I’m pretty sure I’ve never used even a pinch of black pepper in any cookie recipe, let alone a half teaspoon. Nor have I considered baking with the tropical flavors of pineapple and coconut while there’s a Christmas tree in my living room and poinsettias on my mantel.

But one bite of a warm spiced cookie flavored with pepper and ginger and allspice and molasses — and another nibble or three of a rich cookie bar that combines buttery shortbread with a tropical vacation — and this baker’s got a whole new appreciation for those who take to the kitchen this time of year.

Dear readers, you worked your magic again. Dozens of entries came to us for the Richmond Times-Dispatch’s annual A Taste of Richmond Holiday Cookie Contest, and they were all, well, uh-mazing. From shortbread bursting with cranberries and orange zest to chewy chocolate cookies filled with minty chunks, the entries were stellar and all deserving of a nod.

Our finalists included Apple Cider Cookies that are intensely reminiscent of the beloved beverage, Almond Joy Cookies for those who love the popular candy, and soft and chewy cookies with hints of orange and cardamom that only get better over a day or two — if they last that long. Monte Carlo Biscuits, an Australian family recipe, are cookies filled with raspberry jam and vanilla buttercream, and Mandle Schnitz are just sweet enough, with lots of chopped almonds that add satisfying crunch.

Lastly, in the vein of cookies that also become other things, try stacking sugar cookie cutouts and then filling the insides with candies — it’s the gift that keeps on giving.

Choosing just 10 cookies was difficult, but now it’s up to you, the readers, to select the grand-prize winner. Go to Richmond.com/Cookie-Contest to vote for your favorite cookie from among this year’s finalists. Voting is open now through Sunday, Dec. 9. The winning baker receives a $250 gift card and a goodie bag, and that recipe will be featured in the Food section Dec. 19.

Happy baking, everyone!


Cranberry Orange Shorties


Spicy Ginger Yummies


Mandle Schnitz


Choco-Mint Jumbles


Almond Joy Cookies


Tropical Temptation Bars


Apple Cider Cookies aka Autumn Cookies


Monte Carlo Biscuits


Christmas Cookie Surprise Boxes


Orange Cardamom Cookies

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