Despite the fact that cookies and the holidays are a major power couple in December, not all of us inherited baking genes. Alongside Grandma's go-to, golden recipe — we'll have to turn elsewhere for help. We looked to two celebrated pros' takes on a simple classic: Ina Garten's and Ree Drummond's shortbread recipes. Since we already pitted the Barefoot Contessa's pumpkin pie against the Pioneer Woman's back in November, it was high time for a December holiday re-match. Scroll on to see how the shortbread cookies crumbled.
Although shortbread isn't necessarily a standalone staple for the holiday season, it is an easy enough cookie for beginners to bake and decorate for a party or gift. The ingredient list is surprisingly short for a standard batch: consisting of butter, sugar, flour, and salt. Thus my curiosity for how Garten's and Drummond's specialty recipes could greatly differ was peaked, and I ventured out to pick up the baking goods and get down to business.
I started off with Drummond's shortbread, which called for only four ingredients total: salted butter, sugar, flour, and corn starch. The assembly took all of five minutes: I combined the butter and sugar together in a large bowl until creamy, and followed by folding in the flour-cornstarch mixture until a dough ball formed. Following instructions, I then covered the dough in plastic wrap to set in the fridge for a total of 20 minutes and moved on to Ina' cookies.
Garten's shortbread called for a greater total of five ingredients: unsalted butter, sugar, flour, vanilla extract, and salt. With very similar assembly/mixing instructions, the major differences were measurements and additional ingredients. The Barefoot Contessa called for more sugar than the Pioneer Woman, unsalted butter (a staple for exact baking), the addition of vanilla extract, and no use of corn starch (which is said to thicken and soften baked goods). Garten's finished dough ball felt a bit wetter and stickier than Drummond's more crumbly and solid mixture after I rolled and placed them in the fridge.
Next I rolled out both chilled doughs on a lightly floured surface, cut them into circles, and lined them up on greased baking sheets — Drummond's baked at 325°F and Garten's at 350°F. After baking, the differing consistencies were even clearer: the Pioneer Woman's cornstarch addition created a firmer and fluffier finished cookie, while the Barefoot Contessa's heavier use of butter made for a lighter and crisper one. The flavors, although pretty similar, were distinct enough for a favorite to be chosen among a handful of blind taste-testers: Ina Garten's. Garten's shortbread was salty and buttery with just a hint of vanilla that added flavor complexity. Drummond's was still buttery, but was slightly blander. While some tasters preferred Garten's thin and crisp cookie consistency, others leaned towards the solid-fluffy consistency of Drummond's for ideal holiday decorating (e.g. icing, sprinkles, sandwiched with jam, etc.).
The bottom baking line: If you love a crisp cookie, the Barefoot Contessa's shortbread recipe wins without question. But if you're looking for a sturdier recipe to dress up, wrap, and gift this season, then the Pioneer Woman's got your shortbread back. But why choose just one? We're planning on combining the two by adding some vanilla extract (Garten's suggestion) into Drummond's mix!