Presidential Cookie Bake Off Round Two: Teresa Heinz Kerry's Pumpkin Spice Cookie Vs. Laura Bush’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies

by moderndomestic on October 23, 2008

Bush and Kerry Cookies

Theresa Heinz Kerry's Pumpkin Spice Cookies (left) competes against Laura Bush's Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies (right). It's 2004 all over again.

For the next two weeks leading up to election Day, the ModernDomestic will be reviewing our eight favorite presidential cookie recipes, and picking the best of the bunch. Check out yesterday’s entry for the battle between Martha Washington’s Shrewsbury cakes and Mary Todd Lincoln ‘s Gingerbread Men.

For Part Two of the Modern Domestic Presidential Cookie Bake-Off, I couldn’t resist digging up Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookie recipe from 2004 and seeing how it stacked up against Laura Bush’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies.

Heinz-Kerry caught a lot of heat in the 2004 elections for her Pumpkin Spice Cookie recipe, first because the Family Circle readers didn’t like them, and then because she said the recipe actually wasn’t hers. According to her, the first recipe she submitted to the Family Circle for Yummy Wonders (worst name ever) was rejected because it didn’t work, and someone from the campaign submitted the Pumpkin Spice Cookie recipe without consulting her. Personally, I find that kind of hard to believe. In any event, she disowned the recipe, telling the New York Times, “I never made pumpkin cookies; I don’t like pumpkin spice cookies.”

Laura Bush, on the other hand, submitted a variation on a standard oatmeal cookie. Her Oatmeal-Chocolate Chunk Cookies are a smorgasbord of ingredients, including sour cherries, walnuts, and chocolate chunks. Bush won the 2004 bake off, meaning that the Family Circle contest has correctly predicted the election winner for the past four years (although apparently the big secret to winning is chocolate).

Determined to get to the bottom of the matter, I procured both of the recipes from the Family Circle Web site. The recipes follow at the end of the entry.

Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookies:
Given all the complaints about these cookies and Heinz-Kerry’s comments that the recipe was bad on purpose to sabotage her (um, paranoid much?), I expected these to be awful. But I was pleasantly surprised. The cookies are almost like muffin tops; they’re made with baking powder and have a soft, cake-like texture. I really liked how the cinnamon complemented the pumpkin flavor, and the raisins and walnuts added an appealing texture. Since I was serving these for guests I did make one change—I added a simply powdered sugar glaze, which I think complemented the cookies nicely by adding a bit more texture and an extra hit of sweetness. They marry well with a glass of tea, milk, or a good Oktoberfest brew.

Obviously, if you don’t like pumpkin then you’re not going to like these cookies, but that doesn’t make this a bad recipe. But was it a great recipe? No. I think it made a very serviceable pumpkin cookie, but I wasn’t blown away by them. They became a little clammy after a couple of days, so they’re best eaten right after they’re made.

Laura Bush’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Thanks God I only made a half batch because this recipe make a lot of cookies. Even though I made the cookies considerably larger than the recipe calls for, I still ended up with around two dozen. I also made a substitution; since chocolate chunks were twice as expensive as chocolate chips, I substituted chocolate chips and saved myself $4. I don’t think this significantly altered the final product.

There were mixed feelings about these cookies. I served both kinds to several guests, and many of them preferred these because they liked the chocolate. At first, I felt that they had way too much going on. The chocolate and the cinnamon and the sour cherries and the walnuts and the oatmeal meant that the cookies had so many competing flavors that didn’t quite meld. I would have omitted the cinnamon—I felt that it didn’t marry well with the cherries, and ended up being distracting.

Still, I admit that these really grew on me. After a couple of days, they were the cookies I was craving, rather than the pumpkin spice cookies. I really liked the slightly chewy, slightly crunchy texture, and I think that if you just omitted the cinnamon, cherries and walnuts, they would be a perfect oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie.

The winner: Laura Bush’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies (by a hair)
This was a difficult call. After reviewing the responses with WonkthePlank, we agreed that our tasters were equally split between the two cookies. I chose Laura Bush’ because I think that the basic cookie recipe was actually a better recipe than the Heinz-Kerry cookie. The texture was perfect , the proportion of oats to flour was perfect, and if you just cut out the walnuts and sour cherries, then it would have been a really perfect cookie.

I also asked myself the question: which one would I make again? And, in my heart of hearts, it would be the Laura Bush cookie, granted, with some alterations. Now I feel like I’m a bad democrat.

Teresa Heinz Kerry’s Pumpkin Spice Cookies

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 cup canned pumpkin puree (from a 15-ounce can; do not use pumpkin pie filling)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup raisins

Directions

1. Heat oven to 375 degree F. Coat two large baking sheets with nonstick cooking spray.

2. With electric mixer, cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in egg, pumpkin and vanilla.

3. Sift together flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and allspice. Stir into pumpkin mixture. Stir in chopped walnuts and raisins.

4. Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets. Bake at 375 degree F for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden on edges. Cool on wire racks.

Laura Bush’s Oatmeal Chocolate Chunk Cookies

1-1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1-1/2 cups light-brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups quick cook oats (not old-fashioned)
2 cups chopped walnuts
1-1/2 packages (8 ounces each) chocolate chunks (3 cups)
2 cups coarsely chopped dried sour cherries

1. Heat oven to 350 degree F. Line 2 large baking pans with parchment paper.

2. With an electric mixer, cream together the butter and both sugars. Beat in eggs, 1 at a time, then beat in vanilla. Add flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and oats; slowly beat until blended.

3. Stir in walnuts, chocolate and cherries. Drop by tablespoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets.

4. Bake at 350 degree F for 12 to 15 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on pan on wire rack for 1 minute. Transfer cookies directly to racks to cool completely.

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