Last week, I had a craving for one of my favorite childhood snacks: sugar cookies. While I could've gone to the grocery store for some take-and-bake dough, let's face it, only 50% of the dough would've ended up in the oven. The other half would've been hoovered straight out of the package (raw egg warning be damned!) and been packed onto my thighs.
Instead I did the smart thing and sampled the sugar cookies at two local bakeries known for their sweet treats. Which cookie crumbled under the pressure and which one took home the Battle of the Dishes gold? Read on and find out.
In One Corner: Sweet Cakes Cafe
19 E. Main St. in Mesa
Recently featured on TLC's Best Food Ever: Bodacious Bakeries, Sweet Cakes was definitely the heavyweight in this challenge. Owner Kellie Huntington bought the shop from its previous owners in 2004 and expanded the offerings to include frozen yogurt and their signature cookie, a sugar circle topped with a half-inch of frosting.
The cafe is adorable, with a friendly staff, kitschy country decor with humorous plaques that say things like "Life's Short, Eat Cookies" and a mass of small bistro tables usually occupied by local regulars. Brownies, toffee bars and cookies are their forte, but you'll also find salads, soups and sandwiches on the menu here (Tip: Skip the egg salad sandwich, which was so finely ground and so relish-y that I gave mine away to a homeless man.)
I ordered up one of their signature sugar circles -- annoyingly, 25 cents more expensive than their other cookies. It
was pale and soft, about three-and-a-half inches in diameter with a thick layer of white frosting sprinkled with colored sugar.
"Now this is what I think of when I picture a sugar cookie," said my dining companion. "Mmm...the frosting isn't what I expected. It's not typical bakery frosting."
There are two types of frostings commonly found in professional bakeries: a hard, sugar-based version and a softer buttercream made with real butter or shortening. I'm not a fan of either. No one wants hard frosting when you can get a whole tub of Duncan Hines on the cheap at your local Fry's. And buttercream made with shortening tastes like vanilla-flavored Crisco. Ugh. Not only will it surely dimple your thighs, the lard taste makes this real-butter-only-please gal want to heave. But I digress.
The frosting on this baby was soft and sweet, with a buttery taste that left both my friend and I licking leftovers from our fingers. The cookie was also soft, with a slightly powdery texture and a flavor reminiscent of that take-and-bake cookie dough I adore. The pastel sugar sprinkles added a subtle crunch. Overall, an excellent homestyle cookie.
In the Other Corner: Cake Cafe
4910 E. Ray Rd. in SE Phoenix
Chandler's Cake Cafe is one of the more recent bakeries to jump on the Sprinkles-started cupcake craze. Known for cupcakes in fun flavors like chocolate cherry and espresso cream, the cafe also sells coffee, smoothies and sugar cookies decorated like baseballs and whatnot. Outside, the place is pretty nondescript. Inside, it looks like a five-year-old girl's bedroom. Hope you loooove pink!
My friend and I purchased a 3-pack of sugar cookies decorated with neon green, butter yellow and electric blue icing and sprinkled with sugar dots. I don't care what the snotty Yelp! crowd says about everything coming from grocery store mixes at this shop -- at least when it comes to cookies, they sure tasted homemade.
This cookie was the antithesis of the Sweet Cakes version. It was soft and moist, with a dark, golden flavor that tasted more like brown sugar than its refined white cousin. I could swear a full pound of butter went into the mix. Not a bad thing...
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Then the stupid frosting went and ruined it all. It was hard and sugary, with a rubbery texture and bitter taste that I imagine is similar to sweetened Elmer's glue. The dot-shaped sprinkles left an artificial taste in my mouth.
"Blech," mumbled my friend, desperately trying to pick the frosting from the cookie like a scab. (Yeah, it was that unappetizing.) "The icing is horrible. It's too sugary, has an awful hard, pasty consistency and tastes like crap. What the hell??" Clearly, he was disappointed enough not to hold back.
I get the frosting when you have to make a cookie look like a baseball or a basketball, but otherwise the Cake Cafe should leave well enough alone and just sprinkle some colored sugar on top. Both my friend and I agreed that this buttery gem was the cookie we'd rather have eaten solo, if it weren't for the evil icing.
The Winner: Sweet Cakes Cafe. Sorry Cake Cafe, but until you change your frosting recipe, that's the way the cookie crumbles.