Before she started teaching family and consumer science this school year at Henrico County’s Holman Middle School, Heather Dedie taught physical science there for six years. She’d be the first to tell you that, as a teacher and a home baker, baking cookies in the kitchen and conducting science experiments in a middle school science lab are probably more similar than you might think.

Both involve trial and error with different variables. Both are immensely enjoyable when the results are successful, and equally frustrating when they’re not.

And no matter the place — the kitchen or a science lab — there are always plenty of guinea pigs willing to test the results, especially when the experiment involves cookies.

Dedie, a Henrico native, is the winner of the 2019 Richmond Times-Dispatch Holiday Cookie Contest. Her Vanilla-Dipped Peanut Butter and Maple Cream Sandwich Cookies combined several familiar and complementary flavors into one tasty holiday cookie, a recipe that brought in 175 of this year’s 562 contest votes and earned her a $250 gift card and a goodie bag.

Second place went to Alison Kent’s no-bake, Canadian-inspired Salted Tahini Nanaimo Bars, while Keya Wingfield’s Chocolate Peppermint Cookie Bark took third.

In her home last week as her 3-month-old daughter, Violet, watched intently from her swing, Dedie shared that she’s always loved baking even though she grew up in a family full of cooks, not bakers. For her, the kitchen is a sanctuary, a place where she can relax and have fun and play around with recipes.

Her peanut butter sandwich cookies seemingly evolved one element at a time, she explained. She started with the premise of turning a simple cookie into something much better and then added touches as she went.

“People like sandwich cookies [and] I was trying to find a different winter flavor [for the buttercream] that wasn’t overdone,” she said. Pumpkin was out. So was peppermint. Maple, however, was just right. While a naked sandwich cookie was good, finding white chocolate baking chips in the pantry led to giving the cookies their finishing touches, she said. Well, that and festive red and green sprinkles.

Update on those sprinkles: They’ve been nixed.

“I just thought they were too much,” she said.

Now that Dedie teaches family and consumer sciences — home ec, to most of us — she said she’ll teach her students how to make a version of her cookies. (They’ll use sugar cookies instead, though, to avoid issues with peanut allergies.)

“I like to put fun combinations together,” she said. “I taught science for so long, so I like ... the science of cooking, the chemistry.”

That, and “it brings a lot of joy.”

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(804) 649-6945

— Alison Kent

— Keya Wingfield

— Heather Dedie

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