Over Easy is a weekly food column by a 20-something woman who can barely cook an egg and just wants to learn how to throw together an elegant three-course meal for her friends.
Is there anything better than a cookie? Yes, obviously. There’s soft blankets and a gentle embrace from a loved one and this video of a puppy jumping, just to name a few right off the top of my head. But still, cookies are very good, and I adore them. They are, I would argue, the most versatile of treats. They can be a dessert or a snack, whimsical or straightforward, crumbly or moist, mouth-shaped or not. Plus, cookies always signal a good time — you see a tray of cookies at a party, or at a conference you’re like, “Oh shit, we’re about to cut loose.” Unfortunately, despite my abiding love for cookies, I have proven to be truly terrible at making them. Which is why I was thrilled to be asked to judge the Cut’s first annual Holiday Cookie Competition, because if there’s one thing I love almost as much as cookies, it’s judging people.
Joining me as a judge for this prestigious and non-mandatory event, which was held one day at 5 p.m. in our office’s conference room, was the Cut’s essays editor, Jen Gann. A week beforehand, we asked contestants to bring in a dozen of their favorite holiday cookies, which would be scored on three criteria — appearance, taste, and originality, with bonus points given for coming up with a creative name, and no bonus points given for bribes or compliments, despite some people’s best efforts. The first- and second-place winners would receive, respectively, gold and silver stars I found at the bodega by my apartment, and the respect of their co-workers. Everyone else would receive love and holiday cheer (and cookies).
The competitors braved tricky recipes, rye flour shortages, and crises of confidence, but each of them fought valiantly. Below are their stories. (Pictures courtesy of Kathleen Hou’s Instagram stories, because we were too busy eating.)
Lisa Ryan, senior writer — Googled “Easy Sugar Cookie Recipe”
To prep for the Cut Cookie Competition, I googled the phrase “easy sugar cookie recipe.” I then picked the easiest of the easy recipes before me, bought the ingredients, and baked the cookies. I added chocolate frosting (from a can) and sprinkles (from a plastic thingy) for some pizzazz. So, how do I think they turned out? Well, to answer this question, we need to take a step back. Unlike the other competitors, I never bake or cook. Most of my meals are from Seamless or have been heated up in a microwave (or sometimes heated up on a stove). With that in mind, I’d say my cookies turned out AMAZINGLY. I have zero culinary skills, and yet I created these beautiful gems? Truly, I’m impressed, and I think the judges should have been, too.
Madeleine’s review: I love a basic sugar cookie, and I admire that Lisa tried to bribe us with compliments even though we are both too morally robust to be swayed. They were a tad sweet for me, but I still enjoyed them (the cookies and the compliments).
Jen’s review: I enjoyed the straightforwardness of these cookies, but it takes a very special day of the month for me to be drawn to canned frosting. Today was not that day. Sorry, Lisa.
Appearance: 6; Taste: 6; Originality: 4; Name bonus: 7
Kelly Conaboy, writer-at-large — Nacho Cheese Doritos Woman Cookies
I made a version of these “Savory Pecan Cookies” from David Tanis at the Times cooking blog. In order to maintain my perfect lifetime record of honesty, I must admit they were the first result that appeared after Googling “savory cookies.” In order to curry favor with judge Jen Gann, and in honor of her post about how there are two types of women: Cool Ranch and Nacho Cheese, I wanted to make a cookie that had a Dorito in it. So I figured I could just substitute the pecans for Doritos in this recipe.
It worked non-poorly, I think. Or at least, it could have been much worse. The cookies were easy to make. You just mix up the ingredients, then you knead the dough and make it into two logs, then you refrigerate the logs for a few hours, and then you cut them up, and then you bake them.
The taste, though, was boring to me. There are about 100 things I wish I had done differently with these Doritos cookies, if I’m being honest, which I’ll remind you that I always am. First, I wish I’d put in more Doritos. You could barely taste the Doritos. Next time I make Doritos cookies they’re gonna be more Doritos-y. I’m disappointed in my showing but I still believe in my spirit.
Madeleine’s review: I love the idea of Doritos cookies, even though it was clearly a ploy to curry favor with Jen. I wish the flavor had been a bit more intense, and the bits of Doritos were a little big, but I appreciated Kelly’s creativity and when we were done, I found myself shoving these mindlessly in my mouth like I would regular Doritos.
Jen’s review: I’d never heard of a savory cookie before. They didn’t taste the best, or very much like Doritos, but I appreciated them very much.
