4 cook-off winners get their just desserts

By Briana Stewart, photography by David Blackhurst


There’s just something about dessert.

It’s the crème de la crème of food — and dinner’s “happy ending.”

And what better place for happy endings than Happy Valley?   In our July/August issue, we called for local cooks everywhere to send in their best dessert recipe. And with pinches of originality and dashes of creativity, piles of recipes made their way into our inboxes (and our hearts). In the end, we could only select four winners (our waistlines made us draw the line somewhere). So without further ado, meet our dessert connoisseurs, magnet their recipes to your fridge and find out how they sweet-talked their way to success.


Top Chef: Shanda Blake, Saratoga Springs
Top Dessert: Grandma Blake’s Sugar Cookies
The Backstory: “This recipe goes back four generations in the Blake family. The original recipe called for cream or half-and-half instead of milk. All the Blakes love making sugar cookies around Christmas time.”

Cooking Since: “I’ve always enjoyed cooking. I remember helping my mom when I was young.”

What inspires you to cook: “My six kids. I try and cook healthy things most of the time, but there needs to be balance.”

Favorite Holiday Food: “Mmmmm. My mother-in-law’s homemade coconut cream pie!”

Favorite Comfort Food: “Homemade bread! There’s nothing better than a bowl of homemade soup and homemade bread … especially in the winter.”

Favorite Chef:“My dad. He can make something out of nothing!”


Grandma Blake’s Sugar Cookies:


1/2 C. butter (softened)

1 C. sugar

2 eggs

1 T. canned milk (or regular milk)

2 t. vanilla

3 C. flour

1 t. baking powder

1/2 t. baking soda


1. In a large bowl, cream together butter,

sugar, eggs, milk and vanilla.

2. Combine flour, baking powder and baking

soda in a separate bowl.

3. Add dry mixture to wet ingredients in thirds, beating in between.

4. Chill for one hour in the refrigerator.

5. Roll dough out on a lightly floured surface and cut into shapes.

6. Place on a greased cookie sheet and bake at 350 degrees for eight to 10 minutes. Do not over bake!



1/2 C. butter (softened)

1 t. vanilla

3 T. milk

4-5 C. powdered sugar


1. Cream the butter, vanilla and milk together, and gradually add the powdered sugar while mixing until you have a stiff, but creamy, frosting.


Top Chef: Mindika Nordfelt Thiebaud, Orem
Top Dessert: Cranberry Orange Cheesecake
The Backstory: “Several years ago I was asked to create a cranberry dessert recipe for a cooking class. I was in a cheesecake phase at the time, so putting the two together just seemed like a good idea.”

COOKING SINCE “I got my Easy Bake Oven as a girl. I am sooo Monica from ‘Friends’ — in more ways than just cooking!”

WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO COOK “Everything! I have always loved to cook, and I’m not sure why. I think it’s in my DNA. Both my grandmothers and my mother are great cooks. It’s also my creative outlet. I find it completely fulfilling and even better when I can share the food with friends or family.”

FAVORITE HOLIDAY FOOD “I do love Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. It’s the one time of year I don’t hold back on the potatoes. They get lots of heavy cream and real butter. Heart attack on a plate, but they are To. Die. For.”

FAVORITE ‘COMFORT’ FOOD “For me, comfort comes in two forms: salty and sweet. For salty it’s usually french fries or potato chips. Sweet would have to be cupcakes — any size or flavor. I do not discriminate!”

GO-TO RECIPE “When I really need to impress, I’ve never failed with good roast pork tenderloin and my cheesy twice-baked mashed potatoes.”

FAVORITE CHEF “That’s a hard one … can I just say Food Network? I love them all! From Ina Garten, Sandra Lee, Tyler Florence, Giada de Laurentiis, Paula Deen … they are all amazing and inspiring. Well, except Bobby Flay. He kind of bugs me! I secretly love it when he loses on ‘Throw Down.’”

FAVORITE COOKBOOK “It’s not really a cookbook, but I’m in love with Cuisine at Home Magazine. They do so much more than just give you recipes. They give cooking tips, demonstrate techniques, teach about unique ingredients and have amazing recipes to-boot. If you love to cook, definitely subscribe. And they should be paying me for this endorsement.”




