Indy Bake Off 2022

The 2022 Great Indy Bake-off was a cozy, family affair.

There were four entries in our annual office holiday cookie-baking contest this year — a tiny turnout compared to years past — but understandably so. We’ve added a heck of a lot of new team members this fall, are managing a shift to our new nonprofit, Sixty35 Media, and we aren’t immune to the grief and the rash of illnesses in our community lately (“triple-demic,” anyone?).

But that’s enough excuses… because in this uncrowded field, the pressure was on for those of us who did bake our hearts out over the Thanksgiving weekend (full disclosure, I was one of them). And we had a judges’ table stacked with bona fide experts: Jen Denman, owner of Snowberry Bakehouse; Pat Rigdon, co-owner of Mary’s Mountain Cookies on South Tejon Street; and Elise Oller, daughter of our photographer Bryan Oller and 12-year-old cookie stan. She was the hardest to impress.

Front Desk Coordinator Madeline Berg wowed the judges with her freshly warmed Chocolate Lava Cookies, which oozed melted chocolate on the first bite. She stuffed the cookies with chopped chocolate bars.

“These are really good,” Elise exclaimed — she ranked the lava cookies as a 9 out of 10, helping push Berg to the win after the contest’s initial ranking drew a three-way tie.

After Berg was championed, she shared a secret that readers who kept up with our 2021 bake-off will recall: The lava cookies are actually the same recipe as her submission last year, minus crushed peppermint on top. She strategically considered the 2021 judges’ dislike of peppermint and nixed it this time, noting that the soft, brownie-like cookie base wasn’t the issue.

When eaten right out of the oven, or microwaved later, “the chocolate melts, so it’s actually like a true molten chocolate cake cookie,” Berg says.

Well done, Maddie. I wasn’t too heartbroken to concede first place after realizing she’s playing chess while we play checkers.

Berg said her recipe comes from her Uncle Kelvin, a long-lost relative who she and her family recently connected with for the first time.

“He baked them one time when we were visiting, and they were so great,” says Berg. “I needed the recipe.”

My own recipe for Classic Molasses Cookies, which took second place, also comes from the family cupboard. It’s one from my late Grandma Curry, a notorious sweet tooth who could always be found baking and digging into delicious treats. Denman immediately commented that the cookies were “nostalgic” and Rigdon said they were like the ones his mother used to make.

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One thing to note if you decide to follow Grandma C’s molasses cookies recipe — she was never into the “science” part of baking. My mom reminded me when she sent over a couple Grandma C holiday recipes typed on stained index cards: Grandma didn’t level out her flour, and wasn’t very precise with measurements (you’ll notice there’s two listed for molasses, for example).

And you can’t blame her — Grandma C raised nine kids on her own after losing my grandpa at a too-young age. Measuring ingredients with precision? No time for that.

So in order to make these cookies, you must channel my grandmother and scoop your flour a bit haphazardly, without fluffing or leveling, or they won’t turn out right. I ended up using a rough 3.5 tbsp of molasses, myself.

It seemed to work out, texture- and taste-wise. Denman commented, “I think it’s baked perfectly,” which was by far my proudest moment as a novice baker. I had to conceal my delight when I heard her, in order to maintain the integrity of the contest — and my own as a journalist, of course.

The judges were also impressed with Assistant to the Publisher Cathy Reilly’s intricate Oatmeal Almond Sour Cherry Spice Cookies With Cointreau Icing and Dark Chocolate-dipped Candied Ginger, which placed third and — my goodness — were delicious. 

Marketing and Event Director Jessica McMullen also made a strong appearance in her first bake-off as part of the Sixty35 Media team, with her rich Chocolate Triple-Chip Cookies, stuffed with chocolate, white chocolate and butterscotch chips (I’m drooling).

When they weren’t boosting my ego, our cookie-pro judges offered some tips for baking at high altitude and told us the latest treats available in their shops.

Denman said in her experience, adding an extra egg or slightly decreasing leavening — that is, baking soda or powder — does the trick for ensuring cookies’ texture and shape comes out right at the Springs’ 6,035-foot altitude. Good to know.

She also said that right now, Snowberry is featuring a chocolate-chip rosemary cookie that’s “a really nice combination.” At Mary’s Mountain Cookies, they’ve added a few holiday cookies for the season: Almond cherry chocolate-chip, a turtle cookie and the “Grinch,” which is a mint Oreo cookie dipped in chocolate, with mint sprinkled on top, Rigdon said.

