Dessert maven


Carmel woman crowned cookie queen after winning national baking contest

By Chris Bavender

Fifteen years ago, Marsha Brooks was known in her family for burning chocolate chip cookies. Fast forward to today and the Carmel resident is garnering national accolades for her prize-winning cookie recipe.

The 54-year-old was named the grand prize winner of the second annual Bin 27 Port & Cookie Rumble for her port wine blackberry jam and goat cheese Linzer creation.

“I had to create a cookie that paired well with Fonseca Bin 27 port wine,” Brooks said. “This had to be an original recipe so I wanted to work off the cookies I usually bake since I had never had wine and cookies together. I always loved the appetizer when I serve cream cheese, put some kind of hot pepper jelly over it and serve it with crackers. I started to think of how I could incorporate that sweet and fruity taste with the bite from cheese on a cracker.”

Brooks’ recipe was selected from more than 150 submitted on Bin 27’s Facebook page. The recipes were judged by chocolatier Jacques Torres, “Departures” magazine wine columnist Peter Weltman and cookbook author Dorie Greenspan.

“Marsha’s winning Linzer cookie has it all: looks, taste, texture and imagination. It’s also a fooler,” Greenspan said in a statement. “At first glimpse, you’re sure it’s a beautiful, classic Linzer cookie, but one bite and you get the surprise – a hidden layer of tangy honey-lemon goat cheese.”

Winning contests is nothing new

Brooks learned about the contest from a friend.

“I was interested in entering because one of the prizes was two tickets to the Aspen Food and Wine Festival in June, and I have always wanted to go, but the tickets were really expensive,” Brooks said.

She also won a Kitchen Aid 7-quart stand mixer and a Kitchen Aid induction range.

But Brooks said she is no stranger to winning recipes.

“Years ago I won an online contest through Dole for an eggs and spinach dish. I also won second place one year at Sullivan’s Hardware’s grilling contest for a hamburger with sautéed onions with Marsala wine and blue cheese,” she said. “I also made the bun and used the grill to bake it.”

And, if her face is familiar, it’s because in 2001 Brooks won a contest sponsored by Emeril Lagasse.

“I won an apple pie contest in 2001 right after Sept. 11. I appeared on ‘Good Morning America’ and then had the privilege of serving the pies with Emeril to the rescue workers of Sept. 11,” she said.

‘Dessert is always the explanation’

Brooks isn’t content to rest on her laurels, however – she’s already brainstorming how she can turn her love of baking and the challenge of creating new taste treats into a business.

“I have always felt that people celebrate events in their life through dessert. And dessert is always the explanation of your event. Whether you think dessert is only chocolate or you like fruit in your dessert, or a decorated cookie, it always puts a smile on people’s faces,” she said. “I guess that is my main motivation to bake and make people happy. I haven’t decided yet exactly what I want to do, but I would like to keep the business small and cater to each person’s specific needs.”

But for now, she doesn’t plan to enter any other contests.

“In about two weeks my son and daughter-in-law are expecting a baby, so I will be concentrating on becoming a first-time grandmother,” Brooks said. “I can’t wait to make the cookies announcing that arrival.”

Brooks credits her family for her accomplishments.

“They have been my biggest cheerleaders, even when I have doubted myself and my abilities. I also have done some catering in the past and my husband and three kids and daughter-in-law were always there to help me set up events, carry cupcakes in the rain for me, run to the store at the last minute for forgotten ingredients and be my focus group to help me improve on what I do,” she said. “They have been my best taste testers and supporters.”

She plans to “reward” that support with a special gift – a family cookbook to pass on to each of her children.

“So they can have the recipes from our favorite holidays and desserts that have special memories and meaning to us,” Brooks said. “And I know this sounds really cliché, but when I am cooking for a holiday or baking for my family and friends, it really is my expression of love for them.”


Port Wine Blackberry Jam and Goat Cheese Linzer Cookies

A modern take on the Linzer cookie that makes the perfect treat to enjoy with a glass of Fonseca Bin 27 port wine

Yields 3 dozen 2-inch sandwich cookies

2/3 cup walnuts
½ cup brown sugar, divided
2½ cups flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ cup powdered sugar
1 cup port wine blackberry jam (recipe below can be made up to two days in advance)
4 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 teaspoon honey
Zest of one lemon

Preheat the oven to 350. Spread the walnuts on a baking sheet and toast 6 to 8 minutes being careful not to burn. Let cool. In a food processor, add the walnuts and ¼ cup of brown sugar and process until finely ground. In a small bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and salt together and set aside. In a large bowl, beat the softened butter and the remaining brown sugar until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the walnuts and flour mixture. Mix until just combined. With floured hands, form dough into two balls. Wrap each ball in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about two hours (the dough can be made up to two days ahead and refrigerated).

Preheat the oven to 350. Working with one dough ball at a time, remove the dough from the refrigerator. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to about 1/8 inch thick. Cut the dough into circles using a 2-inch cookie cutter. Cut a small circle in the center of half the cookies. Continue with the second dough ball. Put cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet one inch apart and bake for 8 to 9 minutes or until the edges are golden. Transfer to wire racks to cool completely.

Port wine blackberry jam ingredients
3 cups blackberries
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup Fonseca Bin 27 port wine
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon lemon juice

Toss blackberries and sugar together in a bowl. Add Fonseca Bin 27, let macerate and refrigerate at least four hours or best overnight. Pour blackberries with all the liquid into a medium saucepan. Warm the berries over medium heat until softened. Press the mixture through a fine mesh sieve or food mill to remove the seeds. Place the purée and any liquid back into the saucepan and heat to a boil. Combine the cornstarch and 2 tablespoons of the heated liquid and stir until no lumps remain. Pour cornstarch mixture back into the pot and heat until thickened. Transfer to a bowl and mix in lemon juice. Refrigerate until cool, where it will thicken even more.

How to assemble the cookies
Combine the softened goat cheese, honey and lemon zest. Lightly sprinkle powdered sugar onto the cookies with the holes in their center. On the remaining cookies, spread ¼ to ½ teaspoon of the goat cheese mixture onto their bottom, being careful not to break the cookies. Spread a heaping ¾ teaspoon of jam onto the cheese. Top with the powdered sugar cookie and lightly press together, making sure the jam does not come out the sides. Repeat the process and sandwich the remaining cookies in the same manner.

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