1 C. crushed graham crackers

1/4 C. granulated sugar

1 t. cinnamon

1/4 C. butter melted



1 1/2 C. granulated sugar

4 – 8 oz. packages cream cheese; softened

1/2 C. heavy cream

4 eggs

1/4 C. all purpose flour

1 C. sour cream

1 1/2 t. orange extract

Zest of 2 oranges

1 – 14oz. bag frozen cranberries;

thawed, drained (reserve juice)


1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

2. Spray a 10” spring form pan with cooking spray.

3. Combine crushed graham crackers, sugar, cinnamon and butter. Press into the bottom of the spring form pan. Be sure to press evenly. Place pan into the freezer.

4. In a large mixing bowl, beat sugar and cream cheese on medium-high speed until well blended; about three to four minutes.

5. Blend in cream. Add eggs one at a time, incorporating each egg before you add the next.

6. Add flour, sour cream, orange extract and orange zest. Mix until well incorporated.

7. Fold in thawed and drained cranberries.

8. Pour the batter into the spring form pan.

9. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour. Then turn off the oven and let the cake cool in the oven for two hours.

10. Remove and refrigerate for an additional four to six hours before serving. Serve with orange glaze. (see recipe below)



Juice of 2 oranges or 1/2 C. juice

Drained cranberry juice; about 1/4 C. (don’t worry if it’s not that much)

1 T. lemon juice

1 C. sugar

3 T. corn syrup

1 t. orange extract


1. Combine all ingredients in a heavy sauce pan.

2. Bring to a boil over high heat.

3. Reduce to medium heat and allow to boil for five to seven minutes.

4. Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. (The syrup will thicken and set up as it cools.)

5. Serve by drizzling over each slice of cheesecake.


Top Chef: Jessica Kelly Crapo, Highland
Top Dessert: Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls
The Backstory: I was on a pumpkin craze one fall, so I decided to combine cinnamon rolls with pumpkin. I probably ate half a dozen myself with that first batch! I’ve been adjusting it for a couple years until I got it to what I think is perfect. The challenge was getting enough pumpkin flavor to make it distinct from a typical cinnamon roll.”

COOKING SINCE “Since I can remember. My mom was great about involving us with her cooking, even as little kids. But it wasn’t until college that I really became interested in new recipes beyond my mom’s recipe box.”

WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO COOK “The opportunity to eat what I make! But I also enjoy the process. I love the aromas of meals cooking — it just makes home feel more cozy to me. I also feel it’s a little service for your family or whomever you cook for — everyone has to eat, but making something great that they love is a fulfilling service for me.”

FAVORITE HOLIDAY FOOD “I love foods that become holiday traditions. We will set aside a night to watch ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and drink wassail, homemade popcorn, oranges and apples.”

GO-TO RECIPE “Pasta. I love pasta al forno. One of my favorite dishes is taking cooked pasta and your favorite marinara or leftover spaghetti sauce, throwing it in a greased casserole dish, sprinkle with parmesan, then drizzle a little cream or half and half on top and bake for 30 minutes or so. We love that.”

FAVORITE CHEF “Paula Deen. I love when she’ll present her dish beautifully, then dig a big spoonful out of the middle and eat it, trying to tell the audience how good it is with her mouth full. She has a passion for cooking and eating I identify with. Plus, I appreciate those that don’t hesitate to use butter or cream in their recipes.”

FAVORITE COOKBOOK “‘Lion House Recipes’ and ‘Lion House Desserts.’ I love their rolls. These cookbooks have recipes I was raised on and remind me of home and living on what we called ‘farm food’ — meat and potato dinners, casseroles, and using ingredients from the garden we had to work in growing up.”

