Eater editors analyze the many, many cookie packages, features, and recipes this year
Whether or not you’re choosing to celebrate them this year, the winter holidays are almost upon us and with them comes the usual glut of recipe content to inspire home cooks. While holiday — especially Christmas — cookies are old territory for cooking content-makers, editors this year made cookies the main focus for holiday cooking packages and features. But which packages offer the most service or useful tips to readers? The most exciting recipes? The coolest design? And what does it all mean?
Below, a conversation among four Eater staffers, attempting to decipher the 2020 holiday cookie madness.
Jenny Zhang: One of my favorites, visually speaking — looks like they took a page from NYT’s cookie package from last year.
Hillary Dixler Canavan: I like the interstitial photographs a lot, but I have issues with the black background and the lead image. There’s nothing particularly festive about this presentation?
Lesley Suter: The cookies themselves feel like a good mix of “I can do that” and “oh that looks neat.” Approachable. But yes the deep jewel tones with the stark shadow do carry a bit of 2020-apropos doom and gloom.
Nicholas Mancall-Bitel: I wonder if the individual cookie pics are too close though? Especially the raspberry rye cookies just sort of unnerve me.
LS: Maybe the cookies are a little sad? Also is that cookie generator tool new? Because I am a fan!
JZ: They’ve had the tool for at least a year or two! But I’m glad they’re continuing to update it.
NMB: I wish it had features for texture though. Like chewy versus crumbly versus whatever.
HDC: This assortment of 12 recipes is a good mix, I think. WaPo wasn’t alone in this year in sourcing from a group of contributors rather than relying on one writer, or just staff, even.
JZ: I like that approach to sourcing.
NMB: The chef illos are cute.
LS: I selfishly like how many LA chefs there are, too.
JZ: The layout is also one of the most user friendly, especially on mobile. In between the visuals + usability + recipe mix, it’s one of the top of the bunch imo.
NMB: Feels cohesive.
HDC: This feels like a project they put effort into, unlike some food publications who did cookie things this year. YOU CANT MAKE ME NAME NAMES jk I’ll totally name names dm me!!!
LS: Yep, this is an actual “package” from start to finish.
HDC: Okay to wrap up: Is there a cookie in this piece that you’re actually excited to bake or eat?
NMB: Corn linzers.
HDC: Sesame blossoms for me.
JZ: Quite a few of these seem actually Doable for plebes like me, which is always a plus.
HDC: So this isn’t a cookie package, rather it’s a cookie feature inside a holiday package.
JZ: I’m just going to throw this out there: I don’t like the nested infinite scroll thing for an entire package.
NMB: Agreed! This entire thing feels so overwhelming. My eyes hurt.
LS: The fact there’s the side nav bar makes me okay with it, but yes it’s a LOT. The photography is usual BA greatness (like how cute is that damn piggie?) and love the side-by-sides!
JZ: Yeah photos are gorg. Great typography too.
HDC: It’s helpful that each section has its own background color. That way when I got to the Marcus video I realized I was done. AND AGREE — these side by side photos of single/group cookies are so good. This cookie mix also feels like a good balance of expected versus unexpected. The comfort theme was a good one, and not dissimilar from the WaPo intro.
LS: I want a little more to draw me in editorially maybe? Like, more words?
HDC: A very writerly ask. I get the sense that we’re looking at a list of magazine blurbs.
JZ: Yeah but tbf I doubt many people are looking at this kind of list for the words.
LS: Ambition level-wise: a lot of these seem harder than I will attempt.
NMB: I do feel like these are some of the more unique cookie recipes of the bunch. Definitely didn’t expect to see moon pies.
LS: Also, my kids aren’t going to like 95 percent of these. Where’s my crowd pleaser?
HDC: It’s a good mix, I think. There’s the basic categories you’d expect in a holiday cookie list — a linzer, a bar cookie, a ginger cookie — but all with a twist of some sort.
JZ: This is like the archetypal fancy food mag cookie feature, i.e., beautiful, slightly unattainable, but interesting to look at and dream about.
HDC: But Lesley is right, this is definitely putting out an “hip adult dinner party that is maybe happening indoors despite COVID” energy.
LS: Yes! Adults like seeds n’ nuts. Kids… do not.
HDC: Is there a cookie in this piece that you’re actually excited to bake or eat?
JZ: I desperately want someone to make me Rick Martinez’s marranitos enfiestados. But no, I will never make them myself.
LS: Moon pies had me at potato chip.
HDC: Hard same. Give me the moon pie.
NMB: I again will go for the linzers, especially because tahini and also the “fake lattice.”
