Saturday, December 19, 2009

All Through the Year Cheer: Christmas

Of all the foods that come to mind when I think about the Christmas season, none are more representative of the joyous spirit of the holiday than Christmas cookies.  For the All Through the Year Cheer: Christmas event, I decided to make the quintessential Christmas cookie: the Gingerbread Boy.  The first recipe I ever tried for gingerbread cookies produced sweet, perfectly spiced, soft and chewy cookies.  Every time I baked them people would go nuts for them, and it was the only recipe I used...until now.  This year I decided to branch out a bit and see if I could find a better recipe.  May I present:

The 2009 Great Gingerbread Cookie Bake-Off Throwdown Extravaganza Spectacular!!!  (are you excited yet?!?!)

The first (and most daunting) task for this bake-off was recipe selection.  I had two very specific goals in mind during my search:

1.  The cookie should be soft.  Save the firm gingerbread for houses and ornaments!
2.  The cookie must hold its shape during baking.  There's nothing sadder than using your super-cute gingerbread boy cutter (see end of post) and ending up with bloated ginger amoebas.

Scouring my cookbooks, magazines and the internet, I narrowed it down to three recipes:

1. Cook's Illustrated's Thick and Chewy Gingerbread Cookies
3. Martha Stewart's Gingerbread Cookies

After baking up the the first two recipes, I noted how different they were in both flavor and texture.  Wanting to find a middle ground,  I went ahead and tossed a fourth recipe into the mix--a hybrid cookie, born of two very different but equally tasty recipes.  (The third recipe was similar to the first, but the spice level was quite different.)  It took an entire weekend to get them all rolled, cut and baked, but I happily chugged through my baking marathon.  All cookies were prepared as per recipe instructions, with the only substitution occuring in the Nauvoo recipe--I swapped out shortening for the lard (I didn't know people still used lard!)  For time reasons and because it wasn't that important for my test, I had to forgo decorating.  Here are the lovely contestants:'s what's on the inside that counts.  Here's how they stack up:

The next step was to set up a taste test with my co-workers and a friend outside of work.  Each cookie was cut into small pieces, which were placed in separate labeled (A-D only, no recipe names) tubs with a few whole specimens for sampling.  These were left in the upstairs break room at work for people to sample throughout the day and cast their vote.  Tasters were asked to try each cookie, then select their favorite by writing the corresponding letter on a slip of paper and dropping it in the "Votes Bag".  There were plenty of cookie pieces so tasters could try each cookie more than once if needed.  At the end of the day, I counted the votes and rounded up the empty tubs.

Out of 26 votes (including myself), the winner is...

Cookie 'A'! (The Cook's Illustrated recipe)  This has been my standby since 2006, and not without good reason.  I set out to find that one perfect recipe to make my specialty, but it turns out I didn't need a new recipe after all--I'd been making it all along!

Comments from the taste test and a few of my notes:

Cookie 'A': The Cook's Illustrated Recipe (link)
- Softest/moistest of the four cookies
- Deepest color
- Sweetest
- Most difficult dough to work with due to softness/stickiness
- Least shape retention

Cookie 'B': Nauvoo Gingerbread Recipe (link)
- Cakey; puffiest of the four.
- "Would be better with milk"
- Less spiced than the others (called "bland" and "boring")
- Held its shape the best
- Very easy to roll
- Driest of the 4 doughs

 Cookie 'C': A Cook's Illustrated/Nauvoo hybrid
- A 50:50 hybrid
- Well-liked (received second place finish)
- Ranked #2 for sweetness
- My second favorite

Cookie 'D': Martha Stewart Recipe (link)
- Deemed too spicy (it contains black pepper)
- "Tasted like crab boil" (Ouch.  That one was below the belt.)
- My personal favorite-- and my pick to win (boy was I ever wrong!)
- Good shape retention
- Second puffiest cookie

 One person voted for 'E'.  This could mean one of three things: (1) someone is being a Mr. Smarty Pants (very likely), (2) it was an attempt to vote for "all of the above", or (3) they wanted to vote "none of the above" (I hope that's not true!).  I guess we'll never know, because no one will 'fess up to it!

