The winner of the 2013 Grandma’s Greatest Cookie Contest is a grandpa.

Steve Jokinen, a 61-year-old maintenance mechanic for the city, took first place Thursday at Independence Village, 2945 Reynolda Road.

“I have a 4-year-old granddaughter, and she rules the world,” he said.

Independence Village, an apartment community for seniors, sponsors the contest. The proceeds benefit the Alzheimer’s Association.

The contest, which is open to the public, requires that contestants be 55 or older. Fortunately for Jokinen, it doesn’t put limitations on gender.

Jokinen wowed the judges with his oversized White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies, with a texture and flavor that really stood out.

“I like to cook in general, and especially to bake,” Jokinen said.

He adapted his recipe from Jacques Torres, a nationally known pastry chef and chocolate master.

The recipe looks like an ordinary cookie recipe except for one major detail. The dough sits in the refrigerator at least 24 hours before baking.

“That allows the liquid to incorporate into the dough,” Jokinen said, which gives the baked cookies a superior texture.

Jokinen said that he always chooses the best ingredients he can, such as the Callebaut white chocolate he used in the cookies.

Another neat feature, he said, is the addition of sea salt, which contrasts with the sweetness and adds complexity to the flavor.

Jokinen won a $500 Visa card.

Second place, and a gift basket worth $200, went to Ann Whitley, who made Pecan Dream Bars. “I like the crunch on the bottom, then the good stuff in the middle and the crunch on the top. It’s just a good variety all in one,” she said.

Whitley, a 34-year veteran cashier of K&W Cafeteria who works at the Healy Drive location, almost didn’t compete.

“I wasn’t going to enter this year, and then something told me I should,” she said.

“And it’s for such a good cause,” she said, adding that just this year a good friend with Alzheimer’s moved into a retirement home.

The key ingredient in her bar cookies, she said, is the toffee bits, which do more than just add flavor. “I think they help the filling set up and get firm,” Whitley said.

Patricia “Pete” Jolly Spencer, a part-time teacher in Archdale whose mother, Bernice Jolly, lives at Independence Village, won third place and a $100 gift basket for her ingeniously simple Ritz Cracker Cookies. The crackers are topped with a sugary coating, baked and then decorated with a Hershey kiss. “It’s very simple. It has just five ingredients,” Spencer said. “It has something salty, something sweet, and something chocolate. It’s kid-friendly.”

Grandma’s Greatest Cookie Contest has become quite popular and now draws people from around the county. Last year, it raised $2,500 for the Alzheimer’s Association.

“We hope to at least equal that this year,” said Donna Levesque, the executive director of Independence Village.

The contest had 36 entries this year. It raises money several ways, including sales of the cookies after they are judged. Recipe booklets, which include every recipe entered as well as past winners, are available for $6. T-shirts also are available for $10.

To buy a recipe booklet or T-shirt, call Independence Village at (336) 723-2006.

White Chocolate Cranberry Cookies

Makes about 27 cookies.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons cake flour

1 2/3 cups bread flour

1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda

1½ teaspoons baking powder

1½ teaspoons coarse salt

2½ sticks (1¼ cups) unsalted butter

1¼ cups light brown sugar

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 large eggs

2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract

16 ounces white chocolate (block form), cut into rough pieces

12 ounces dried cranberries

Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and coarse salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Add chocolate carefully and then cranberries. Press plastic wrap down into bowl against dough and then press another layer of plastic on top of the bowl’s edge. Refrigerate 24 to 36 hours. (Dough will keep up to 72 hours and can be used in batches.)

3. When ready to bake, heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 9 mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, in 3 rows of 3 equally spaced mounds. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. (This recipe requires about three baking sheets. You may want to bake one sheet at a time on the middle rack for even baking.)

First place, submitted by Steve Jokinen, adapted from a recipe by Jacques Torres.

Pecan Dream Bars

Makes 2 dozen.

1½ cups all-purpose flour

1¾ cups firmly packed (light) brown sugar, divided use

½ cup (1 stick) butter, cold

4 large eggs

½ cup light corn syrup

1/3 cup butter, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1½ cups chopped pecans

8 ounces toffee bits

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 13-by-9-inch baking pan. In a small bowl, combine flour and ¾ cup of the brown sugar. Cut in butter with a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Press mixture evenly into prepared pan. Bake 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a medium bowl combine eggs, remaining 1 cup brown sugar, corn syrup and melted butter, stirring until smooth. Stir in vanilla, pecans and toffee bits. Pour mixture over the hot baked crust. Bake 30 minutes, or until set.

3. Cool completely before cutting into squares.

Second place, submitted by Ann Whitley.

Ritz Cracker Cookies

Makes about 60 cookies.

1 cup (light) brown sugar, packed

1 stick (½ cup) butter

1 cup finely chopped pecans

2 sleeves Ritz crackers (half of a 15.1-ounce box)

1 19.75-ounce bag Hershey kisses

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix brown sugar, butter and pecans in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Remove from heat.

2. Spread crackers in a single layer on a cookie sheet (or sheets). Spoon 1 teaspoon pecan mixture on each cookie. Bake 10 minutes.

3. While cookies are baking, unwrap about 60 Hershey kisses. (There will be leftover kisses in the bag.) As soon as cookies are done, while they are still warm, quickly put a Hershey kiss on top of each cookie. If necessary, return cookie sheet to turned-off oven for about 1 minute to melt the kisses just enough to get them to adhere to the cookies. Cool completely on the counter or a wire rack before serving.

Third place, submitted by Patricia “Pete” Jolly Spencer.

(336) 727-7394

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