This review is part of our community-driven book tournament, The Big Community Book-Off. With your help, we’re finding the best books across categories (from bread to pasta, one-bowl to weeknight-friendly, and cake to cookies, to name a few), and putting them through a series of rigorous reviews—considered, tested, and written by none other than you. And so, let’s hand it off to our community members Laura, Matt, and Jody. Here are their reviews of your five favorite cookie books—and their nail-biting verdict on which one reigned supreme. Spoiler alert: they found the best chocolate chip cookie.
A month ago, the three of us basically won the cookbook-nerd lottery. Food52 emailed us asking for help reviewing five favorite cookbooks for the Cookie Book-Off. After nearly a year of working from home and facilitating remote school, we wanted a bit of fun; we hit reply immediately to say, yes!
I don’t think we have to convince you: Cookies are a special joy in life, and no doubt an essential part of the holidays. Sharing homemade cookies brings us together. What book would guide us, as amateur bakers, to the heights of cookie success? We put ourselves under the tutelage of these beloved bakers, baked long into the night, and ate cookies for three weeks straight. We became cookie-book connoisseurs.
If you love to bake, all five finalists deserve a place on your shelf. Each is excellent in its own way. Nevertheless, as fellow Food52ers, we suspect our favorite might be your favorite, too.
First, our criteria. We decided that a variety of factors are important and gave them each equal weight in our assessment:
Deliciousness. Pretty obviously, how good are the cookies? Top marks for a few mind-blowing treats, but are the recipes consistently excellent?
Binge-worthiness. Do you want to read the book cover-to-cover? Is there a genius, rock-star recipe in there that makes it an essential book for every cookie lover’s shelf?
Accessibility. Are the recipes reasonably easy to re-create? Are the ingredients easily found at the local grocery store? Are the tools required standard to the average home kitchen, or do they require a lot of expensive equipment?
Educational value. Do you learn something new from the book, becoming a better baker as you work your way through? Are there additional skills and tricks, or a general philosophy shared that goes beyond cookie recipes?
The 5 cookie book finalists, selected by you, the Food52 community, are:
How could we ever be objective about a comparison? Jody laid down the gauntlet: a chocolate chip cookie lineup. We each baked a chocolate chip cookie recipe from all five books. We tasted them ourselves—and fed them to as many family, friends, and coworkers as Covid-19 restrictions would allow.
In many cases, the chocolate chip cookies exemplified the differences between the books and their authors. But to really get to know the contenders, each of us also baked at least three additional recipes from each book. As a result, the final winner of the Cookie Book-Off is based on the results of making at least 10 recipes from each book and reading it cover-to-cover.
If you did the math, you’ll notice that each of us baked at least 20 batches of cookies. And while most of the cookies we made were good or excellent, we also discovered a few particularly delectable recipes, and we’ll tell you about those, too.
- 1 1. BraveTart by Stella Parks
- 2 Before we tell you the winner…
- 3 The Cookie Collection by Brian Hart Hoffman
4 Swap-Worthy Cookies, Courtesy of Our Favorite Bakers
1. BraveTart by Stella Parks
It is somewhat remarkable that Stella Parks’s BraveTart makes it on the list of finalists for best cookie cookbook because, as a James Beard Award–winning opus covering all types of American desserts, it contains only about two dozen cookie recipes. Parks provides core recipes for favorites like chocolate chip cookies, oatmeal cookies, and snickerdoodles—all scrumptious, with many variations to make them exactly to your liking—as well as a larger assortment of knock-off recipes for brand-name cookies, from Fig Newtons to Thin Mints. If Americana is your jam, this is the book for you.
What Stella Parks is Making for the Holidays, According to Our Automagic Menu Maker
Most notable about BraveTart is Parks’ meticulous discussion of each treat, telling us where it came from, its evolution over time, and detailed explanations about how to achieve each confection. She provides ingredient quantities by weight (for those who prefer to measure by scale) and volume (for those devoted to their cup measures) and lists the exact brands of certain ingredients where she thinks it would affect the result. We all enjoyed the introductory section she calls “Notes on Ingredients and Equipment,” full of interesting facts as well as practical takeaways. For instance, she discusses the character of different flours that sell under the label “all-purpose,” recommending Gold Medal for all of her recipes to achieve a consistent result. Readers will appreciate that any time spent with this book will elevate their baking. Embedded throughout the book are mini-histories of American desserts: As Matt noted, “It’s as much a coffee-table book as a cookbook.”
