jam on each. Make cookie sandwiches by placing remaining cookies on top of jam; set aside. Set 2 cooling racks over waxed paper.

Partially melt chocolate over simmering water; be careful not to overheat. Remove chocolate from the water and stir until completely melted. Dip top of sandwich cookie into chocolate. Let excess chocolate drip onto wax paper. Excess chocolate on paper can be reused later. Immediately top each cookie with blanched almond. Cool cookies until chocolate is firm. Refrigerate if necessary.

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The first Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest was held in 1990.

The first Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest was held in 1990.
caption arrowCaption
The first Dayton Daily News holiday cookie contest was held in 1990.

The recipes from the 1990 runners up:

NUTMEG LOGS

Makes approximately 8 dozen

Ingredients:

3 cups flour

1 teaspoon nutmeg

1 cup butter

3/4 cup sugar

1 egg

2 teaspoon vanilla

2 teaspoon rum flavoring

Directions:

Sift together the flour and nutmeg. Cream well the butter and sugar. Add the sifted ingredients gradually and mix thoroughly. Blend in the egg, vanilla, and rum flavoring. On a lightly floured board shape pieces of dough into long rolls about 1/2-inch in diameter. Cut in 3-inch lengths. Place on an ungreased baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Cool. Prepare frosting.

Frosting ingredients:

3 tablespoons butter

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1 teaspoon rum flavoring

2 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2 to 3 teaspoons cream

Directions:

Cream butter with vanilla and rum flavoring. Blend in 1/2 cup of the powdered sugar alternately with cream. Beat well. Then add remaining powdered sugar and blend until spreadable. Spread frosting lengthwise on the tops and sides of each cookie, using the tines of a fork. Sprinkle each cookie lightly with nutmeg.

SESAME DELIGHTS

Makes 3 dozen

Ingredients:

1 pound softened butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 cups flour

1 cup sesame seeds

2 cups grated coconut

2/3 cup Bits of Brickle

Directions:

Cream butter and sugar add flour, sesame seeds, coconut and brickle; mix well. Divide into 3 parts and roll into a log. Wrap each in wax paper and refrigerate overnight. Slice 1/4-inch and bake at 350 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes. Cookies become crisp when cool.

STRAWBERRY PATCH COOKIES

Makes 24 to 30 cookies

Ingredients:

1 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup finely ground blanched almonds

1 teaspoon vanilla

zest of 1/2 lemon

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

2 cups flour

Directions:

Beat butter and sugar until fluffy; add almonds, vanilla, lemon zest, cinnamon. Cut in flour with pastry blender. Form dough into walnut-size balls, place in bottom of greased, floured muffin size tins. Flatten slightly and add a dab of strawberry jam in the indentation. Roll strips of dough pencil thin and use to form a fence around the side of each cookie to hold the jam. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Check oven during baking. Cookies should be golden, not too brown.

YAK COOKIES

Makes 3 to 4 dozen

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 egg yolk

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 1/2 cups sifted flour

1 cup jelly

4 egg whites

3/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Directions:

Work butter until creamy. Stir in 1/2 cup of the sugar; beat until fluffy. Beat in egg yolk and salt. Stir in flour. Mix well. Pat into thin layer in two 9-by-13-by-2-inch pans. Set oven at 350 degrees. Beat jelly with fork and spread on dough. Whip egg whites until stiff. Add remaining 1 cup sugar. Whip until it stands in peaks. Fold in finely chopped nuts and flavoring. Swirl over jelly. Sprinkle with chopped nuts. Bake 40 to 45 minutes or until brown.

CARAMEL-NUT ACORNS

Makes 4 1/2 dozen

Ingredients:

1 cup butter

3/4 cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, chopped

2 1/2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 pound candy caramels (approximately 24)

1/4 cup water

Directions:

Melt butter in a medium saucepan, remove from heat. Stir in brown sugar, vanilla and 1/3 cup of the nuts. Add flour and baking powder. Shape by rounded teaspoonful into balls. Flatten one side by pressing on ungreased baking sheet. Pinch top to a point to resemble an acorn. Bake at 350 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes. Cool. Melt the caramels in the water on top of a double boiler. Dip the flat ends of the cookies into the caramel mixture about 1/4-inch deep then into the remaining chopped nuts. Cool on wax paper.

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