Cookies crumbled with a sugar coating of good cheer at the 6th annual Cookies, Cocktails and a Cause Ladies Night sponsored by the Darien/Norwalk YWCA.

Attendees at the Dec. 4 fundraiser at Nielsen's Florist marveled at the 61 cookie entries, discussed the definition of a cookie, deliberated over the handful of semi-finalists, and fought off a sugar high before choosing Alyson Johnson's Chocolate Mint Cringles as the overall winner.

Johnson, a first-time entrant, was stunned that her cookie took top honors. "I've never made anything from scratch," she said. "I looked for a festive, but not too difficult recipe, said Johnson, who baked that morning while her kids were in school. Her winning entry was a chocolate cookie sprinkled with powdered sugar and topped with a white-and-red peppermint Hershey's kiss.

Joe Viesta, owner of Michael Joseph's Fine Foods & Catering, said cookies were judged on appearance, taste, texture and originality by the four judges who have selected the winner each year. They were joined by guest judge Jill Stelben, winner of last year's cookie contest. Stelben used a recipe for Welsh tea cakes that has been a holiday tradition in her family since the 1970s, and Viesta used her recipe for his catering menu.

"Each year we come up with a clear-cut favorite, said judge Gary Newman, a chef at Michael Joseph's.

Viesta said quite a few chocolate-chip cookies were entered this year, but over all there was a great variety of holiday and everyday confections. Heather Cavanaugh, executive director of the YWCA, said this year's event drew the most entries in its history.

"It's overwhelming. There are so many different kinds of cookies. This year seems to be the most unique, original, out of the box," said Justin Viesta, co-owner of Michael Joseph's and Joe's son -- and he didn't mean a "box" of pre-mixed ingredients.

There were gingersnaps topped with crushed candy canes, and real gingerbread men, sugar cookies, Linzer cookies, crescent cookies, frosted lemon cookies, bar cookies, and third place winner Georgia Solomon's Ho Ho Coal Oreo ball cookies that resembled lumps of anthracite.

"A lot of good ones this year," said Mary Colacurcio, judge and executive pastry chef at Michael Joseph's.

Points for originality probably went to second-place winner Ann Marie Mallie, Solomon's next-door neighbor. She made a pistachio tuile cookie that was quite tasty and resembled mini taco shells.

Beth Garrabrant of Darien decorated her plate of Italian ricotta cookies with sprigs of variegated holly.

Some bakers presented their entries in decorative holiday boxes and fancy paper plates. One woman went the extra mile placing hers on a silver platter. Another went to the opposite extreme handing hers over to the judges in a large re-sealable plastic bag.

Those who participated in the baking challenge were able to swap cookies with fellow competitors at the end of the event, which attracted a sold-out crowd of 150 people.

"I didn't realize it was a competition," said Liz Haines, a newcomer to Darien. She thought it was a local cookie swap until judge's handed her a number for her entry. Haines made a gingerbread man recipe from her mother-in-law.

Jennifer Clemow, committee chairwoman, said the YWCA's event is becoming a local holiday tradition and a fitting way to kick off the holiday season. Last year's event raised more than $7,400 for the YWCA Darien/Norwalk and its community outreach programs. This year's proceeds will benefit the YWCA's Job Search Support for Women and Parent Awareness programs.