Ever since Martha Washington became famous for serving up soft foods to her dentally-challenged husband, First Ladies of the United States have sought to bolster their presidential helpmates by virtue of their artistry in the kitchen-- often with limited success: "Lemonade" Lucy Hayes' refusal to serve alcohol made her unpopular with non-sober male voters; Edith Wilson's hoecakes are rumored to have sunk The Lusitania; and Dolley Madison's successful line of cream-filled pastries supplied her husband's detractors with 200 years worth of political zingers.
Thanks to these women, the position of White House chef became one of ever-increasing power and importance. First ladies were now free to support their husbands in other ways. For example, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan might never have been president if their wives were kept in the kitchen rather than by their sides.
A surge of interest in the baking habits of First Ladies-- both incumbent and aspiring-- occurred in 1992 when Hillary Clinton mentioned that she chose to pursue her own career after her husband was elected Governor of Arkansas rather than "stay home and bake cookies." Every election year since, Family Circle magazine has presented a First Lady cookie bake-off-- a depressingly old-fashioned, sexist, yet remarkably accurate bellwether of the real presidential contest.*
What is interesting about this contest is not so much about how good these cookies are (or aren't), but rather, what each recipe says about the woman who submitted it. And, by extension, her husband's political philosophies. Do these treats adhere to their respective party platforms? The only way to find out is to bake them.
Ann Romney's M&M's Cookies
Makes 3 dozen.
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
1 1/2 cups crunchy peanut butter
1 tablespoon light corn syrup (such as Karo)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 1/2 cups rolled oats
2 teaspoons baking soda
6 ounces chocolate chips
2/3 cups M&M's candies
1. Heat oven to 325 degrees F. In a large bowl, cream sugars, butter, peanut butter and corn syrup on high speed until well combined. Beat in eggs 1 at a time. Beat in vanilla extract.
2. In a separate bowl, mix together oats and baking soda. Stir into peanut butter mixture until combined. Mix in chocolate chips and M&M's.
3. Using a standard-size ice cream scoop, drop dough onto baking sheets (about 9 per sheet). Bake at 325 degrees F for 18 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
What Ann's Cookies Tell Us
As a self-proclaimed "avid baker," it's little wonder that her husband frowns upon any woman who would dare serve store-bought cookies rather than stay at home and make her own:
A passionate horsewoman, it isn't surprising that Ann Romney would have plenty of oats on hand. The fact that she would include 4 1/2 cups of them is entirely in keeping with her public persona.
Politically speaking, this is truly a Romney-style cookie. It simply cannot take a firm position on anything. Is it a peanut butter cookie? Chocolate chip? Oatmeal? It tries to be all things to all people, but in the end, it tastes like none of the above.
Though it's an interesting cookie to behold-- garish bits of blue, green, and red M&M's peeking out of a bumpy oatmeal lunar surface-- it is heavy both in the hand and on the tongue. A little of this cookie goes a very long way.
But if you find that you have consumed too much Romney in cookie form, be comforted by the knowledge that, as an excellent source of fiber, oats act as "nature's broom"-- these cookies won't be staying with you long. For added insurance, Mrs. Romney has included Karo syrup, which has osmotic properties and was once popular as a home remedy for infant constipation.
The approximate total cost of making Ann Romney's creation: $14.60
*The only woman to win the cookie bake-off and lose The White House was Cindy McCain, whose Butterscotch Oatmeal Cookies beat out Michelle Obama's Citrus and Amaretto-laced Shortbread. It should be noted that McCain has been accused of stealing the recipe directly from Hershey's website.