In the chocolate chip cookie lineup, we found the BraveTart Chopped Chocolate Chip Cookies top-notch. Every cookie looks spectacular because she advises the exact weight/size of each dough ball and calls for adding additional chips and flaky salt for decoration to the tops before baking. She extravagantly suggests using three types of chocolate (milk, dark, and white chunks) and unabashedly calls for a full tablespoon of vanilla extract. The result is a thick and gooey cookie, with rich caramelization, lacy texture…and a lot of chocolate.
Parks’ classic cookie recipes are each highly successful. Her Honey-Roasted Peanut Butter Cookies require the extra step of pulsing the peanuts in a food processor to make a peanut flour, yielding a bakery-style treat studded with small peanut chunks. Her Glossy Fudge Brownies, made with just cocoa powder (and no chocolate), will be a go-to recipe with their chewy, moist interior and crackly top. What is more unusual, and pleasantly surprising, are her replica recipes. In each of our tests—Homemade Nilla Wafers, Crispy Whole Wheat Graham Crackers, and Homemade Oreo Cookies—she improves upon the original, while keeping the core construction and flavor profile of the snacks we grew up on.
Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection is ideal for bakers wanting to make delicious and Instagram-worthy cookies using classic procedures, standard tools, and (for the most part) pantry staples. In a few cases, as with the Chocolate Shortbread Hearts, a few specialty tools are needed, care is required, and some practice helps; in other cases, such as the Papillons, with only two ingredients and a folding procedure, we got a simple showstopper.
9 Martha Stewart Recipes for When You Need a Surefire Winner
Recipes in this book are organized by categories, such as “All Dressed Up,” “Classics With a Twist,” “Giant Cookies,” and “Celebration Cookies,” each with basic instructions and tips that are on point. For instance, it’s mentioned that the longer the chocolate chip cookie dough chills, the more caramelization will occur. Reviewer Laura baked half the batch she made after a couple hours of chilling and the second half after the dough had spent a week in the freezer and agreed—although freshly baked cookies are always good, there is a marked difference in the character of the two, the latter being crunchier.
Our first impression was that Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection is a book for seasonal and beginner bakers: It does not assume you own a stand mixer; measurements are by volume, not weight; and there is a “Techniques” section that provides photos and instructions for basic baking procedures, such as rolling out dough and frosting a cookie. But we will come back to this book again and again simply because of the quality of the recipes and their ratios. More advanced bakers will appreciate, for example, that many of the recipes call for coarse salt, which we found creates subtle dimensionality in the flavor of the finished cookies.
Martha Stewart’s Extraordinary Chocolate Chip Cookies are giant and scrumptious. One of our youngest cookie tasters, a six-year-old chocoholic, insists on calling them “Martha’s Deliciousness.” (As in, “I want to eat a Martha’s Deliciousness.”) They are essentially chocolate held together with a small amount of dough—eye-catching and sure to succeed in any bake sale.
The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion is a 528-page compendium of more than 400 recipes, offering options for every baker regardless of their preferences. Do you love pignoli cookies? It’s the only book of the five that provides a recipe to make them (and it’s a good one). If there is a cookie you are craving, you will find it in this book.
If you didn’t have a grandmotherly figure introduce you to baking growing up, this is the voice you need in your head, the one that tells you to use the proper type of measuring cup for the ingredient you’re working with and diagrams out how to fluff, spoon, and sweep your flour for an accurate measurement. The King Arthur Cookie Companion devotes half a page to how to tell when your brownies are done, and while this may seem like overkill, one of the great lessons of this baking exercise is that taking the cookies out of the oven at just the right moment is crucial. Of all the books we reviewed, this one is the most complete introduction to baking cookies. It is also the only one that is primarily printed in black and white (with color photographs appearing in the middle of the book).
