Though I will always be the first to volunteer to bake something for any event, even I’ve found myself too crunched for time to bake during the holiday season. With upcoming holiday cookie swaps, parties and gift-giving on the horizon, it seemed like high time to explore Houston’s landscape for holiday cookie options. After taste-testing a variety of the finest from some of Houston’s best and upcoming bakeries, here are our findings for where to get the best holiday cookies in Houston.
Each of the 16 bakeries were chosen for inclusion if its cookies received a word-of-mouth nomination or special mention on Yelp or other press. All cookies were donated to the event, and the tasting was performed by 14 cookie lovers spanning the gamut from food writers to personal chefs to dieticians. Each cookie was randomly assigned a number and subsequently rated during a blind taste test for flavor — on a scale of 1-10 — and appearance and texture on a scale of 1-5 for a total of 20 points.
Best Gingerbread Cookies: Notables
Pondicheri: Like all goods from Pondicheri’s endlessly interesting bake lab, their ginger cookie strays from the beaten track of typical gingerbread cookies with its thick, soft and hearty texture brimming with vibrant spices. This was an overall crowd-pleaser, particularly for those who favored a more exotic cookie profile.
Three Brothers Bakery: The unique shape of these cookies were childhood icons for several native Houstonian tasters; these were soft and bready—in a good way. One taster commented that they couldn’t win the gingerbread category since its very mild flavor wasn’t reminiscent of gingerbread, but more like a sugar cookie—but thick and soft texture still won over many tastebuds.
Last Course Gourmet: A close fourth place, these gluten-free, dairy-free, vegan cookies from a talented local special-diet home baker, Last Course Gourmet, are very soft with a much more pronounced ginger flavor compared to others in the tasting. This flavor profile comes much closer to fitting the bill for a “traditional” gingerbread.
Best Gingerbread Cookies: Top 3
3. Moeller’s Bakery: Moeller's thin, flat, light-colored gingerbread man has a crisp, subtly crinkled exterior speckled with a random array of sprinkles. Its tender texture and mild ginger flavor allowed its flavor to win over appearance.
2. Michael’s Cookie Jar: Much deeper in color compared to Moeller’s, this gingerbread was also on the thin and tender side with an extraordinarily smooth exterior and a slight toothsome texture. These have the benefit of being both adorably decorated and satisfying to eat.
1. Crave: Extending their cupcake expertise into cookies, the Crave Cupcakes team features gingerbread that was very similar in both taste and appearance to Michael’s Cookie Jar's gingerbread; however, these soft, and every-so-slightly chewy textured cookies edged into first place with slightly deeper molasses and spice undertones. The delicate icing made for a beautiful presentation for an overall picture-perfect cookie.
Best Sugar Cookies: Notables
The competition for the best sugar cookie was particularly fierce; while we had to eventually name top honors to three bakeries, these bakeries also stood out for having uniquely delicious and beautiful cookies.
Moeller’s Bakery: Unlike all of the other frosted sugar cookies that went for a royal icing, Moeller’s uses a thicker and softer frosting more akin to buttercream that you’d find on a cake that makes for a very sugary, but very delicious cookie.
Michael’s Cookie Jar: Slightly harder in texture than preferred by some tasters, these cookies have a strong citrus hint to them that many tasters loved.
Dacapo’s: These buttery, almost flaky shortbread cookies under a crown of uber-thin icing were likely edged out of contention for one of the top three spots due to decorations that couldn’t quite stand up to more elaborate designs, but the overall texture and flavor is almost second to none in my books.
Paulie’s: Voted as having the cutest decorations by many, these sugar-encased gingerman and blue-scarved snowmen would make for an absolutely irresistible platter for any holiday party.
Best Sugar Cookies: Top 3
3. BUTTER.SUGAR.BAKE: New-to-the-scene home baker took third place with her lovely cookies that have a beautifully sandy texture and vanilla-infused flavor along with some of the most intricately detailed decorations of the bunch. Holiday cookies can be ordered from BUTTER.SUGAR.BAKE via email at email@example.com.
