Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Sugar Cookie Throwdown

Here's the low down on the throwdown: Five, really six*, contenders this time. Mixed and chilled last night, baked today.  Three called for butter, one for butter and shortening, another straight shortening and finally we substituted butter in the recipe that called for only shortening to see how it turned out.

Check out E's face. I think he's under the impression this is a test.

Jen did the mixing of all the doughs and made few alterations, which I will note. She also did nearly all of the rolling while I took notes as to the nature of the different doughs. We did three runs per recipe. First, 1/8" roll. Next, 1/4". And finally a reroll at the ideal thickness of 3/16". We did this to see how well the dough performed at different thicknesses and then rerolled, which was really telling. Now remember ladies and gents, this is coming straight from a professional and let me just say, she knows her cookies.

The cookies were all different and tasty. It was a tough decision. Let me tell you how it played out...

#1 - Better Homes and Gardens submitted by Ingrid
Pros - All thicknesses rolled nicely.
It was easy to work with and ready to roll straight from the fridge.
Very little flour was needed in rolling.
High marks all around.
Cons - The dough tore easily

Pros - Kept its shape pretty well, little puffing.
Baking time/temp. needed no alteration or adjustment.
The reroll produced a still chewy, not too tough cookie.
Cons - It was a little on the sweet side.
Not much of a crumble to the cookie; almost too moist if that makes sense.

Overall: A chewy, slightly nutty cookie. A very practical, easy to work with kind-of dough. The almond extract was a nice touch.

#2 - Martha Stewart
Pros - All thicknesses rolled nicely.
Very easy to work with. Dough was firm/stiff in rolling and cutting.
Almost no flour was needed in rolling.
High marks all around.
Cons - Tears easily
Needed time out of the fridge before rolling.

Pros - Cookie held its shape beautifully, almost no distortion in baking.
Texture reminded me of shortbread with a nice crumble to it.
Reroll produced a cookie nearly identical to the original.
Baking time/temp. were consistent with no adjustments needed.
Cons - None

Overall: Color and texture were given the highest marks. This dough by far the easiest to work with. These were first pick for two tasters.
One alteration: Recipe called for cognac, which I don't have or use. Lemon extract was substituted.

#3 - Eggnog Sugar Cookies submitted by Azure
Pros - Rolls easily.
Nicely textured dough
No tearing
Cons - 1/8" roll stuck to the board, but 1/4" was much easier to work with.
Sticky dough - needed flipping while rolling the dough to keep it from sticking
Needed more flour in rolling.

Pros - A softer cookie.
Cons - Very much a holiday cookie, not for year-round use. Medium distortion to shapes in baking. Baking time needed to be decreased a bit to prevent overbaking.

Overall: You could definitely taste the eggnog in these cookies resulting in a very unique flavor. Very festive. The color was a little different, with an almost peachy-tint to it, due to the eggnog no doubt. These were E's first pick.
One alteration: This recipe made a huge batch. We halved it.

#4 - Sugar Cookies submitted by Ronna
Pros - Very soft texture.
Delicious dough.
Cons - A fragile dough that was tricky to work with.
Very sticky, needing lots of flour to roll out.
Dough wouldn't go back together easily for the reroll.

Pros - Made an enormous amount of cookies, even with the batch halved.
Baking time/temp. needed no adjustments.
Cons - Shapes were greatly distorted in baking.
A little bland, especially compared to dough flavor.

Overall: A very cake-like texture, fluffier than the others. The flavor was subtle could support a more generous amount of frosting than the others, similar to a "Granny B's" type of cookie. It was the most difficult to work with but had the softest texture, all due to the sour cream called for in the recipe.
*One alteration: We substituted butter for shortening in a second batch and the results we very similar, only noting more of a crumble in the butter version.

#5 - Lionhouse Sugar Cookies submitted by Loree
Pros - Firm dough.
Easy to work with.
Rerolled dough was still good to work with.
Holds cut shape well.
Cons - Almost too dry.

Pros - Little distortion in shape after baking.
Baking time/temp. needed no adjustments.
Cons - None

Overall: The classic sugar cookie. Slightly crunchy exterior. Not too sweet. Holds its shape well. Easy to work with. This was the only cookie that was in all testers' top three.
One alteration: The milk (2T.) was inadvertently left out, probably making it drier than it would have been.

