Kenosha’s Donna Juzwik is a cookie master

Kenoshan Donna Juzwik talks about her We Energies Cookie Book collection.

For someone who makes several dozen cookies every Christmas season, Donna Juzwik’s favorite is simple: The classic chocolate chip cookie.

“There’s nothing better than a warm chocolate chip cookie,” she said on a recent afternoon.

Juzwik has been baking since childhood and likes to try new recipes all the time.

But she still comes back to her favorites.

As we chatted about cookies, she sat in her cozy living room, surrounded by her collection of 33 We Energies Cookie Books, which she’s been collecting for several years.

“I started collecting the Cookie Books in the early ’70s,” she said. “I have my mom’s and my grandmother’s books, too, all the way back to 1939.”

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Juzwik has a personal connection to the 2018 Cookie Book, the 90th anniversary issue.

“I submitted my grandmother’s recipe for ‘Rocks,’ which is included in that edition, on Page 10,” she said. “Three generations of my family had those cookies at grandma’s house at Christmas. I received 10 copies of that year’s book, which I shared with my family.” (Sadly, she didn’t get a month of free heating, just the Cookie Books.)

Admittedly, “Rocks” isn’t the most charming name for a cookie, but the cookie testers at We Energies deemed them worthy of cookie immortality.

The drop cookies — which we’re assuming resemble “rocks” — are primarily made up of butter, sugar, dates and walnuts. A similar recipe is featured in the 1932 Cookie Book, meaning generations of cookie fans have been happily munching on “rocks.”

Award winners

Juzwik is also an award-winning cookie baker herself.

In 2013, her recipe for Almond Chocolate Biscotti won second place in the Kenosha News Cookie Contest. At the time, she said the secret was using a cake mix.

“I love these cookies, but they’re usually too much work,” Juzwik told the Kenosha News at the time.

An Italian twice-baked cookie, biscotti can be labor intensive, but Juzwik found a shortcut recipe in Quick Cooking magazine. She also modified the recipe to make the cookies smaller.

In other words, she found a way to have her cake and cookies, too.

For the 2014 Kenosha News Cookie Contest, Juzwik won first place — chosen by the public after a bake-off at Stinebrink’s Piggly Wiggly — for her Pistachio Cranberry Cookies.

Juzwik tried a basic pistachio cookie recipe and then added cranberries “so they would be green and red,” she said.

If you’re sensing a trend here, you’re correct. Juzwik enjoys tweaking recipes for her family and friends.

She also exchanges recipes with her longtime friend — and daily walking buddy — Janet Germinaro, who she calls “the real cookie queen.”

Busy baker

While Juzwik ramps up her baking for the Christmas season, she bakes all year, especially “for all the holidays. I bake for Halloween and Easter and Valentine’s Day, too. I love to share the cookies with my kids and grandkids.”

Starting in December, Juzwik bakes at least 12 varieties of cookies, making about eight dozen of each type.

“I love to do the tried-and-true recipes,” she said, “and also to try at least one new recipe each year.”

While we talked, Juzwik pages through a huge binder in which she collected and organized her recipes.

Though she loves the classics, Juzwik also enjoys “the putzy baking. I like to do all the decorating that make the cookies special.”

She also makes fudge (which can be notoriously “putzy”) and adds a fun seasonal touch: “I mold it into the shape of a wreath, with a bow made out of licorice.”

Besides her Chocolate Chip Cookies — she uses “the Mrs. Field’s recipe with powdered oatmeal, which gives it some substance” — Juzwik has classics that come out of her oven every December: Pecan Nut Cups, Pretzel Turtles (made with Rolo candies), Toffee Pretzel Bark (from Germinaro) and those Kenosha News award winners, Almond Chocolate Biscotti and Pistachio Cranberry Cookies.

Juzwik also loves gingerbread cookies and offers this fun decorating tip: “If you turn the gingerbread man cookie cutter upside down and spread out the legs, it looks like a reindeer, with the ‘legs’ as the antlers.”

Getting started

For bakers who are new to the Christmas cookie rush, Juzwik advises shopping grocery store specials weeks ahead of time.

“I buy butter and butter-flavored Crisco when they are on sale,” she said. “I start getting the basics I need, like sugar and flour, when the prices are good.”

Her other tip for beginners?

“Start with something simple, like a Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, and move on from there,” she said.

And if you’re pressed for time?

“Mix up a batch of the cookie dough and toss it into the refrigerator overnight,” she advises. “Then you can bake it when you have the time. Just pace yourself so it’s not overwhelming.”

When asked why she spends all this time, energy and money on baking for her family and friends, Juzwik answers immediately.

“Everybody loves cookies.”

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