That’s about it for the 2022 Great Indy Bake-off — below you’ll find the four contestants’ recipes. Lucky for you, this year you get to try them all, not just the winners. So get baking, and Happy Holidays from the Indy


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Chocolate Lava Cookies

By Front Desk Coordinator Madeline Berg

Ingredients:
2½ c. all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
1 c. softened butter
2 c. granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ c. cocoa
4 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped

Process:
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
 
Using a mixer, cream the butter and sugar. Add eggs, one at a time, until well incorporated. Add vanilla. Slowly add cocoa and mix until well combined.
 
Slowly add flour mixture to butter mixture.

Shape dough into 1½-inch balls. Use your thumb to make an indentation in the center of the dough. Fill with chocolate pieces and fold the dough over to cover the chocolate completely.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and bake cookies at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes. Makes 3 dozen.

Baker’s note: When the cookies aren’t fresh out of the oven, they can be heated for about 10 seconds in the microwave to be served warm!

Molasses cookies

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By Reporter Greta Anderson Johns

Ingredients:
¾ c. shortening
1 c. sugar
1 egg
Pinch of salt
3 to 4 tbsp. molasses (I used 3½)
2 c. flour
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. cinnamon
1 tsp. ginger
½ tsp. cloves

Process:
Cream shortening and sugar, then beat in egg, salt and molasses. Sift other dry ingredients together. Gradually combine dry ingredients with molasses mixture.

Roll dough into small balls, dip in white sugar.
Place sugar-side up on ungreased cookie sheet. Bake in 375-degree oven for 10 minutes. Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

Oatmeal Almond Sour Cherry Spice Cookies with Cointreau icing and dark chocolate-dipped candied ginger garnish

By Assistant to the Publisher Cathy Reilly (Adapted from recipe by Jerrelle Guy, published in The New York Times article “24 Days of Cookies.”)

Ingredients:
1 c. old fashioned rolled oats
1 c. all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. kosher salt
½ c. granulated sugar
¼ c. packed dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. or less of ground allspice
¼ tsp. or less of ground nutmeg
1 tsp. pure vanilla
½ tsp. baking soda
4 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
1 tbsp. dried sour cherries, cut into smaller pieces
1 tbsp. sliced almonds, broken into smaller pieces
 
For icing:
1½ tsp. Cointreau
1 tsp. heavy cream
¼ c. plus 2 tsbp. confectioners’ sugar
Dark chocolate-dipped candied ginger, cut into strips
Process:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Mix oats, flour and salt and set them aside.

Mix together both sugars, spices, vanilla, baking soda and egg on high in a stand mixer for 2 minutes. Scrape down the bowl as needed and then set mixer to medium speed and slowly add in the butter until all is mixed together.

Add in dry ingredients and mix by hand only until all are folded in.

Stir in sour cherries and almonds.

Using approximately a tablespoon of cookie dough, make into balls and place them on an ungreased baking sheet, making sure there is adequate space between each. (The dough will be sticky and if you want, you can chill it for easier handling.)

Bake for 12 minutes and then check to see if done. If you like a crispier cookie, 14 minutes is better. Bake only cook one sheet of cookies at a time.

Halfway through the time, you can rotate the sheet in the oven if you wish, as some bakers believe that gives a more uniform bake. 

To make icing:
Mix together the sugar, heavy cream and Cointreau. The icing will be rather thick and you can thin it a bit with extra liquid if you like. After the cookies have cooled, use a bread knife, spread a bit on the top of each cookie in the center, garnishing with a strip of the dark chocolate-dipped candied ginger, pressing it lightly into the icing to secure it. Makes about 15.

Honorable mention: Chocolate Triple-Chip Cookies

By Marketing & Event Director Jessica Mcmullen

Ingredients:
½ c. butter, softened
1 c. white sugar
½ c. brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
2 c. flour 
⅓ c. cocoa
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ c. semisweet chocolate chips
½ c. white chocolate chips
½ c. butterscotch chips

Process:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease two cookie sheets.

Cream butter and sugars until well blended and very light. Add eggs and vanilla; beat well.
 
In a separate bowl, stir dry ingredients together, then gradually add to butter mixture. Mix well.
 
Add chocolate, white chocolate and butterscotch chips.

Drop by rounded teaspoons on greased cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart.
 
Bake 7-9 minutes for softer, chewy cookies; 9-11 minutes for a crunchier version. (At Colorado’s altitude, I end up doing 9-11 minutes for chewy and 12-13 for crunchy.)

Makes 3 to 4 dozen at the size I get.

Baker’s note: You can do any combination of 1½ cups of dessert chocolate chips (like Heath or Reese’s or mint) or other add-ons (maybe nuts or raisins) and get great adventure cookies!