From pecan pie to red velvet brownies, our 2012 Holiday Dessert Recipe Contest produced our best-ever reader turnout—and a delicious one at that! With help from LN Cooks' chef John Johnson, Spicy Bits writer Matt Sorrell and Wedding Wisdom columnist John Sullivan of Ken Miesner's Flowers (who also decorated the holiday table), we took on the sweet task of coming up with a winner from the 20 dessert entries.

In the end, Nancy Landry's classic English Toffee won the top prize: bagels for a year from Saint Louis Bread Company! Congratulations to our winners, and thank you for participating in this season's contest. 

First Place: English Toffee by Nancy Landry


2 sticks butter

1 c sugar

3 T water

1 t vanilla extract

5 1.55-oz. Hershey milk chocolate bars

Chopped pecans (optional)


Combine first four ingredients and stir constantly over medium-high heat until the mixture turns medium brown. Pour onto a buttered cookie sheet. Lay Hershey bars on top and spread chocolate after it melts. Sprinkle with chopped pecans, if desired. Break apart after toffee has completely cooled.

Second Place: Dark Chocolate Peppermint Buttercream Cupcakes by Madaline Ross

Makes 12 cupcakes

Dark Chocolate Cupcakes


1 c cake flour

½ c cocoa powder

½ t baking soda

¼ t baking powder

1 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

½ c unsalted softened butter

1 c sugar

2 large eggs

2 t vanilla extract

¾ c buttermilk


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 12 cupcake tin cups with paper liners. Sift the cake flour, cocoa powder, baking soda and baking powder into a medium bowl. Mix in the bittersweet chocolate. With an electric stand mixer (or in a large bowl), beat the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time until well-blended, then mix in the vanilla extract. Add the buttermilk to the butter mixture on low speed and blend well. Slowly add the flour mixture and beat until smooth. Pour batter into lined cupcake pan. Bake for eight minutes, then rotate the pan and bake for another eight minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Place cupcakes on wire rack and cool completely.

Peppermint Buttercream Frosting


½ c unsalted softened butter

½ c trans fat-free vegetable shortening

2 c confectioners’ sugar

¾ t vanilla extract

1 t natural peppermint flavor


With an electric stand mixer (or in a large bowl), beat the butter and vegetable shortening on medium speed until creamy. In a separate bowl, sift confectioners’ sugar. Add the sugar to the butter mixture on low speed until it begins to incorporate. Add the vanilla extract and peppermint flavor and beat at medium-to-high speed until fully incorporated. Spread frosting on cooled cupcakes and sprinkle with crushed candy canes if desired.

Third Place: Apple Crumb Pie with Pub Cheddar Crust by Cindy Grunik

Serves eight

Pie Crust


7 T softened butter

7 T vegetable shortening

3 c flour

¼ t sea salt

¾ c shredded cheddar cheese

6 T water


Blend first five ingredients together, then add water. Chill, then roll dough out to ¼-inch thickness. Line pan with the crust.

Pie Filling


7 c peeled and sliced apples (I use three varieties: Gala, Granny Smith and Fuji)

1 c white sugar

4 T flour

⅛ t sea salt

½ t cinnamon


Blend ingredients together, stirring to evenly coat fruit. Fill pastry shell.

Crumb Topping


4 T softened butter

½ c brown sugar

½ c white sugar

1 c flour

Dash sea salt


Mix ingredients with fork until crumbly. Sprinkle mixture over pie filling. Bake pie at 350 degrees for 45 minutes until golden.

Special thanks to our other contest participants: Short-cut Strudel by Dean Rosen; Cheesecake Ghia by Pat Wilson; Red Velvet Brownies by Maureen Riffle; Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes by Naomi Landis; Christmas Card Cranberry Crunch by Allison Brown; Triple C Bars by Katie Lamkin; Noah’s Awesome Chocolate Raspberry Tart by Noah Kiernan; Berry Berry Yummy Pie by Aviva Kiernan; Gooey Chocolate Caramel Almond Butter Bars by Nancy Spehr; Lemon Meringue Pie by Dayle McCracken; Cranberry White Chocolate Bread Pudding with Amaretto Cream Sauce by Dianne Scheetz; Crème Grinch with White Chocolate Parfait by Bob Brown; Chocolate Pecan Pie by Frank Ledbetter; Classic Red Velvet Cake by Carole Marcum; Concord Grape Pie by Marjorie Courtney; Steen’s Pecan Pie by Nancy Landry; and Poppin’ Peanut Butter Pie by Cindy Grunik.

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