Cookie Showdown!

May 19, 2010

Margaux says . . .

Slate Magazine pittedCook’s Illustrated against food52 in a cooking/baking showdown, and of course I had to participate!!  I’ve always been a huge Cook’s Illustrated fan (as you have probably already figured out), and have subscribed to their magazine since I was in college.   I just learned about food52 when Aunt Suzy sent me the article about this competition, and signed up on the spot.  I’m still not 100% sure what they’re all about, but the website has great recipes, and I can’t wait to try some of them out.  The competition stemmed from the two entities coming from completely different places: Cook’s is “America’s Test Kitchen.”  They perfect recipes by testing them over and over, changing small things about them along the way, until they come up with the best.  Food52 is all about the “home cook.”  Its a website started by passionate cooks, who come up with their recipes in their own home kitchens.  So one recipe in the showdown has been tested over and over by professionals.  The other was developed by a home cook.

Just out of curiosity, and to make things interesting in my own house, I also baked a batch of my family’s favorite sugar cookie recipe, “Freaky Sugar Cookies.”  These are the cookies I grew up with, but hadn’t had in several years, and I wanted to see how they held up the professional’s recipes.

So on top of working my part-time job all weekend, I came home each night and baked 3 different batches of cookies.  And now we have sugar cookies coming out of our ears!  Add to it a late-night trek out to Whole Foods due to a missing ingredient, and I’ve had a very busy weekend.  Luckily the recipes were for sugar cookies, which are typically pretty easy to make.  Even the Cook’s recipe just took me a few minutes to whip up, despite having several more ingredients.

And the winner is….Cook’s Illustrated!!  And actually, Freaky Sugar Cookies were a very close second!    There were four testers: me, my husband Jason, my sister-in-law Mandy and her boyfriend Jorge.  The Cook’s recipe was a winner for three of us, but Mandy preferred the food52 recipe.  The Cook’s recipe was liked for both its texture and flavor.  It was crispy on the edges, very chewy on the inside, and was very subtly spicy and not too sweet.  The food52 recipe was too sweet in our opinion (which is why Mandy liked it), and had a cakey texture in the center that we didn’t like.  The flavor actually reminded us of snickerdoodles more than sugar cookies. The Freaky Sugar cookies were a perfect classic sugar cookie, and had an amazingly delicate and crispy texture.  Actually, I almost like them better than the Cook’s recipe!  The Cook’s barely ekes out the win for me just because they’re more interesting due to the spices.

For those of you who are only interested in sugar cookies as a vessel for your frosting, I wouldn’t recommend any of these.  I have a different sugar cookie recipe for that, which you HAVE to try.


(clockwise starting at Desi’s finger: food52, Cook’s Illustrated, mine)

The Recipes:

Cook’s Illustrated Chai Spice Sugar Cookies
Note: The final dough will be slightly softer than most cookie doughs. For best results, handle the dough as briefly and gently as possible when shaping the cookies. Overworking the dough will result in flatter cookies.

Makes two dozen cookies

2¼ cups (11 ¼ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon table salt
1 ½ cups (10 ½ ounces) sugar, plus 1/3 cup for rolling
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
pinch ground black pepper
2 ounces cream cheese, cut into 8 pieces
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and still warm
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1 large egg
1 tablespoon milk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together in medium bowl. Set aside.

2. Combine 1 ½ cups sugar, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, and black pepper in large bowl; add cream cheese. Place remaining 1/3 cup sugar in shallow baking dish or pie plate and set aside. Pour warm butter over sugar and cream cheese and whisk to combine. (Some small lumps of cream cheese will remain but will smooth out later.) Whisk in oil until incorporated. Add egg, milk, and vanilla; continue to whisk until smooth. Add flour mixture and mix with rubber spatula until soft homogenous dough forms.

3. Divide dough into 24 equal pieces about 2 tablespoons each. Using hands, roll dough into balls. Working in batches, roll balls in sugar to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, 12 dough balls per sheet. Using bottom of drinking glass, flatten dough balls until 2 inches in diameter. Sprinkle tops of cookies evenly with 4 teaspoons remaining sugar (2 teaspoons per tray), discarding any remaining sugar.

