Taste Test: The 2012 First Lady Cookie Bakeoff!

One intrepid writer attempts Michelle Obama's and Ann Romney's cookie recipes so you don't have to.
Publish date:
July 2, 2012
food, sexism, politics, cookies, what fresh hell is this, First Lady, M

If there's one thing we take seriously in America, it's cookies. Especially the chocolate chip, which is a bit of an American art form, whether you're a crunchy, chewy, gooey, or...whatever... aficionado.

Another thing we take seriously is a woman's place, which is, of course, in the kitchen, so it seems totally logical to combine the two in what may just be one of the most demeaning, patronising, ridiculous things I've seen in this political cycle — and I've seen a lot of ridiculous things in this political cycle. Gentle reader, may I present the Presidential Cookie Bakeoff, sponsored by none other than Family Circle1.

And, of course, in a "Presidential" cookie bakeoff, actual presidential nominees are nowhere to be seen. If you're wondering what Mittens whips up for Sunday cookouts or Barack makes with Malia and Sasha while mom's out of town, this is not the cookie contest for you. One wonders what would have happened if Hillary had taken the nomination in 2008.

Yes, folks, that's right, the wives of the candidates must put their best cookie recipes forward and be judged by America. Make no mistake, a lot rides on this competition. Michelle Obama, for example, has made food a big part of her mission as First Lady, which means she kind of backed herself into a corner here. She knows that no carob-chip fruit bars are going to fly with the American public, but if she provides a cookie recipe that doesn't taste like ass, she's going to have to figure out how to spin it so it doesn't appear to conflict with her mission of telling everyone not to be a fatty.

Meanwhile, Ann Romney has slightly more leeway because she's not defending her title, but she's still being closely watched as the challenger in the ring. Does Ann Romney have what it takes to be First Lady? Can this member of the wealthy elite come up with a cookie that speaks to All-American values?

Obviously, I had to try these recipes to find out. Reader, I took one for the team. And I dragged a team of anonymous judges into the abyss with me, because misery loves company.

I wanted a blind taste test, to prevent political bias. Although I knew what went into each cookie, and where the recipes came from, I kept it a secret from the team. Good thing I know everyone's food allergies and sensitivities backwards and forwards, or this could have been a disaster.

I assembled the ingredients, and noted a surprising amount of aisle-crossing. The things you see in the middle of the counter were used in both recipes, while the ingredients to the left were for Michelle's cookies, and the ones to the right were for Ann's.

So many ingredients!

I started with Ann Romney's M&M cookies, because they needed a lower baking temperature. I was predisposed to loathe the recipe; here's what I said on Twitter, actually: "Three things that do not belong together: Oats. Peanut butter. CORN SYRUP. This is why the world hates America, you guys." But I couldn't let my bias affect my baking, so I doggedly persisted.

Don't let this dough fool you

I duly mixed the dough and popped it in the oven, baking for the recommended 18 minutes. What I got was a series of carbonised discs of horror. 18 minutes was way too long, and the judges gamely choked down the cookies but clearly hated me every second of the way. The universal verdict was that they were appalling, with solid scores of one across the board and quotes like "burning fucking death," "I wouldn't feed this to chickens," "I pity the children of this household," "one would have to question the foreign policy decisions of any President eating these cookies," and "smelled horrific" on the comment cards.

Contrast overcooked cookie on left with perfectly-timed cookies on right.

Some of the verbal comments were more entertaining: "This feeling in my stomach right now, this is what Romney wants to do to my uterus. And he just did it." "I want a fucking colonic."

For the second batch, I baked for only 15 minutes, and they turned out much better. Not good, but better. I really don't like peanut butter or oats in cookies so I wasn't very impressed, but they had a better texture and mouthfeel. However, they still tasted plasticy and felt slightly sticky, and the rancid aftertaste of the M&Ms was not enjoyable. To be fair, not all people thik M&Ms taste like rancid milk, so. Cooled, this batch still tasted okay. Like, I wouldn't feed them to people, but they didn't seem like they would kill anyone.

If I were going to modify the recipe, I'd...well. Okay, I wouldn't try to salvage this recipe. But if you were to try to salvage it because you think oats and peanut butter sound like a good idea together, I would recommend cutting out the corn syrup altogether, making sure to use unsweetened peanut butter, and considering higher-grade chocolate instead of M&Ms. You might also want to give almond butter a whirl.

On to entry number two.

Michelle's Black and White Cookies called for an obscene amount of shortening; two sticks of butter and another stick of butter-flavoured Crisco, which, I'm sorry, is not something that should be classified as a food item. Unsurprisingly, they turned out greasy as all hell. How greasy?

One judge's hands after eating a single cookie.

Yeah. Really, really greasy.

There was also a heck of a lot going on in these cookies; mint chips, chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, and walnuts. In my opinion, it was too much for one cookie to handle, and the strong mint flavour made it hard to taste the other flavours. However, the end result was, overall, a pretty good cookie; a nice crispy outside and chewy interior both right out of the oven and after a few hours of cooling, and a nice aroma and flavour.

Some of the judges dissented and felt that they were too sweet, preferring the M&M cookies slightly overall. We took them out back and shot them.

As they cooled, they slumped a bit, but still kept that crispy external layer and chewy interior.

This is a recipe I'd actually make again, with some modifications; I'd skip the Crisco and keep the butter at the same level, and I'd cut the mint chips in half to keep the mint flavour without allowing it to become overpowering. FYI, if you're having trouble getting cookies chewy with a crispy exterior and you're into that kind of thing, try using melted butter, and allow the dough to chill in the fridge overnight before baking. You're welcome.

Most of the judges managed to successfully guess which cookies went with which baker, and the grand revelation of ingredients sparked this comment on Ann's cookies from one of the judges:

"All these's everything that's wrong with America, in your mouth2."

The overall verdict from the team was that the Obama cookies were the clear winner... but that nationally, Romney's peanut monstrosities would probably win, because Michelle's cookies might be just a little bit too complicated for some palates. What's it gonna be, America?

And, more importantly, what the fuck is up with the pageant of femininity forced on First Ladies, who are expected to perform pretty for the crowd with cookie recipes (perhaps a swimsuit contest is next, said one of my judges) and come up with nice social projects for their husbands' terms in office? Remember how much everyone hated Hillary for being politically opinionated and trying to take an active role in health care reform?

The wife of the President is expected to fit within some narrow social confines, which hasn't always been the case, and I know I'm not the only one who is very, very curious to see what happens when we have a First Gentleman. Or First Genderqueer. Barbecue competition? Public penis measuring? Logging contest?

If you need to cleanse your palate with a cookie recipe I actually endorse, here are some Cookies of Gingery Goodness.

1. Who knew that magazine was good for something other than being dog-eared in the doctor's office, pages limp with nervous sweat, usually three years out of date. Return

2. She was referring to the corn syrup, M&Ms, and Romney origins. Return