2. Crave Cupcakes: Reminiscent of those thick Lofthouse sugar cookies except better—the smooth wash of sweet royal icing over each fluffy, vanilla-y cookie is shatteringly perfect, with an almost-too-beautiful-to-eat design. Each cookie “ornament” is tied with a chewy gummy string, an adorable touch.
Best Holiday Sandwich Cookies:
3. Rustika Cafe and Bakery: Rustika's stroopwaffle features two cinnamon-based waffles cookies sandwiching homemade dulce de leche filling—at once chewy and slightly crunchy, this is a fantastic, unique addition to a holiday cookie plate.
2. Rustika Cafe and Bakery: Rustika's "snow" cookies combine their butter cookie base with either apricot or raspberry filling, topped with powdered sugar. Delicate and slightly crumbly, these are the definition of melt-in-your-mouth cookies.
1. Last Course Gourmet: Your one-stop shop for some of the best gluten-, grain- and refined sugar-free baked goods in Houston, Last Course Gourmet serves up these gingersnap and marshmallow sandwiches show that special-diet desserts don't have to taste inferior. The soft, slightly spicy ginger cookies are a fantastic foil to thick wedges of bronzed marshmallow sandwiched in between.
Best Petite Fours:
3. The Village Bakery: For the chocolate lover in your life, you can't miss the dark, gooey and decadent chocolate rum balls dunked in sprinkles.
2. Dessert Gallery: We're calling the peanut butter cake balls dunked in white chocolate a petite-four because it seems close enough. One bite and you won't care what it's called—they're a textural delight, and completely addicting.
1. Moeller’s: Extraordinarily fluffy white cake dunked in white chocolate and crowned with a frosting wreath, this little bite is not only beautiful to look at, but one of the best cakey holiday treats you can get your hands on.
Best Holiday-Flavored Cookies: Notables
Red Dessert Dive: Red Dessert Dive takes on the holidays with an upgraded gingersnap/snickerdoodle hybrid (the orange zest "gingerdoodle") and a delicious take on the classic white chocolate cranberry. Both embody the luxuriously thick cookie texture that is perhaps Red's signature; they both make a winning combination with milk.
Best Holiday-Flavored Cookies: Top 3
3. Michael’s Cookie Jar: Once again, Michael's Cookie Jar shone with a hearty oat and cranberry cookie that was the perfect level of sweetness and utterly addicting.
2. Pondicheri: While the Texas Mesquite isn't a solely holiday cookie, its use of seasonal ingredients allowed it to fall under this category. This cookie is an all-around winner with its perfect chocolate ratio and hint of spices against a smoky and spicy backdrop.
1. Ooh La La: Easily the heftiest cookie in this category, Ooh La La's gigantic holiday cookie includes a generous amount of white chocolate and dried cranberries loaded into buttery cookie dough with bronzed, slightly craggy edges that have just the right amount of chew.
Best Miscellaneous Holiday Cookies
3. Yalla Sweets: From buttery jam thumbprints to incredibly addictive coconut cornflake crunch cookies and circus animals cookies with holiday sprinkles, home baker Yalla Sweets knocked our socks off with her creative sweets.
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2. Dessert Gallery: Pecan pie bars, lemon bars, cake balls, and more—The Dessert Gallery showcases a wide array of miscellaneous goods that all have one thing in common: they're well-executed, and they're widely agreed-upon as delicious.
1. Pondicheri: Between the vivid orange masala shortbread, the tender teddy bear-shaped lemon avocado cookie and the cardamom-dipped cookie, Pondicheri takes the cake for the most creative and delicious miscellaneous holiday cookies in Houston.
And for the overall favorite holiday cookie of the bunch...well, it was about a 10-way tie between Yalla's coconut cornflake crunch cookie, Ooh La La's white chocolate cranberry cookie, Tudor House Cookie's sugar cookies, Red Dessert Dive's gingerdoodle, Moeller's gingerbread, Paulie's sugar cookies, Last Course Gourmet's gingerbread, and Rustika's meringue caramel sandwiches. While it's hard to find one cookie to unite them all, all of the bakeries we tasted had a wide variety of sweets that would easily suit any crowd.
Think we missed a great bakery or holiday cookie? Let us know in the comments!