Mom’s Toffee wins cookie contest

Tahoe City’s Tiana Bisnar took 1st place in the 4th Annual Christmas Cookie Contest with her delightful Mom’s Toffee recipe. Entries were scored by Tahoe Weekly staff on appearance, texture and flavor.


“I’m all about the toffee,” commented one judge.

“I am delighted to be the Christmas Cookie Contest winner! My mom would be proud,” Bisnar said after learning that she won, noting that she wanted to be able to honor her late mother, Tulla Bisnar, by entering the recipe in the contest.

Ashley Hughes of Tahoe Donner took 2nd Place in the contest with her Powder Day Peanut Clusters. Hughes’ recipe was also a family favorite, shared with her by a family friend who passed away on the day of the contest.

“Our family friend who gave me the recipe, Jesse Yates, passed away today of a massive stroke at age 88. … So a nice tribute to Jesse that they were selected, thank you,” Hughes said after learning of her winning entry.

Vanessa Guajardo of Carnelian Bay took 3rd Place with her Unity Cookies, which were packed full of goodies for a wonderful holiday treat. “It’s the cookie you make when you want to please everyone; if that’s ever possible,” she said.

The judges were all blown away by another of her entries – the Buche de Noel. The classic French Christmas dessert was the judges’ favorite, but was not eligible for judging in this year’s contest since the contest was limited to holiday goodies that could be eaten with your fingers.

Given Guajardo’s entry and interest by other local cooks to enter other desserts, next year we’ll be expanding our contest to include all holiday desserts. And, you’ll find the recipe for the Buche de Noel at

Thank you to all of the delicious entries that we received this year. We look forward to enjoying more delights at the 5th Annual Christmas Cookie & Holiday Dessert Contest in 2016. Happy Holidays!


1st Place

Tiana Bisnar of Tahoe City

Mom’s Toffee

For my family, Christmas is not complete without the sweet smell of caramelizing butter and sugar. Making toffee was my mom’s Christmas tradition. Some years ago, cancer took her away from us. Now, I keep the memory of her alive through the continued tradition of making toffee during the holidays.


1 C sugar

1 stick butter

3 T water

1 C chocolate chips

1 C of nuts (whatever kind is desired. I use almonds or walnuts)

Spread ½ Cup of nuts on a cookie sheet and set aside. Melt together butter, sugar and water in a pan on high heat. Stir constantly.

Once the mixture turns golden brown, spread over the nut-covered cookie sheet. After a minute or so, sprinkle chocolate chips on top of toffee and smooth out the chocolate evenly. Sprinkle the remaining ½ Cup nuts on top of the chocolate-covered toffee. Let cool completely then break apart into bite-sized pieces.

2nd place

Ashley Hughes of Tahoe Donner

Powder Day Peanut Clusters

I grew up in Kansas City and at the start of every holiday season a good friend of my mom’s would bring by a plate of holiday goodies, including the peanut clusters, which were always my favorites. I’ve been making them for the holidays ever since. They were originally called Spanish Peanut Clusters but I renamed them for the mountains.


6 oz. semi-sweet chocolate chips

12 oz. butterscotch chips

12 oz. roasted Spanish peanuts (not raw)

Melt chips in the microwave in a glass bowl, approximately 90 seconds. Stir until melted, and add peanuts until mixed.

Drop by the spoonful onto cookie sheets (line with parchment or waxed paper if the sheets aren’t nonstick) and put in the fridge to set.

Then, go ski!

Makes approximately 30 clusters, to take on the slopes for a snack on the lift, share with family and friends, and devour when you get home after a day of fresh powder. Easy and delicious.



3rd place

Vanessa Guajardo of Carnelian Bay

Unity Cookies

After years of baking, I decided to try using all brown sugar versus white and brown sugar. I feel like it gives the cookies a richer taste. And, I also add an extra egg for moisture, allowing the cookie to stay soft for weeks after being baked.


½ C white chocolate chips

½ C butterscotch chips

½ C milk chocolate chips

½ C dark chocolate chips

½ C chopped pecans

2¼ C all-purpose flour

1 t baking soda

2 t salt

1 C butter

2 C packed brown sugar

1 t vanilla extract

3 large brown eggs

Preheat the oven to 385 degrees Fahrenheit.

Soften 2 sticks of butter (20 to 30 seconds in the microwave will do the trick if the butter has been refrigerated).

Mix in brown sugar, 1 cup of flour, salt and vanilla for some great tasting cookie dough.

Add the baking powder, eggs and the rest of the flour and stir thoroughly. Next, add the array of chips and the chopped pecans and your ready to bake.

Take about 2 tablespoons of cookie dough and either roll the dough in the palm of your hand for a smooth cookie finish or drop the dough directly on a butter-greased cookie sheet for a classic look.

Cook for 9 minutes at 385 degrees and enjoy.


Judges’ Pick

Vanessa Guajardo of Carnelian Bay

Buche de Noel

Buche de Noel is the French name for a Christmas cake shaped like a log. This one is a heavenly, flourless chocolate cake rolled with chocolate whipped cream. Traditionally, Buche de Noel is decorated with confectioners’ sugar to resemble snow on a Yule log.


Cream filling

2 C heavy cream

½ C confectioners’ sugar

½ C unsweetened cocoa powder

1 t vanilla extract


6 egg yolks

½ C white sugar

1/3 C unsweetened cocoa powder

1 ½ t vanilla extract

1/8 t salt

6 egg whites

¼ C white sugar

Confectioners’ sugar for dusting

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Line a 10×15 inch glass pan with parchment paper. Prepare the cream filling.

Cream Filling

In a large bowl, whip cream, confectioners’ sugar, cocoa and vanilla until thick and stiff. Refrigerate.


Use an electric mixer to beat egg yolks with sugar until thick and pale. Blend in cocoa, teaspoons vanilla and salt. Set aside.

In large glass bowl, using clean beaters, whip egg whites to soft peaks. Gradually add sugar and beat until whites form stiff peaks. 

Fold the yolk mixture prepared above into the whites. Spread the batter evenly into the prepared pan. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until the cake springs back when lightly touched. 

Dust a clean dishtowel with confectioners’ sugar. 

Run a knife around the edge of the pan, and turn the warm cake out onto the towel. 

Remove the parchment paper. 

Starting at the short edge of the cake, roll the cake up with the towel. Cool for 30 minutes.

Unroll the cake, and spread the filling to within 1 inch of the edge. Roll the cake with the filling inside. Place seam side down onto a serving plate, and refrigerate until serving.

Dust with confectioners’ sugar before serving.