New York Times
JZ: Interesting how they basically did a 180 from last year’s jewel box of a package. This is pure service as opposed to pageantry.
LS: Super cohesive theme, which I like.
HDC: I think this is really clever, to use the through-line of creating a cookie box as a way to highlight excellent holiday cookie recipes. I should probably also note here that I am a Melissa Clark super-fan.
JZ: There’s a lot of utility here.
NMB: Yes, love the practical tips. Also the gif up top is all the inspo I need.
LS: While I like spreading the love to different chefs, I love a single, experienced voice to hold my hand.
HDC: I also like the use of video! It doesn’t feel forced, it feels playful. I love the lead image.
JZ: I wish they went for a different styling/photo approach than to use the typical top down natural lit over marble thing. But my guess is that this makes it as approachable as possible. Kinda let down on the wow factor though.
LS: Yeah, this is all about sum of its parts.
NMB: Everything seems very doable.
HDC: That’s why I love Melissa! :sobs openly:
LS: You’re not crying I’m crying!
JZ: Accessible queen!
NMB: She’s the warm reassuring voice I need when facing the prospect of filling a cookie box.
JZ: I bet she could sell her cookie boxes for $50 each and people would buy them. Maybe that’s underpricing them, idk.
HDC: If by “people” you mean “my coworker Hillary” yes definitely.
JZ: New revenue stream idea for NYT Cooking :’)
LS: The powdered sugar DOES NOT HOLD. We learned that. Those snowballs are toast in the mail.
NMB: I like that she addresses packing multiple kinds of cookies, like don’t pack them together for too long or the flavors will cross-contaminate, and think about visual variety.
LS: Right, she mentions her downfall with including a spicy cheese cracker.
HDC: Melissa makes mistakes JUST LIKE US :sobs openly: Is there a cookie in this piece that you’re actually excited to bake or eat?
NMB: She included rugelach, which won me. The PB&J thumbprints also look fun.
JZ: +1 for rugelach.
LS: It‘s not highlighted individually, but the cornmeal lime shortbread sounds dreamy.
JZ: Oh boy.
HDC: I’d say this one is a package of recipes, with a helpful tips article included. I really like the tips and tricks article in this package — actually useful, and stuff I never think about.
LS: What I will say for it is that the words here are of sufficient quantity and very good. I liked reading it!
HDC: Same! I wish the package had more visual heft, though.
JZ: Yes. There’s not much that distinguishes it from everyday content.
LS: Also just organizationally very complicated and confusing.
NMB: The grocery list post combining ingredients for all the cookies also seems ambitious, but maybe somebody out there really will bake them all.
HDC: Also this one is more like WaPo: a collection of contributors.
LS: I love all the chefs, but also know Ben Mims to be Clark-ish in his very smart dolling out of service and wish there were more of him!
HDC: Yes! This package needs more BEN. But I do think, especially this year, it’s nice to put the spotlight on local chefs.
LS: And it’s a good mix!
HDC: This is mean but the lead image looks like a stock photo.
LS: I can’t wait to see it in print honestly.
NMB: Doesn’t help that all the cookies are also bland in color.
LS: Yeah, like maybe just one sprinkle?
HDC: What do we think of the recipe mix though? I think it’s pretty darn comprehensive.
JZ: Seem to skew a bit more “conventional with one small twist” aka approachable, at least.
LS: Is this not the place to talk about how I don’t think biscotti should be included in any holiday cookie roundup because they’re terrible?
HDC: Woah woah strong disagree. I think biscotti are nice dipped in after-dinner coffee!!
JZ: Dry-ass sticks.
NMB: If it needs to be dipped, it cannot stand up on its own.
HDC: Some can!! But also I do believe they are best dipped. And I won’t be shamed for this.
LS: Oreos are best dipped too, but they’re also like, edible solo!
HDC: Okay wrapping up: Is there a recipe you’re excited to bake or to eat?
NM: I’m a sucker for tahini anything.
HDC: The brown butter espresso cookies.
LS: I’m also on the tahini train, plus they look just like a very good chocolate chip cookie.
HDC: This is maybe the most variety in our answers to the prompt so far?
LS: A good sign for the lineup!
HDC: I will describe this as a high-touch feature. Nay, a package. This one is my favorite visually.
LS: Very cute. Very pre/post 2020 mood.
JZ: Pleasantly surprised.
HDC: I really enjoy the cookies revealing the recipe creator!
LS: Also boldly anti-scroll, which I love.
NMB: I’ve been reading a lot of pop-up picture books with my nephew and this gives me the same joy.
HDC: Joy is a good word — this is very joyful. Which cookies should be?? Even in 2020, cookies should still be able to elicit joy. (Presumably this is what all these publications were banking on, too.)