Pumpkin Cinnamon Rolls


1/4 C. warm water

2 1/2 t. yeast

1 t. sugar

1/2 C. milk

2 eggs

1 C. canned pumpkin puree

1/3 C. margarine, melted

1/2 C. sugar

1/2 t. nutmeg

1/4 t. cloves

1 t. salt

5-6 C. flour



2/3 C. canned pumpkin puree

1/2 C. butter, room temperature

1 C. packed brown sugar

2 T. cinnamon



4 oz. cream cheese, room temperature

3 T. butter

1/2 t. vanilla

2 – 2 1/2 C. powdered sugar



1. Combine warm water, yeast and teaspoon of sugar in small bowl. Stir until yeast is dissolved. Let stand until froth doubles.

2. In mixer fitted with dough hook, combine milk, eggs, pumpkin, margarine, the 1/2 cup sugar, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Mix until smooth.

3. Add 4 cups flour to mixing bowl. Pour frothed yeast mixture on top of flour. Knead about five minutes, adding the rest of the flour 1/2 cup at a time. Dough should be smooth and moist, but not sticky.

4. Spray a bowl with non-stick cooking spray. Place dough in bowl. Cover with wet towel or plastic wrap that is sprayed with non-stick cooking spray. Allow to rise until doubled, about one hour.

5. While dough is rising, prepare filling. Place room temperature butter and pumpkin puree in small bowl. Using electric mixer, beat until mixture is smooth. In another small bowl, combine brown sugar and cinnamon.

6. Pour dough out on slightly floured surface. Roll into a rectangle 16×21 inches, dough should be about 1/4-inch thick. Spread the pumpkin/butter mixture over rectangle. Next, evenly spread the sugar/cinnamon mixture on top, slightly pressing it into the dough.

7. Roll up long side of dough, forming long tube. Cut tube with sharp knife about every two inches, making 12 rolls. Place rolls in lightly greased 9×13 baking pan. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes.

8. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

9. Bake rolls in oven until golden brown, about 15 to 20 minutes. While rolls are baking, beat together cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar and vanilla extract to make frosting. Spread frosting on warm rolls before serving. Optional: Sprinkle a little nutmeg on top as garnish.


Top Chef: Julie-Jann Wadman, Saratoga Springs
Top Dessert: Hot chocolate fudge cakes
The Backstory: “It’s from one of my cooking magazines. I have an obsession with food magazines.”


COOKING SINCE “Forever! My mother is a wonderful cook. I remember cooking at a very young age and enjoying my time in the kitchen with her and my sisters.”

WHAT INSPIRES YOU TO COOK “Most of my ‘fun’ cooking is done for my Web-based magazine, CraziBeautiful.com. I love looking at food magazines and seeing how they photograph their recipes, which inspires me to cook and photograph at the same time!”

FAVORITE HOLIDAY FOOD “My mother’s English Toffee. It’s an old family recipe from a relative who owned a candy shop in Europe.”

FAVORITE COMFORT FOOD “Seasoned mashed potatoes.”

GO-TO RECIPE “Five cheese vegetarian lasagna.”

FAVORITE CHEF “Ina Garten. She’s adorable, beautiful and down to earth … and knows how to cook!”

FAVORITE COOKBOOK “I love old ward cookbooks. They’re down-home recipes and honest to taste!” UV


3.4 oz. all-purpose flour (about 3/4 C.)

2/3 C. unsweetened cocoa

1 1/2 t. baking powder

1/4 t. salt

1/4 C. unsalted butter, softened

2/3 C. granulated sugar

2/3 C. packed brown sugar

1 C. egg substitute

1 1/2 t. vanilla extract

1 bar chocolate, finely chopped

2 t. powdered sugar



1. Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife, sift together flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt.

2. Place butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed for one minute. Add granulated and brown sugars, beating until well blended. Add egg substitute and vanilla, beating until well blended. Fold flour mixture into sugar mixture, fold in chocolate. Dividing batter evenly among 10 (4-ounce) ramekins; arrange ramekins on a jelly-roll pan. Cover and refrigerate for one hour or up to two days.

3. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

4. Let ramekins stand at room temperature for 10 minutes. Uncover and bake at 350 degrees for 21 minutes or until cakes are puffy and slightly crusty on top. Sprinkle evenly with powdered sugar, serve immediately.


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