The Riotous Success of King Arthur Baking Company
A good proportion of cookies in this book call for shortening or vegetable oil either exclusively or in addition to butter. So when we selected a recipe to put in our chocolate chip cookie lineup, we chose the Classic Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies, which calls for both shortening and butter. The recipe surprisingly contains a touch of vinegar, which the authors explain helps the cookies rise more, as well as tempers the sweetness of the chocolate and sugar. How did they fare? Certainly yummy. A couple of our tasters noted a “strange” flavor, which we suspect is the vinegar. They were also lighter in flavor and density than many of the others, making it easy to come back for cookie after cookie.
Recipes in The King Arthur Cookie Companion are organized by “cookie families.” The first chapter covers what they consider to be the nine essential American cookies, followed by expansive options by category, such as “Drop Cookies” and “Roll-Out Cookies.” In addition, there is an entire chapter on “Gluten-Free Cookies and Treats.” We became enamored with their Sweet Oatcakes for a variation on shortbread and their Butterscotch Chews with a wonderful brown sugar and pecan flavor. Their brownies, which Jody noted were “fudgy and dense,” came with a golden tip about getting that classic crackly sheen on top.
Laura snuggled in with a glass of wine and read Dorie’s Cookies in a single sitting. It’s beautifully written, and you really come to know Dorie Greenspan—her family and friends, as well as her passion for developing new cookie recipes. It is like stepping into the delightful mind of a culinary artist. The book is well named because these cookies all have Greenspan’s signature flavor and texture preferences, which come with a bit of precision and elegance.
In fact, to find such a basic recipe as Dorie Greenspan’s My Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookies for our cookie comparison, we had to consult the sidebar on page 127. This hidden gem has been her favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe for 20 years, and she published it merely as an alternative to her novel creation, My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies. Both recipes are good; the original is a well-balanced classic: buttery, flat, and wide, with good caramelization. It’s less Instagrammable than some others; in the mouth, it’s quiet perfection.
If you bake one recipe from this book, let it be her Jammers: tidy layers of shortbread, bright raspberry jam, and a rich streusel topping. Greenspan takes what could very well have been a difficult cookie—it’s both elegant and 100 percent comfort food—and makes it friendly for home bakers. In her cookie shop, she used rings, but in her cookbook, she recommends assembling the components in muffin tins, and it wasn’t difficult at all. It’s an excellent translation of a chefy food to the home kitchen, and it feels triumphant upon completion.
Dorie’s Cookies effortlessly guides us to next-level precision. For example, each recipe provides two different salt quantities, to accommodate whether we happen to stock kosher or sea salt. She provides both volume and weight measurements, tips for storing each type of cookie, and opens the book with a section called “The Perfect Cookie Handbook.” Greenspan conversationally explains how each step of the process contributes to the final result and, remarkably, it feels fresh, because sometimes her process defies conventional wisdom. She adds the flour all at once. She rolls dough out before chilling it. And she has her reasons. Greenspan also understands the impulse of the home baker to adapt recipes based on personal preference and the ingredients they have on hand, and she repeatedly encourages us to join her in the creative process.
The Cookie Collection was the winner of our chocolate chip cookie lineup. The winning recipe: The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies. They’re well balanced (read: not too sweet), beautifully textured, and addictively good. Matt dubbed them “the platonic ideal of a chocolate chip cookie.” And they are just one recipe from an entire section, dubbed “The Obligatory Chocolate Chip Chapter,” devoted to this style.
Other chapters include “FOMO Cookies” (Hoffman’s take on viral recipes), “Boozy Cookies,” “Spice It Up,” and “Bake It Bigger,” making it easy to find exactly which recipe will satisfy the baker’s lust. And, indeed, Hoffman’s recipes received the most top marks from our reviewers of any of the books, with Matt summarizing: “Everything here has been a hit.” Among our favorites are the Piñon Mexican Wedding Cookies, Irish Creme Thumbprints, and the supersized celebration Sprinkle Sugar Cookie. We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Cardamom Tahini Shortbread, and Jody described the Ginger Molasses Sugar Cookie as “perfection… chewy ginger, pools of chocolate, crinkly tops; a little spicy and a lot indulgent.”
