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:
But...it'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
- 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...)