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Tales of the Testers: Cookie crumbles

Food52's Chewy Sugar Cookies #2, mine on the right. (Sarah Shatz, left; James M. Thresher for The Washington Post, right)

Funny thing about that Food52 vs. Cook's Illustrated recipe smackdown that my colleague Jane Black wrote about: Folks don't get to vote till Wednesday at Slate about which testers' recipes they like better. (At the plate: chewy sugar cookies and roasted pork.) But I tested both cookie recipes for The Post and have some definite opinions.

Will my input be a spoiler? If you think so, don't keep reading.

It was clear from the start that the Cook's recipe was built by professionals. The vegetable oil and melted butter guarantee chewiness. The spice mixture propels the flavor forward so the cookies don't have to rely on a lesser amount of butter. Flattening the balls of dough ensures they'll bake to the same degree of doneness.

Cook's Chai-Spice Sugar Cookies. (Carl Tremblay)

I made them twice, and they looked just like the photo taken at America's Test Kitchen. This is what lots of people want in a recipe. It should turn out as pictured.

The Food52 recipe was a little less predictable -- at least for me. It was from a contestant identified as mrslarkin, who says she was inspired by a chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe that ran in the New York Times in 2000.

They're all-butter cookies, so they taste rich. Three kinds of sugar add depth without adding too much sweetness. And the directions are so precise that there's little room for misinterpretation.

Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs baked the cookies three times and produced the slightly golden, crisped-at-the-edges specimens shown in their photo. i baked them only twice, and came up with the same results both times. But the results were what you saw on the righthand part of the photo at the top of this blogpost. My cookies didn't spread. Amanda and I compared oven temps and types (calibrated ovens, check; no convection). Parchment paper and flour, the same.

In the end, the puzzle didn't need to be solved, because my cookies were chewy and sugary, just in a different way. I'll go back at it sometime with a friend's oven, because I don't think the discrepancy is inherent in the preparation. (If you have ideas, please submit them in the comments field below.)

The Cook's and Food52 cookies both went over well at home and at the office. The chai-spice cookies got big points for their classic look, generous size and a surprisingly subtle flavor. The Food52 cookies were admired for their buttery goodness and extra-crunchy coating of turbinado sugar. The Cook's cookies would always impress. The Food52 cookies have fewer calories and a little less fat, but because they're smaller, maybe it would be easier to eat more of them.

On Wednesday, i'll participate in the democratic process and vote online. Can you tell which way I'm leaning? If so, you're way ahead of me.

-- Bonnie Benwick

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By The Food Section  |  April 30, 2010; 7:00 AM ET
Categories:  Tales of the Testers  | Tags: Bonnie Benwick, Tales of the Testers, cookies  
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Maybe the difference in your cookies versus the F52 girls is the way you rolled the balls of dough or the temperature of your respective hands? Either way, I'm voting for their cookies. Their recipe directions and ingredient list is much more straightforward and direct than Cook's. And lower in fat. And why not compare straight sugar cookie recipes instead of one with lots of tiny amounts of spices added to one that's much more the traditional recipe? Cook's is just too obsessive for me.

Posted by: lechat17 | April 30, 2010 10:40 AM | Report abuse

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