4. Bake, one tray at a time, until edges are set and beginning to brown, 11 to 13 minutes, rotating tray after 7 minutes. Cool cookies on baking sheets for 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

food52 Chewy Sugar Cookies #2

Serves about two dozen

1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 1/2 cup all-purpose unbleached flour (I use King Arthur)
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup turbinado, or coarse sugar

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two large sheet pans with parchment
paper.

2. Cream butter and sugars for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl. Continue beating for another minute. Scrape bowl again.

3. Add vanilla. Beat for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl.

4. Add egg. Beat for 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl.

5. Add flour, salt and baking soda. Beat 1 minute. Scrape sides of bowl and beat for another
minute.

6. Place course sugar in small, shallow bowl. Using a small cookie/ice cream scoop (mine is 1½ inches in diameter), scoop balls of dough, and drop a few at a time in the course sugar and gently roll around. Place balls of dough on parchment, leaving about 1½ inches of space around each. My pans fit 12 cookies very comfortably.

7. Do not press the balls down. This will ensure a chewy middle.

8. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes, turning and reversing pans midway through baking. Resist the urge to bake your cookies longer, or they won’t be chewy. The tops don’t get much color but the bottoms will be nicely golden.

9. Place pans on cooling racks. When cool, store cookies in air-tight containers.

Freaky Sugar Cookies

makes about 2 dozen

Cream together:
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar

Add:
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla

Sift together and add:
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp cream of tartar
2 cups flour

Form into balls the size of walnuts.  Roll in sugar.  Place on an ungreased cookie sheet.  Flatten with the bottom of a sugared glass to about 1/4″ thick.  Bake at 350 for 10-12 minutes, until they start to brown around the edges.  Let cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes, then transfer to cooling rack.

The dough will be very soft and a little difficult to handle, so be careful!

P.S.  I have a feeling that the food52 recipe is going to win based on all the comments from Slate Magazine readers.  A lot of people have issue with “snooty” Cook’s Illustrated.  I guess they didn’t know that Christopher Kimball is really just a huge food nerd, and not snooty at all!

Brown Sugar Cookies

May 15, 2010

Margaux says

These are the BEST cookies I have ever made. Hands down. It helps that the recipe is from Cook’s Illustrated because they make things pretty much foolproof, they have such detailed instructions. As boring and mundane as the recipe sounds, its not…these cookies are rich and buttery, with a crispy outside and a chewy inside, slightly salty and perfectly sweet. Plus, they’re very easy and require just a few standard ingredients.

14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/4 cup granulated sugar (about 1 3/4 ounces)
2 cups packed brown sugar (14 ounces)
2 cups unbleached flour plus 2 tablespoons (about 10 1/2 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract

Instructions

1. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue to cook, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter to melt; set aside for 15 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large (18 by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. In shallow baking dish or pie plate, mix granulated sugar and 1/4 cup packed brown sugar, rubbing between fingers, until well combined; set aside. Whisk flour, baking soda, and baking powder together in medium bowl; set aside.

3. Add remaining 1 3/4 cups brown sugar and salt to bowl with cooled butter; mix until no sugar lumps remain, about 30 seconds. Scrape down sides of bowl with rubber spatula; add egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix until fully incorporated, about 30 seconds. Scrape down bowl. Add flour mixture and mix until just combined, about 1 minute. Give dough final stir with rubber spatula to ensure that no flour pockets remain and ingredients are evenly distributed. 

4. Divide dough into 24 portions, each about 2 tablespoons, rolling between hands into balls about 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Working in batches, toss balls in reserved sugar mixture to coat and set on prepared baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart, 12 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but it will take 3 batches.)

5. Bake one sheet at a time until cookies are browned and still puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft (cookies will look raw between cracks and seem underdone; see photo below), 12 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Do not overbake.

6. Cool cookies on baking sheet 5 minutes; using wide metal spatula, transfer cookies to wire rack and cool to room temperature.

Checking Doneness:

Achieving the proper texture—crisp at the edges and chewy in the middle—is critical to this recipe. Because the cookies are so dark, it’s hard to judge doneness by color. Instead, gently press halfway between the edge and center of the cookie. When it’s done, it will form an indent with slight resistance. Check early and err on the side of underdone.