My co-workers mentioned there might be some bias towards Cookie 'A' because it was the first one tasted, thereby leaving the remaining three to be compared to the standard of  'A'.  However, several of them also informed me that they tasted out of order, so I will dismiss that so-called bias :)  Also, milk or some other palate cleanser would've been helpful.  Several tasters "complained" that they all tasted the same because the spice level was distracting their taste buds.  

Regarding voting methods, I probably should have asked my tasters to rank the cookies instead of selecting their one favorite.  That way I could give each cookie an average score, with the lowest score being the winner.  Oh well, there's always next time!  A fun time was had by all, so I'm sure this will not be the last taste-off I conduct :)

Please visit the All Through Year Cheer page to check out great recipes from our hosts, Faith and Nutmeg Nanny.  The Christmas recipe round-up will be posted in a few days, along with the winner for this event.  Good luck to all!  (Thank you for bearing with me during my longest blog post ever!  Don't worry, almost done...)

Oh yeah...this is the debut of my new gingerbread boy cutter!  How could I forget?  He's been sitting very patiently in my cookie cutter tub for 11 months now.  For those of you who don't know me, I'm very particular about my gingerbread cookie shapes.  Very particular.  Most cutters I've seen have heads that are too small, arms too small, legs wrong shape, too fat, too skinny, weird shape...I could go on and on.  I'd just make do with the standard Wilton® shape, guiltily cutting the feet off and shaping the legs to my liking.  But the good folks over at The Little Fox Factory finally solved my dilemma!  To quote my own post from January '09:

I am deeply indebted to the Little Fox Factory for finally ending my 3-year long search for the classic, foot-free gingerbread boy cookie cutter! (you know, like "Gingey" from Shrek? ) I was so happy when I saw it for sale online that I stared at the computer screen in disbelief for a few minutes, but I was even more delighted when he arrived in my mail box. So cute! Straight legs AND a big head? Perfection. I can die in peace now. And stop lopping off the feet from the cookies made using my usual cutter.


  1. These look soooooo delicious! I think I would have probably picked cookie A or cookie D. I like a thinner spicy gingerbread. I also think it's funny you hate feet on gingerbread men. I don't think I have ever really given it a thought. Then again I own only one cookies and it was free. It's in the shape of the little Tivo mascot. I should probably get some real cookie cutters. You know...since I'm a baking blog and all...haha.

  2. I picked "D", but now that I see "A" won by a mile that will be the recipe that I try! So nice to have blogger friends who do all my leg-work ;)

  3. This is an incredible post! I love the cross section pic, it really shows the moistness/softness of each. I think A & C would be my favorites, since their texture looks similar to my all-time favorite molasses cookies!

  4. OMG, I can't believe this!
    Mike confessed he put "E" just to be funny.
    I really don't think he meant to mess things up. He did say in fact that he liked the one most people liked the best...which I guess would be: A. I can't wait to tell him you blogged about "E." My apologies for my hubby!

  5. Really incredible! This was a great post. So funny that your preformed surgery on your gingerbread people so they would have perfect legs!

  6. This is going to be so helpful- I love reading comparisons. Thank you for posting!

  7. Nutmeg Nanny - Once you start buying cookie cutters, you just might get addicted! I'm not speaking from experience or've been warned!

    Cookie and Cups - I SO badly wanted "D" to win. Oh well. Glad I could help out and to the dirty work!

    Faith - Thanks! The cross-section is one of my favorite pictures too!

    Lindsey - Aha! So he's the culprit! No worries, it was such a landslide win that the "E" vote didn't affect anything.

    Mimi - I know! My sister used to walk in the kitchen and ask, "What are you DOING?" when she'd see me trimming the feet off my gingerbread guys. I can't help's a compulsion. ;)

    Sara - You're welcome. It was really fun to do something like this. Trying to think of what else I can put in a showdown!

  8. What about a chocolate chip cookie showdown...or brownies? I'd be interested in seeing which recipe of these classic treats got the most votes.

  9. Stopping by from the SITS Link Up! My entire family loves gingerbread and I have never made it. This post was great. I love your I have someplace to start!
    Holly @ 504 Main

  10. I love bake-offs of different recipes for the same thing. Thanks for doing this and making it easy for us to find the best one!

  11. Hahaha very cute post! Love the taste test idea and I love the person who chose "e"!

    What is crab boil though? Haha!