Spice cookies are about as diverse as they come: There are gingersnaps, gingerbread men, hermits, and Lebkuchen, to name just a few. Personally, my favorites have always been the kind that are big, soft, and sprinkled with sugar. And while simple molasses-laced cookies are not difficult to make from scratch, I couldn't resist the potential for instant—and delicious—gratification when I spotted the packages of Betty Crocker Limited Edition Gingerbread Cookie Mix ($2.79) at my local supermarket. Sweet, spicy cinnamon flavor in only 20 minutes? Could it be true?
The contents of the package certainly smelled promising, with hints of allspice, nutmeg, and a touch of mace. Preparing the dough was absurdly easy: the only additions were a tablespoon of water, an egg, and a stick of softened butter. Instead of an electric mixer everything was stirred together with a wooden spoon. I can't stress the importance, however, of planning ahead and making sure that the butter you use is extremely soft. This is not the time to nuke a rock-hard stick for a few seconds, or pop it in the preheating oven. The butter should be consistently mushy—almost to the point of melting—otherwise it won't incorporate smoothly with the mix, and you will be left with a lumpy, sandy mess. If you're going to bake in the afternoon, take the butter out first thing in the morning.
Once the dough comes together, all you have to do is roll spoonfuls between the palms of your hands, place the balls on ungreased cookie sheets, and flatten them with the bottom of a drinking glass dipped in sugar. I found that I needed to bake them for a few extra minutes—about 12 to 14, as opposed to the suggested 9 to 11—but when your kitchen is warm and smells like ginger, who's really complaining?
My cookies came out perfectly round and slightly larger than Nilla Wafers. My tasters pronounced them excellent ("amazing," "perfect for garnishing a bowl of vanilla ice cream," "can’t believe they are from a mix.") However, I felt they tasted mainly like brown sugar and molasses. I would have like a bit more spice, perhaps even a whiff of white pepper. And while they weren't exactly crunchy, they didn't have the tender, buttery centers I had been hoping for.
Ultimately, I would recommend this mix, but not emphatically. The cookies are a cinch to make and would be a great baking project for young kids. They are also ideal for incorporating into more complicated desserts, such as this Pumpkin and Pecan Semifreddo with Caramel Sauce. But for seasoned spice cookie enthusiasts, the results are underwhelming. If you're looking for a cookie to enjoy on its own with a glass of milk, homemade is still your best bet.
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