Ah, holiday party season! A time for friends, family, and loved ones to gather, sip on something warming by the fire, gaze into each others' eyes and feel the magic glow of good will and cheer.
...or, a time to drive yourself crazy with over-ambitious menu plans, major kitchen disasters, and certain party guests who can't find anything good to say about that elaborate Buche de Noel that you spent the last 18 hours straight creating.
We get it. It's easy to get steamrolled by your own holiday party plans, or even find yourself drowning in invitations to other peoples' parties (to which you've promised to bring "something delicious"). So, it's important to have a few quick-and-easy shortcuts in your arsenal to help you pad out your own party, or create a contribution on the fly.
One of those is pre-made chocolate chip cookie dough. We got to thinking about it after Kenji taste-tested Hampton Creek's butter- and egg-free version three months back. And, when it comes to crowd-pleasers, it's hard to beat a great chocolate chip cookie—when they're good, they walk that perfect salty-sweet line, cure your chocolate cravings, and go nicely with any holiday drink of choice. They satisfy the pickiest eaters (including those who claim to "not like sweets").
So we gathered as many cookie doughs as we could find and put them to the test.
We limited our cookie dough search to classic chocolate chip varieties that could either be found in major grocery stores nationwide, or are available for online order around the country. We conducted some extensive online research, and made trips to our local grocery stores to see what was available. Most of the these doughs are refrigerated, though some can be kept frozen and thawed for use. Beyond that, we tried any and all types—doughs designed for special dietary needs (gluten free, vegan, or both), "artisan" (boasting high-quality ingredients), and recognizable big brand versions.
A "perfect chocolate chip cookie" is a highly personal matter. Some like theirs chewy and soft; others prefer their cookies super crisp and dark. Your preference for chocolatiness, salt, and texture may have roots in childhood cookie memories, or could have evolved as your tastes have changed over the years.
Still, cookies you'll eat versus cookies you love tend to have a pretty clear dividing line. And, with the holiday party season fast approaching, we wanted our tasters to keep entertaining, and the place of these cookies, in the front of their mind. Whether you like them crisp or chewy or somewhere in between, a good chocolate chip cookie should be buttery in flavor with a balanced level of sugar and salt and plenty of high quality chocolate chips.
We had a group of dedicated cookie eaters taste cookies that were both one day old and fresh baked—if the day old ones performed well, that could be valuable knowledge for a hassled party host. They were asked to rank each on a general tastiness scale of 1 to 10; 1 being "I wouldn't feed this to my dog," while 10 was a cookie that, "I'd pass off to my guests as homemade." We asked for their thoughts on taste, texture, and chocolatiness.
Editor's note: Hampton Creek's vegan cookie dough was not in included in this taste test as local samples could not be found retail.
Forget about baking your cookies in advance—our tasters universally preferred the fresh-baked cookies to the day-old versions. Well, kind of. The cookies that performed the best overall were better liked fresh-baked. But once we got beyond the top three, there were some discrepancies. Big brands Toll House and Pillsbury swapped places in the fresh/day old tests, but ended up with an identical final score. Immaculate's Gluten Free dough received a higher score than their non-GF counterpart; the reverse was true with the day old cookies. It's important to note that, while our vegan and gluten-free cookie doughs did not make it to the top three, none of our tasters follow vegan or gluten-free diets.
But based on the consistently good performances of our top two cookie brands, it became clear that ingredient quality (and with it, a higher price point) does make a difference. Tasters were quick to point out cookies that tasted too sweet, too "fake," or too "generic." "Tastes store-bought" was an occasional criticism, one that was usually accompanied by a lower score.
We conducted one more mini-taste test—of raw dough that was specifically marketed as being edible raw (egg-free, and in one case, not meant to be baked at all). Maybe our tasters had palate fatigue, but when asked if they would a) willingly eat the raw dough by itself b) serve raw dough to guests or c) be excited to be served cookie dough by someone else, responses were largely negative. Maybe we'll just stick to the time-honored tradition of snacking on dough mid-baking, for now.
Two of our "artisan" brands won the day here, with summed scores at least 20 points higher than our third place cookies. Still, there's clearly a place in our taster's hearts for those go-to big brand cookie doughs—they received some very positive ratings, and excited comments to go along with them. As for the rest? Let's just say that while eggs may not be 100% necessary, butter (or a damn good butter substitute) may be a must when baking to please a crowd.
Here are our four favorites (including a tie)!
Dough & Co.
"Chocolate is awesome, saltiness perfect," wrote one taster of Dough & Co.'s cookies. The saltiness is a given, thanks to the enthusiastic suggestion to sprinkle your just-baked cookies with Maldon Sea Salt (though any large-crystaled sea salt should do the trick). Dough & Co.'s cookies are egg-free, but not vegan—there's plenty of butter in here. The cookies have ground-up white chia seeds in place of egg, meaning you can eat the raw dough worry-free, should you so desire.
Salt, chocolate, and a "crispy texture" were common themes in rave reviews of these cookies; "Tastes really high quality," wrote another taster. The cookies feature massive chunks of both Tcho and Guittard chocolate (both are based in the Bay Area).
Dough & Co. is based in San Francisco.
Outrageous Cookie Dough
"Pretty great texture," wrote a taster of these chocolate chunk cookies from Outrageous Cookie Dough (also known as Fatboy Cookie Company). "I like the crunch and chew," agreed another. The cookie's thickness, and accompanying crunchy-chewy balance, was a definite win for our tasters. The cookies live up to their chocolate chunk name, too; most tasters liked the sizable pieces of chocolate, though one found the chocolate flavor "overpowering."
The "substantial" nature of the cookie was a miss for some, too; a few tasters found it "raw" in taste and texture.
Outrageous Cookie Dough can be found in the frozen section of many stores on the East Coast and in the Midwest (full list of locations can be found here). They can be ordered online for delivery here.
Tie: Pillsbury & Nestle Toll House (Tied)
There was a good amount of love for these two big brand doughs. A taster wrote about the fresh Pillsbury cookies, "Delicate—I like the chocolate-cookie balance." "Sweeter, and I like the crunch," wrote another. Tasters called out Toll House's texture, too: "Good ratio of crunch & chew, right amount of salt," wrote one."Great cookie edges, nice chocolate presence," wrote another. Still, some found the cookies to be "a bit too sugary," or "a little flat" in terms of overall flavor.
Pillsbury and Nestle Toll House Cookie Doughs can be found at most major grocery chains.