Peek inside the tasting and judging of Tribune's Holiday Cookie Contest

Joe Gray

Lined up like a dare in two long rows across the test kitchen counter and a spill-over side table, the 16 plates of cookies represented the sweet dreams of their makers. And we tasters took that weighty responsibility seriously.

The 16 finalists in Tribune’s annual Holiday Cookie Contest each had dropped off two dozen of their chocolate, ginger, chai or red velvet creations (among many other flavor combinations). Fifteen of them had earned their spots for garnering the most votes in our online polling (see those results here). The 16th finalist (which earned the Joe Gray Save designation — given by me to a promising recipe that doesn’t make the cut in voting) was the Mexican gingerbread cookies from Maruca Helguera-Bednarek, a worthy entrant with delicate spicing, a contrasting citrus-flavored icing and intricate hand-piped decorations.

Among the tasters: your Food & Dining team, other Trib editors and writers with keen palates, and our guest judge, Alicia Andry, second place winner in last year’s contest who went on to launch a cookie business, Tida’s Treats, featuring her beautifully designed creations. (Catch her on Instagram @tidastreats.)

It’s a coveted assignment, tasting those cookies, this despite the sugar hangovers that inevitably leave tasters with upset stomachs and a curious desire to just go lie down. We can’t reveal the winners yet, that story is coming Dec. 5 (so come back then!). But we can give you a sneak peek behind the curtain of how we do the tasting: Check out the video above.

And find all of the finalists recipes at

Twitter @joegraygoodeats