Soda Shop Sugar Cookie Showdown
The butter wars
My mother, Sally, raised me to appreciate one of the finest things in life: real butter. She’s the inspiration behind the career path I’ve taken into the culinary world, and heavily influenced my decision to specialize in pastry and baking. She passed away in 2012, a little less than a year before I graduated from BYU-Idaho with a major in English and a minor in culinary arts. In 2010 I graduated from a small professional cooking school in California, but she was very sick at the time and didn’t get to attend. Because she has been absent from most of my adult life, including my entire career in the culinary world, I’ve taken it upon myself to try and bring her spirit into the different jobs I’ve had over the years. Whether I’ve been a pastry chef, a cake decorator, a sugar cookie company owner, or a sous chef in a fancy rehab facility — she’s always in the back of my mind critiquing the food and encouraging more butter, more cream, and more delight and enjoyment in the food. She loved good, rich food. I do too.
Being in Utah, it’s hard not to notice the drastic rise in different soda shops over the last few years. It seems to be a classic Utah mom thing: roll up to events with a Dirty Diet Coke and the “best sugar cookie” from their chosen soda shop. Mom probably wouldn’t have been too into the sodas at these shops, but she did enjoy a good dessert and I’ll bet she would know exactly which shop truly had the best sugar cookie. So for her, and for all of Utah, I decided to find out which shop has the best sugar cookie.
This cookie showdown would require getting a cookie from each shop in Utah County and doing a side by side taste test. It turned out to be a two hour excursion from one end of Utah County in Salem all the way up to Lehi, but the cookies were procured and the taste test was on!
Going into this I did not realize how challenging it would be to pit sugar cookies against each other. When it comes down to it, a sugar cookie recipe is the most basic cookie recipe there is, and it’s very difficult to put one against the other and try to determine which one is better. The basic recipe is sugar, flour, eggs, butter, salt, vanilla. Buttercream is even more basic with powdered sugar, butter (or shortening, which is most often used in commercial frosting), water, and vanilla. Little to no variation between recipes, except perhaps the ratio of the ingredients.
Sitting down on a Saturday morning with my cousin Frances to help lend her palate (and opinions) and a very excited two-year-old to taste not one, not three, but seven sugar cookies was a daunting task indeed. The seven shops we compared were:
And Twisted Sugar
We first took inthe visual appeal of the cookies, which was probably the easiest part of the whole process. Sip-N and Swig were clear standouts with looks. Both are similar sized cookies with similarly light pink frosting. The ultimate visual winner was Sip-N, simply based on the frosting to cookie ratio and the apparent fluffiness of the frosting. Swig came in close 2nd, but it didn’t have as much frosting and I am through and through a frosting lover. Frances ranked Swig as #1 and Sip-N as #2 (but she’s wrong.) In choosing the loser on visual, we felt that the extremely bright pink frosting on the cookie from Soda Retreat, coupled with the obviously overbaked cookie, earned it the lowest rank. When it comes to the icing color on these cookies, less is more. I don’t want to get punched in the face with frosting bright enough to belong on the Lisa Frank folder I had as a kid with neon ballerina bunnies on it.
And then things started to get more difficult: ranking the cookie and the frosting separately. We sat in my living room nibbling at the cookies like chipmunks, describing their flavors to each other as if we were judges on Masterchef. Most of the cookies themselves tasted, predictably, just about the same. A lot of it came down to the texture itself. Bottom of the pile was the cookie from Quench-It, which is actually provided by Suss Cookies. This poor excuse for a cookie was so under baked that it’s just a gluey, floury wad in the mouth. It was truly the only one I had a hard time eating and did NOT return for any follow up bites(which is saying a lot, for a true sugar-holic like myself — I very rarely pass up a cookie.) Aside from that, the rest of the cookies were mostly middle of the road, very hard to differentiate. Sip-N came in first again for me, but only because I felt it was the right thickness and the right texture: not over baked like Swig and Soda Retreat, not under baked like Sodalicious or Quench-It, and not weird like Fiiz, which I’m still trying to figure out. It was weird but I can’t put my finger on it. The Fizz cookie tasted almost like it had citric acid in it? It was like that TikTok trend over the summer “…But why is it spicy??” At any rate, it was definitely the only cookie I could noticeably taste nutmeg in, which isn’t my favorite in a sugar cookie (and also the reason I don’t really care for Kneaders’ sugar cookies).
The frosting comparison was more fun than the cookies! The first thing Frances and I both said to each other after tasting Sip-N’s frosting was, “BUTTER!” Their buttercream is either made with real butter (not likely though, due to the cost and shelf stability of it) or made with butter flavoring. It was rich, fluffy, and delightful. #1 for me. Twisted Sugar came in second, which is mainly because of the amount of vanilla flavoring in it. Twisted Sugar sells a lot of different cookies and the one I bought was called “Vanilla Sugar” so I would have been disappointed if it didn’t have a nice vanilla flavor to it. My third place was surprising: Soda Retreat! The hot pink frosting had better texture and flavor than most of the cookies, including fan favorites Swig and Sodalicious. Those ones were more middle of the road, nothing to write home about, though Sodalicious was really just “meh” after tasting it side-by-side with the others and came in second to last. Quench-It came in dead last because it was flavorless and not a good icing-to-cookie ratio.
It will come as no surprise that when choosing the overall best cookie, I chose Sip-N. When I went through their drive-thru in Spanish Fork I saw it exclaimed on their menu board “Voted Utah’s Best Sugar Cookie!” and I felt skeptical, but the taste tests proved my skepticism wrong! It had the best frosting, the most balance bake on the cookie, the most visually appealing, and the best frosting-to-cookie ratio. I’ll definitely treat myself to another one of these cookies again! Their sodas? Maybe not. Sip-N was the first shop I stopped by on my 2 hour trip hitting up all seven shops, so I decided to buy a soda. I got a Sprite with coconut, pineapple, and cream. It tasted just like Sprite, with a little cream at the end. Major disappointment. I’ll stick with my usual Sodalicious “I Love Lucy” or “Summer Lovin with Diet Coke,” thanks.
Here’s the final breakdown of the overall best to worst cookies:
The loser of all of the cookies was the Quench-It/Suss cookie. It was simply not good. The texture of the under baked cookie, paired with the raw, gluey flour and the bland thin layer of frosting was all around disappointing. Soda Retreat was in second to last, Fiiz in third to last, with Swig in the middle of them all. Twisted Sugar was third, and Sodalicious, despite being in the latter half in the individual tastings, comes together quite nicely and balances out well, landing it second place.
In the end I ate way too much sugar way too early in the morning, but sometimes you have to make these kinds of sacrifices. For science. For Sally, too.