Appearance: 5; Taste: 6; Originality: 9; Name bonus: 8
Amanda Arnold, staff writer — Sandbox Cookies
I should start off by saying that the cookies I ended up making weren’t the ones on which I planned. One would think that rye flour wouldn’t be that difficult to find in Brooklyn, but whatever, I’m over it! Because I was determined to participate, though, I ended up making what has become a go-to recipe for me: salted dark chocolate and walnut cookies. A little boring, I know, but what makes them good is that you grind up oatmeal and add it into the dough, giving the cookie that earthy oatmeal flavor without the texture. Honestly, I think they turned out great, for what they were.
Madeleine’s review: Amanda’s cookies were salty, and not too sweet, which I like, and the texture was like a thick, soft comforter you would want to wrap yourself up in in the dead of winter.
Jen’s review: I always like a salty-sweet cookie. But unfortunately, I couldn’t really get past the name of these cookies. I don’t think anyone should eat anything related to a sandbox.
Appearance: 7; Taste: 8; Originality: 7; Name bonus: 6
Kathleen Hou, beauty director — Smashing Pumpkins
I should start with the bad news first: I lost. Regardless, I find baking relaxing — something about measuring out the ingredients precisely, leveling off flour, and eating raw cookie dough (oops salmonella) doesn’t require too much thought. I made two types of cookies, not because I’m an overachiever but because I was bored at home in my parents’ kitchen during Thanksgiving and they have a KitchenAid.
Both the recipes for my Fudgy Double Chocolate Cookies and Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Cookies came from a site called Sally’s Baking Addiction. They were really easy to make (the standard mix the dry ingredients and wet directions), super fudgy, moist, and delicious. Unfortunately, they also looked … like they were homemade. When I saw them sitting next to Diana’s minimalist matcha shortbread, I had a feeling they would look Martha Stewart-ish vs. Bauhaus. I still love them though.
Madeleine’s review: Kathleen’s cookies were so rich and luscious and indulgent, I felt like I should say four Hail Mary’s after eating them. They were the kind of ugly delicious treat that really appeals to me.
Jen’s review: These tasted like something between a cake and a brownie mashed together, then baked until a crispy coat (lightweight, not winterwear) formed to keep them cozy. Very filling, and very delicious.
Appearance: 7; Taste: 8; Originality: 7; Name bonus: 8
Diana Tsui, senior fashion market editor — Matcha Is Trending and Therefore I Made This Cookie
After spending all of Thanksgiving binge-watching food competition shows, I decided that I was going to play to win at the Cut’s first cookie competition. I don’t consider myself good at baking — cooking requires less precision and has more room for error but I had some time on my hands to do something fancy. I always crave Asian food so I started googling matcha cookie recipes. Food52’s version was a shortbread that was dipped in chocolate and looked impressive. The instructions were pretty simple — I creamed the sugar into the butter before adding in sifted flour and matcha powder. My only change was that I swapped the vanilla for almond extract, which gave it the flavor of Chinese almond cookies. After the dough sat in the fridge for 30 minutes, I rolled them out and used a biscuit cutter to create evenly sized cookies. They went back to chill for another 15 minutes before baking.
Once the cookies cooled I dipped them halfway into dark chocolate and added a sprinkle of salt. They retained their pale green shade nicely and looked fairly professional. Cooking and baking requires so much tasting that I could only sample one or two before I was sick of them but my husband deemed them winners. And I’m proud to say they did win.
Madeleine’s review: Oh my God. Diana’s cookies, in addition to being tiny, precise works of art, were sweet and earthy and light, and I could easily have eaten 78 of them.
Jen’s review: Oh my God, I usually don’t even like matcha. It tastes like soggy hay! These cookies, however, were not only beautiful, but managed to make matcha taste like something mysterious and lovely. I think they accomplished what the best cookies should: Trick you into believing you can eat five of them.
Appearance: 10; Taste: 9; Originality: 8; Name bonus: 7
Gabriella Paiella, senior writer (withdrew before the competition)
I tried to make the Ovenly Salted Chocolate Chip cookies, which I love very much. I’ve eaten them in the bakery and at friends’ dinner parties multiple times, but whenever I try my hand at them, I fuck them up. I can’t help it, I’m a terrible baker, I’ve accepted that this is my lot in life and not let it preclude my general enjoyment of baked goods. I was feeling fairly confident about this go, until I took them out of the oven and realized they never spread out. I texted Maddie and dropped out of the cookie competition like a coward. But when they cooled off and I tried them, my hideous, bulbous chocolate chip lumps were actually pretty good — not the same as the intended result, but delicious nonetheless.
There you have it. Thank you to all of the wonderful contestants for participating, and congratulations to DIANA TSUI and KATHLEEN HOU for earning the gold and silver stars from my bodega, respectively.