Cookies Take the Cake: Annual amateur cookie competition a sweet treat

Kelly E. Reinhardt hosts an annual cookie cook-off for the holidays at her Sackets Harbor home.

BY: Eli Anderson

More often than not, the best holiday traditions begin with a few friends and a random idea – and, perhaps, a couple glasses of wine to take that idea to the next level.

That’s the case for Sackets Harbor resident Kelly E. Reinhardt, who for the past six years has hosted a Christmas cookie decorating contest with several of her close friends. She said the first contest was a spur-of-the-moment idea – she had invited her friends over so they could all use her large kitchen to bake cookies for their families and friends, and then she decided to raise the stakes.

 “We baked cookies all day long,” Kelly said, “and then I said, ‘care to make it interesting?’ So, everyone picked their two best cookies and we took a photo of them and posted it on Facebook so people could vote for their favorite.”

That first year, in 2011, the cookies were pretty straightforward: a couple of wreaths and a couple of snowflakes. Even so, Kelly said she was surprised with the response she and her friends received.

 “That year we got like 60 people who voted, and they loved it,” she said.

Some Facebook friends voted for the biggest cookie, some voted for the best frosting job, and others joked about needing a taste test before making their final decision. Regardless, all seemed excited to cast their vote, commenting on the post with the number that corresponded to their favorite cookie.

As years passed, a few more of Kelly’s friends got involved in the competition, cookie designs became more elaborate, and more “judges” began to chime in on the online voting process. Last year, around 600 people voted during the 24-hour judging window.

“Wow I am so impressed!” said one commenter. “You all have come a long way.”

 “Impressive,” typed another. “You guys have really stepped up your game over the years!”

Kelly – who decorates wedding cakes as a hobby – said she and her friends are all “foodies,” which makes the annual contest just a bit more fun and competitive. In the weeks before the contest, she said, some of her friends will browse Pinterest for creative decorating ideas and others may purchase unique or intricate cookie cutters.

The day of the contest, typically the Sunday before Christmas, she and her friends enjoy glasses of Prosecco while they bake and fill tins of cookies for their relatives. After that, it’s all business as the decorating begins.

“All day long, there’s yelling and fighting, and there’s music playing,” she said. “And then when we start decorating our cookies, it gets totally silent. It’s hilarious.”

Over the years, cookie decorations have ranged from Christmas trees and snowmen to candy canes and reindeer, with each year’s cookies seeming more ornate than the last.

 “A couple of years ago we made a little trophy out of a cookie cutter, and it says, ‘World’s Best Cookie Decorator’,” Kelly said. “It goes home with the owner of whichever cookie wins.”

Other than that, she said, the winner earns the right to brag about his or her cookie until the next competition comes along.

Kelly admits that the annual contest may not seem like much, but it is a tradition that she and her friends look forward to year after year. In fact, she said, the cookie decorating contest has outlasted a large holiday cocktail party she used to host, because it is fun, simple, and allows her to spend quality time with her friends around the holidays.

“The same people come year after year,” she said. “My girlfriends from Sackets Harbor, and a couple of guys. I think it’s cute.”

The small group of friends all take turns cooking, cleaning, helping one another bake, and swapping stories. In fact, pregnancies and other life events have been announced at the annual get-together. It’s for these memories that Kelly hopes the cookie contest will continue for many years to come…

…or maybe it’s because her cookies have won two out of the six contests so far. With her cookie taking second place last year, she’s out to reclaim bragging rights this December.