June 29, 2011

Cookie Contest, Part 1: Experimenting

A few days ago, we got an email from a promoter for Better Homes and Gardens magazine.  They were planning a promotion for their line of cookware, which is available exclusively at Walmart.  We were invited to join BH&G's first-ever "State Cookie Contest," in which we'd be competing with food bloggers from all 50 states.  In exchange for agreeing to take part, we would be sent a free 15" by 10" cookie sheet from the Better Homes and Gardens Bakeware line.  The winner of the contest would get some nice gifts, including a full bakeware set and a second set to give away to one of our readers. 

That sounded pretty good to us, so we replied and said we were interested.  We got word back almost immediately that we'd been accepted.

That meant I had to come up with a cookie recipe that would represent Iowa in some manner, and which would also be good enough to have a chance of winning a national contest.

The "representing Iowa" idea came to me easily enough.   Iowa is known for, among other things, corn, and as it happens, cornflakes make an excellent cookie ingredient.  That said, cornflake cookies aren't a particularly new idea - they go back at least to the 1950s - and there are a lot of varieties out there.  So, I knew I'd have to go beyond that basic idea.

Eventually I decided I'd add a raspberry element to the cookies.   I figured that would add a whole different layer and type of flavor to the basic cookie, but I also went with raspberries for a more personal reason:  our own raspberry bushes are bearing a lot of fruit right now (between a half-pint and one pint per day).  I figured you couldn't get much more of an "Iowa" cookie than one made by an Iowan using ingredients grown in his own back yard.

With those decisions made and a little more thought, I made the following preliminary recipe:

1/2     cup unsalted butter
1/2     cup light brown sugar
1/2     cup granulated (white) sugar
1        large egg
1/2     teaspoon salt
1        cup all-purpose flour
1/2     teaspoon baking powder
1/2     teaspoon baking soda
1/2     cup rolled oats
1/2     cup shredded, sweetened coconut
1 1/2  cup cornflakes
          seedless raspberry jam
          fresh raspberries

I figured this would be a good starting point, from which I could start to experiment and fine-tune the recipe.

Using our Cuisinart stand mixer, I creamed together the butter and sugars, then added (in stages) the eggs and salt, then the flour, baking powder and baking soda, and then the oats and coconut.  I then stirred in the cornflakes by hand, so there would be big pieces of cornflake in the dough.

Next I scooped heaping tablespoons full of dough and arranged them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Using a round half-teaspoon measure, I made an indentation in the top of each ball of dough, flattening it some. 

I then placed a heaping quarter-teaspoon of raspberry jam into the indentation, then put the baking sheet into the oven and cooked for 14 minutes.

I decided to place a single raspberry into the jam-filled center of some of the baked cookies.   That didn't look so great.  As Juli put it, maybe that look would fly if I was making a cookie for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, but since that wasn't the case, I knew I'd have to do something else. 

Juli suggested I skip the raspberries and just go with the jam, especially since when we sampled the first batch, we both noticed the flavor of the raspberries didn't blend well with the other aspects of the cookie, due to the raspberries not being cooked.  I knew I wanted to keep the raspberries, though, so I decided to add a few raspberries to each cookie before putting them into the oven.

Doing that resulted in the raspberries blending in well with the rest of the cookie, but the finished cookies didn't look good.  First off, as the cookies flattened and spread out, the raspberries did the same.  Second, the extra moisture from the raw raspberries resulted in the centers of the cookies looking less-done than the rest, not to mention sort of mushy.   Still, the flavor improvement told me I was on the right track.

With the next batch, I made the cookies as I had with the first batch, but removed them from the oven after about 8 minutes, when the cookies were partly cooked and had started to set.  I then arranged the raspberries in and around the jam centers, then tossed the cookie sheet back into the oven to finish cooking.

Those ones looked great - no spreading, no mushy appearance - and the flavor was great, too.  

There were some problems with these cookies, though.  First off, they spread out a lot more than I'd expected, and as a result, the jam ended up soaking through the cookies.  They also looked a bit greasy, especially on the bottoms of the cookies.  Plus, the flavors of the salt and baking soda were more noticeable than should be the case.  It was obvious I'd need to add some vanilla.

I took the cookies to work, to share them with my coworkers and to ask for some additional feedback.  Overall, they were quite well-received, and the feedback was consistent with what Juli and I had already determined.    With that feedback in mind, I was ready to make some adjustments to my recipe and make another batch of cookies.

(to be continued)


  1. oh these look good! i am horrible about measuring thngs! i just cut a bunch of herbs for the dressing. i would guess i had about 1 1/2 to 2 cups.