Duking it out for 'best cookies' title

aweigl@newsobserver.com December 18, 2012 

The baker with a target on her back during this year’s annual Christmas cookie contest at Duke University’s development office was Nancy Hillsman.

Hillsman, who works in corporate and foundation relations, is known around the office for her cooking skills. She has won the cookie contest two years in a row. And just hours before Monday afternoon’s contest, she wowed co-workers with the dish she brought to the holiday potluck.

“Nancy is the best cook,” said co-worker Kim Garcia. “She brought brussels sprouts to the cook-out. They were amazing. They’re brussels sprouts, for goodness’ sakes.”

Hillsman’s Cranberry Pistachio Coconut Triangles won first place two years ago and her Eggnog-Stuffed Cookies won last year. Her prize was a ceramic cookie jar in the shape of a teddy bear emblazoned with the words “Cookie Champion,” which sits on the winner’s desk.

She had tested several recipes before coming up with this year’s contender: a Chocolate Italian Cream Cookie similar to a whoopie pie. Knowing her audience, she decked the tray of cookies with a pair of Duke Blue Devil Christmas ornaments.

Despite those efforts, Hillsman said she was unsure she had a winning recipe: “I’m not as supremely confident on this one.”

Hillsman also had a lot of competition. More than two dozen bakers entered cookies, including Snickerdoodles, Espresso Chocolate Shortbread, Almond Mice Cookies, Peppermint Pudding Cookies and Cream Cheese Butterscotch Bars. One contestant brought the homemade treats that she gives to her dog: gluten-free peanut butter and pumpkin “Reindeer Bones.”

“I got too busy last night so I just brought my dog cookies,” explained Lindsay Jenkins, who works with the university’s annual fund.

A foursome of fellow staffers tasted their way through the cookies spread out over four tables to judge the winners in three categories: most creative, best presentation and best overall. They even dutifully tasted the dog cookies, issuing these verdicts.

“No,” declared Randy Garcia.

“Interesting,” said Michael Sholtz.

Soon the winners were announced, and Hillsman was not among them.

Instead, co-worker Jane Heuser’s Almond Mice Cookies won most creative, Kristin Hathorn’s Classic Frosted Sugar Cookies won for best presentation and Lisa Worster’s Mint Meringues won best overall cookie.

“It was time,” Hillsman said. “Now the pressure is off.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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