This recipe was the 2002 winner of the Beacon Journal's holiday cookie contest. It was submitted by Betty Hilton of Mogadore, and has remained a reader favorite since.

ALMOND CREMES

1 cup flour

6 tbsp. chilled butter


3½ tbsp. half-and-half, divided


¾ cup sifted confectioners' sugar, plus extra for dipping


1 tbsp. softened butter


1/8 tsp. almond extract

Place flour in a medium bowl. Cut chilled butter into small pieces. Cut into flour with a pastry blender until crumbs are the size of small peas.

Reserve 1 tablespoon half-and-half for use in the filling. Sprinkle one of the remaining tablespoons over part of the flour mixture and toss with a fork to moisten. Sprinkle another tablespoon over more of the flour mixture and toss with a fork. Sprinkle the last half-tablespoon over the flour mixture and toss to moisten.

Gather dough into a ball. Do not knead or handle the dough more than is necessary. Divide dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll out to slightly less than ?-inch thick. Cut into 1½-inch squares.

Dip one side of each dough square in confectioners' sugar. Place a half-inch apart, sugared sides up, on ungreased cookie sheets. With a fork, prick each cookie in parallel rows. Bake at 375 degrees for 8 minutes, or until golden and puffy. Cool on wire racks.

While pastry cools, make the almond filling by combining the ¾ cup confectioners' sugar, softened butter, almond extract and reserved 1 tablespoon half-and-half. Beat until smooth, adding liquid or sugar if necessary to achieve a thick spreading consistency.

When the cookies are completely cool, sandwich in pairs with almond filling. You can garnish the tops with a bit of filling and toasted almond slices. Store at room temperature, loosely covered.

Makes 2½ dozen.