JZ: I will say I wish they had the cookie name/type on the cookie graphic itself instead of tap to reveal for ease of skimming / just knowing which cookies are here without hovering over each one.
LS: Also maybe it’s just the lighting, even, but they all look very doable and not scary.
NMB: They’re also mostly round and look like cookies, which is a nice change from the everything must be variety feeling of the others but still varied in other ways.
JZ: These would make cute stickers. Another revenue opportunity??? I’m in business mode.
HDC: This is another mix of contributors, rather than one person or entirely staff.
LS: Each recipe also has a Tester’s Note which provides a lot of good first-hand service.
HDC: There’s also some overlap in contributors across these packages.
JZ: Yeah you can kinda tell who are the go-to cookie experts.
NMB: I appreciate they took the idea of “summing up the year” in lighthearted directions.
HDC: This is also the least explicitly “holiday.” What do you all think of this carrot cake cookie?
NMB: I’m intrigued.
HDC: I can’t decide whether I am excited about this or not. I love carrot cake, but I’m having trouble with separating out my love carrot cake from my love of the ~crumb~. I think I’m intrigued too.
LS: Wait which is the carrot cake cookie? I just had to click to reveal all of the cookies, which now makes me see Jenny’s point. I love carrot cake. I love cookies. The math seems pretty simple here. Also Joanne Chang and Deb Perleman’s contributions look very similar.
HDC: It’s maybe a misplay to have two pretzel-chocolate things? The photos are so appetizing across this package though — like even the molasses cookie looks great (could have easily just been kinda boring to look at). Overall, I just feel this package punches above its weight.
JZ: I think there could be a little more variety (like five of the cookies look very similar purely aesthetically, and again the no words problem), but agree that this is impressive from The Kitchn and just keyword cute!!!
HDC: Is there a recipe here you’re actually excited to bake or eat?
NMB: You mean beyond the carrot cake cookie?
HDC: lol yes I think we’ve all decided we want carrot cake cookies.
LS: I actually think the ube crinkle is my favorite riff on that classic of the bunch. Also a fun color!
JZ: Oh you know what, I wish they had a jammy/fruit cookie. As it is I would lean towards lemon tea cake cookie purely for the lemon flavor.
Food & Wine
HDC: So this is a package — Food & Wine put cookies on their cover in print. But this package doesn’t really pack a lot of punch digitally; it’s a list of the included content with link outs to articles.
LS: But in print oddly there’s like one cookie recipe? The main package is about candy but that’s also fine!
HDC: Oh really? I just got my issue yesterday but haven’t opened, I assumed it was a giant cookie issue!
LS: Nope. Though the headline and picture would leave one to think that… unless I missed it!
NMB: I feel like you have to dig for the good stuff, like the tip in the shipping cookies piece about slipping a piece of white bread in with soft cookies. Or the cool inclusion of the krembo among the cookies recipes.
HDC: I also love this headline: “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe for Every Occasion.” Like thank you for acknowledging that chocolate chip cookies contain multitudes. (Very clever way to link back to previously published recipes imo).
LS: Yeah in general I can’t tell what’s new to this package and what’s just an update, which is a good thing. But I have to say I don’t feel very INSPIRED by this package. It doesn’t make me want to bake a bunch of cookies.
HDC: So I think the inspiration/aspiration zone comes from this Most Beautiful Cookies roundup (which again, links to previous content, not to new recipes).
LS: What even are those caramel meringues peeking in from the side?? I want.
HDC: They are these coconut krembos, they are gluten-free, and they are from March!
LS: They look hard.
HDC: So many publications worked on versions of “how to mail cookies” this year (us included!) but I really appreciate that Food & Wine went a step beyond and collected all the mail-by dates for the various postal services. That is true service. Thank you, Kat Kinsman!!
NMB: I also enjoyed Kat’s cookie essay for real feels.
JZ: I think the package hed “Everything You Need to Know About Cookies” about sums it up: perfectly serviceable, comprehensive, perfunctory. A one-stop shop, even if not the most inspiring.
HDC: And to wrap: Is there any recipe highlighted in this package that we’re actually excited to eat or to bake?
NMB: Krembos! Though definitely not for shipping.
HDC: From the beautiful cookies piece, the cardamom shortbread cookies with dulce de leche peda filling are enticing.
JZ: Krembos minus the coconut!!
LS: I’m frightened but titillated by those krembos!
Which was the best cookie package?
NMB: Gotta go with Melissa Clark — so much service!
LS: WaPo I think.
HDC: I’m stickn with Kitchn. The end!