You can see the difference in how each cookie kept its shape during baking. 
The one in the middle (#2) performed the best in this test.

The winner, and a close one at that, #5 Lionhouse. This classic cookie was near perfect in all areas. It was tasty all on its own and would also be delicious with frosting. It looked great after multiple rollings and was very easy to work with.

The winner - Lionhouse (#5)

And of course this is all, well mostly, based on opinion. You probably love the recipe you use or you wouldn't be using it. I have found the new recipe(s) I will be using (#2 for me, #5 for the fam) which was the point to all of this. Thanks to all who submitted and allowed their recipe to be scrutinized. I'll let you know when I muster up the strength to do another throwdown. Perhaps in January. Let me know what perfect recipe you are looking for and I'll consider it for the next one.

Finally! It is finished.  Thanks to my sis Jen, the (pastry) chef, we accomplished a huge feat. So go bake a batch already would you?!

**Sorry everyone. I neglected to post the recipes earlier. The winner, Lionhouse, is now linked (above) to a blog with the identical recipe posted already. I can't vouch for the frosting recipe though. I am posting the Martha Stewart recipe (my #1 pick) and the eggnog recipe below. If you want the others, let me know and I'll email them directly to you. Thanks for your patience.

1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 large egg yolks
1 t. vanilla extract
1 T. orange liqueur or cognac (I used lemon extract)
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 t. baking powder
 pinch of salt

Heat oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment. In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add yolks and beat until fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Beat in vanilla and liqueur(extract). Add flour, baking powder, and salt and mix, beginning on low speed and increasing to medium, until flour is just incorporated.

Turn dough out onto a clean surface and divide evenly into 2 portions. Flatten each half to a 1-inch thick disk, wrap in plastic, and refrigerate for at least an hour.

Lightly flour a clean surface. Roll dough to 1/4 inch thick and cut into shapes. (Scraps can be combined and rolled one more time.) Bake until golden, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool.

Azure's Eggnog Cookies (direct from Azure)

2 cups butter, softened
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 cup egg nog
2 tsp vanilla
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
5 1/2 cups flour

Cream butter and sugar. Add vanilla and eggs and egg nog. Add flour, soda and salt. Mix. I usuallly put in the fridge for 1/2 hour or so to firm up before rolling out. But whatever works for you :)! This makes a LOT of cookies, I usually cut it in 1/2...if it's too wet, just add a bit more flour...happy cookie making!


Traci said...

Mishel, you ROCK!!! I love this sort of thing! I would love for you to find the perfect Chocolate cake recipe, but I think after that throwdown, you may never want chocolate cake again and that would be sad! Awesome job!

Ingrid said...

Someone, somewhere, will pay you big bucks to do this sort of thing. Find them, and you have found your dream career!

Thanks for all that hard work. And you are right, I love my recipe or else I wouldn't be using it. Sometime I will try one of your winners and compare the two in my own little mini-throw-down.

PS: I second Traci in the chocolate cake throwdown idea. Do it! I'll submit at least 1 recipe.
Love you!

Cameron/Melissa said...

where are the recipes? I need the recipe for the winner so I can make those wonderful sugar cookies with my kids this Christmas!

Emily said...

This was great. Just before you asked for submissions I was talking to my friend about needing to find the perfect sugar cookie recipe. Now all I need are your recipes.

Around that same time I was really into gingersnap/molasses cookies and had three recipes I wanted to test out, so that's what I did over Thanksgiving with all my in-laws. It was great; I loved it! It wasn't nearly as intensive or scrutinizing as your showdown, but now I know which ones we'll be making in our house from here on out. Another bonus for you: your holiday baking is done!

p.s. I have a chocolate cake recipe to pass along if that will be your next challenge.

Jam said...

I agree with Cameron/Melissa: WHERE are the recipes?
I wonder if I would find the same results in this high altitude desert that you did in sea level humid environment? Thanks!

ps:I have an excellent Brownie recipe that I'll submit when you ask for it. :)

Emily said...

Will you send me your address?

Erin said...

Cute blog Mishel. I just found it from your Christmas card. You are so creative! It is so inspirational. I am now going to link it to my blog (thefeatherstones.blogspot.com) so I can check up on you regularly. Great work! Love Erin