We think The Cookie Collection will delight anyone. Without fanfare, Hoffman shares detailed hints to yield stellar cookies, whether it’s suggesting a sprinkle of decorative salt, freezing palmiers before baking, or describing the desired viscosity of caramel. Regardless of your skill level, his cookies—your cookies—will turn out beautifully.
The 5 Books That Changed the Cookie Game
Before we tell you the winner…
As amateur bakers, did we learn anything from the process of reviewing five stellar cookie books? You betcha!
Laura: “My personal goal through this process has been to identify the favorite cookie of every member of my family. Chocolate chip cookies received high marks from everyone, but I also discovered how much diversity there is in the heights of cookie delight. This holiday, everyone will get their favorite. Our cookie tray will have Brian Hart Hoffman’s Cookies & Cream Cookies, Piñon Mexican Wedding Cookies, and German Almond Crescent Cookies, Dorie Greenspan’s Coffee-Cardamom Cookies and Jammers, The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion’s Soft Molasses Cookies, and the Speculaas from Martha Stewart’s Cookie Perfection. Meanwhile, as a baker, I’ve learned to watch the cookies like a hawk for the last three minutes of cooking, to make sure they come out at just the right time. I also put a thermometer in my oven and it turns out my oven thermostat is off by different amounts at different temperatures, so it’s just going to live in there from now on.”
Matt: “In terms of lessons, I’d say they primarily came from Dorie’s Cookies (which I think is what makes it very near the top of my list), such as using a muffin tin for shortbread so they keep a nice round shape and pick up a bit of texture on the edge; creating an espresso extract (used in the Espresso Chocolate Sablés) that I am looking forward to adding to chocolate cookies or brownies in the near future; and even things I should have probably already known or done before, like rolling out dough between two sheets of parchment prior to chilling. While the technical lessons came from Dorie, some general lessons learned:
- There is no limit to the amount of chocolate chip cookies a four-year-old can eat.
- You should always keep a tab open with your personal email while working, just in case you need to respond to Food52 as fast as humanly possible to be included in such an awesome project.
- This experience really brought home how much I miss gathering with like-minded cookbook lovers as part of our monthly cookbook club. Here’s to restarting old traditions in 2021!”
Jody: “I used to watch MasterChef and get anxiety that I didn’t have basic recipes memorized for things like cake, pasta, pastries, and bread. And then I realized that I can make a cookie without a recipe, and indeed do so at least once a week. So the idea of a cookbook for cookies was both exciting (because it’s my most baked and most enjoyed homemade treat) and curious (how could there be five cookbooks about something I could already make from memory?). I was eager to learn something revolutionary.
- For experienced bakers, there is both little to learn about making cookies and a world of endless opportunities to learn more. I was shaken out of a rut I had happily settled into and able to experience the joy of others’ palettes and preferences.
- There is more to “cookies” than chocolate chip and ginger molasses! I had never added five-spice powder, coriander, or shortening to a cookie before. And I ate a World Peace Cookie that almost made me a believer.
- A ridiculously simple tip that instantly improved my life: Spray your measuring cups and spoons with oil before scooping molasses and corn syrup for easy dumping!
- Never think you’ve found “the best” anything. There is always more to explore and ways to level up and widen out.
- If I am ever on MasterChef, I will make The Cookie Collection’s Ginger Molasses Sugar Cookies with crystallized ginger and a hit of rum.
The Cookie Collection by Brian Hart Hoffman
The Cookie Collection is the winner of the Cookie Book-Off. While there was a minor debate in choosing a winner, it was just that: minor. The Cookie Collection beat out all competition in three of our four criteria: deliciousness, binge-worthiness, and accessibility. While you will learn a lot from The Cookie Collection, our runner-up, Dorie’s Cookies, is where we’d suggest you go for your Cookie PhD.
The Cookie Collection’s winning qualities were discovered in the doing; after our marathon baking session reviewing these books, we aren’t stopping; we’re swapping in this book’s recipes for our favorite classic recipes—and coming back to bake more.
Which types of books would you like to see reviewed in 2021? Let us know in the comments!
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