National Cookie Day (Dec. 4) got me thinking about one of my dad’s favorite sayings: “It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other.” The folksy aphorism may be applied to many of life’s decisions, but when it comes to cookies these six cookies from half a dozen Kansas City bakeries are most certainly not the same.
In my quest to find six standout cookies, I decided to skip the decorated sugar cookies of the holiday season. They’re a fine canvas for artistic icing but don’t offer much variation in the way of flavor. At each bakery, I chose three or four cookie samples that caught my eye, tasted and chose the one that was most memorable.
Here are six of Kansas City’s best cookies.
Ashleigh’s Bake Shop (115 Westport Road): On the day I stopped by this pie bakery in the basement of Pryde’s Old Westport, there were just two glass cannisters of cookies next to some fine pies. Lucky me, they were still slightly warm from the oven. The Salted Chocolate Chip ($1.95) may be one of the city’s very best chocolate chip cookies: thick, buttery and chocolate-y, slightly chewy but firm, not crumbly, keeping its shape from beginning to end. Why salt? For years, top pastry chefs have been advising to add salt to balance and brighten sweet flavors.
Upper Crust Bakery (7943 Santa Fe in Overland Park): Jonathan Bender, author of “ Cookies & Beer: Bake, Pair and Enjoy” (Andrews McMeel) tipped me off to the unusual Frosted Banana Cookie ($3.10). Think banana bread in cookie form with a thick icing smeared on top. Banana certainly qualifies as one of the “weird” options out there, but hey, it works really well. And in case you were wondering, beer and cookies are a thing: “What every adult needs in life, whether they know it or not,” Bender says. He’d pair this one with Avery Brewing Co.’s Ellie’s Brown Ale. “The chocolate and malt notes in the ale will play nicely with the banana, while the burnt sugar in the cookie will bring out the vanilla and brown sugar highlights in the beer.”
Best Regards Bakery & Cafe (6759 W. 119th St. in Overland Park): Owner/baker Robert Duensing will show off his Christmas cookie skills in a National Cookie Day edition of the Food Network’s “Christmas Cookie Challenge” hosted by Pioneer Woman Ree Drummond at 9 p.m. Monday. Duensing’s cookie game is as strong as his high-domed cookies. He has three signature quarter-pound cookies ($2.99 each), two named for lawn-care specialist and radio-show host Toby Tobin —Toby’s Chocolate Avalanche, Toby’s Spiced Apple Pie — and the Cranberry Orange ($2.99), a cookie with a citrusy nose chockful of cranberries and candied orange, flavors that scream holiday to me.
McClain’s Bakery (201 E. Gregory Blvd.): If you’re looking for a red cookie to celebrate Santa this season, one of the undecorated standouts here is Red Velvet ($1.50). For Midwesterners, red velvet is revered. But usually for cakes and, more recently, doughnuts. The ’80s movie “Steel Magnolias” featured the cake, so it may also be a Southern thing. Either way, McClain’s Red Velvet is slightly cocoa-y and instead of creamy white icing the batter is studded with white chocolate chips. Ho, ho, whoa.
Heirloom Bakery & Hearth (401 E. 63rd St.): The line here was out the door on a Saturday morning, and with good reason. The bakery features seasonal treats made from local ingredients. Luscious chocolate-dipped Orange-Sage Coconut Macaroon, the perky Lemon Sables and the fragrant Salted Rosemary Shortbread would be the stars of any perfect holiday cookie tray. For a go-to cookie I could eat yearround and never get sick of, check out the Brown Butter Snickerdoodle ($1.85), one of the tastiest cookies of my travels. It’s rich, sugary and has a soft chew.
The Classic Cookie & Cafe (409 W. Gregory Blvd.): If you’ve got the word “cookie” in your name, chances are good that your cookie game is strong. The list of classic cookies is well, as the name implies, “classic.” I tried a Snickerdoodle, Ginger but the Chocolate Chocolate Chip (cookies sold by weight, or $1.25-$1.50 each) won out. The flavors are layered: It is a lightly chocolate-y cookie with a sugary coating that crackles as you bite into denser chips of chocolate.