Yes, this is a tale of obsession and seduction.
I have often been asked what my favorites are, be it for food or fashion. These questions are sometimes too general, whereby they become ignorant, since anyone who knows me well is aware of my forte in segmentation. This is a guy who knows his chocolate quality by percentages, is aware of the gazillion varieties of cake spinoff textures that exists, and on the other extreme, knows how the variance in leg size can dramatically alter the fittings of denim, or more simply, knows his Valentino from his Versace. Yet, the questions continue to pour in. Quite a challenge really.
However, upon reading and repeatedly re-reading my soulmate’s obsession for cookies in her aptly titled cookie saga, I didn’t realize that I would be answering one of these list-response questions unknowingly. For my first and immediate need was to unleash my own craving and gobble down platefuls of the epitome of consumable indulgences that binds us both – a soft baked cookie. Scandalous title aside, this really is my favorite consumable item of all time (or at least very close to being it). I am obsessed with cookies, and had it not been for something called a healthy conscience, this would have been a staple in every consumable meal. My anxiety on even getting a whiff of a soft baked cookie, or my unreasonable appetite for plates upon plates of cookies, truly fits into the definition of obsession.
The cookie is not as simple as one may think; the variations in it are rather remarkable, not only with what the cookie is accessorized with (although chocolate chips are the lifelong companion of a cookie; besides the milk of course), but also amidst the varieties of the exact same cookie. This is why I metaphorically relate the textures, succulence and melted chocolate chips so capable of evoking oohs and aahs, with seduction. Possibly a lot more seductive than the rushes of seductive chocolate marketing that makes its rounds around Valentines day.
As I scooped up the last cookie on the plate, almost sad that the melting taste of chocolate and lightly baked dough would momentarily be my last, I began to recall my favorite cookies of the world, inevitably answering one of the many questions about my favorite items listing. Since my favorite edible item in the world is probably a soft baked cookie, I try it wherever I go, hoping that I will not be dissatisfied. Although I have met with numerous disappointments, ranging from burnt chocolate or walnuts to undercooked and unmixed dough, to tasting more salt than sugar, and to having cookies crumble like eroding cliffs in my hands, nothing has turned me off enough to never consume one again; that would be outrageous. I have found that the US has mastered its art in this sub-cuisine, which has not translated well across the rest of the world, where the popular and rather prehistoric, or let’s be nice and call it renaissance-era, concept of crispy biscuits still prevails (I like those too, but honestly, after being introduced to soft baked cookies, there is no comparison; the latter seduces mouths to a new level). So, I think my true love for them lies within the world map’s West-most continent, yet with that said, there are exceptions aplenty, too, as I have managed to find several non American avenues of soft baked cookies.
With my penchant for history, I found that the word cookie originates from the Dutch word koekje, which relates to the term cake, koek. Having tried softer and well baked Dutch cakes, it is no surprise that soft baked cookies in particular draw from this linguistic and materialistic ancestor. However, I prefer cookies to the cakes (and related substitutes, you might say) due to the texture, and perhaps at a more fundamental level, due to the absence of water. Water is used as a cohesion medium in cakes to give the adequate bubbly fluffiness, but is replaced by the butters and margarines in cookies, to provide a more chewy texture. Health issues momentarily taking a backseat, with the knowledge that water has zero calories whilst butter is… well. Anyway, this is exactly what I crave.
Back to the list-response question, I always wonder why lists tend to focus around the number ten. Perhaps a curious evening will answer that question, but in the meantime, so as to keep up with the trend, the following are my favorite cookies of the world, in alphabetical order of store/manufacturer/cook/creator (except for a sequentially out of order surprise finale).
Ben’s Cookies | London | Chocolate Chip Cookie
This cute store was surprisingly crowded at tea time for people venturing away from traditional crispy and sugar crusted biscuits towards soft baked cookies. I was afraid they would be too crisp, and the slightly-more-crispy-than-chewy first bite was almost heartbreaking. But, on realizing that the cookie got chewier towards the middle, and the chocolate chips were variable in size, thus adding to the unpredictability and enticing my tastebuds further, I was instantly reminded of home baked goodness. Whilst staring at the soon-to-vanish red telephone booths outside, I happily chewed away on the array of textures that so well symbolized my transatlantic lifestyle preferences.
Famous 4th Street Cookie Company | Philadelphia | Chocolate Chip Cookie (and another chocolate chip cookie in fudge dip)
When you are introduced to a cookie parlor by a dentist, you know that is has to be a delight. I marveled at a thick chocolate chip cookie that was surprisingly low on sugar, or at least seemed to not be soaked in sweetness, thus allowing me to taste other ingredients, especially the chocolate. I felt the cookie had an unusually homogenous chewy texture, a remarkable victory when cookie competitors often seems to have overbaked exteriors and underdone interiors. The overload of chocolate chips had a distinct taste to the fudge dipped exterior, as my taste buds can easily sense the difference between gooey fudge and cocoa-ey chocolate. The combination of indecipherably chopped walnuts simply added to the variety and made this cookie an almost promiscuous tasting experience! Paradoxical tastes amidst a uniform texture have never been as perfect.
Levain Bakery| New York | Chocolate Chip Walnut (6 ounce) cookie
I did not know that my chocolate monstrosity would take form in the size of a giant six ounce cookie, without compromising on the taste or softness. Finally there was a cookie sized to match the shamelessness of my appetite. I simply fell flat tasting the underbaked texture, which was a notch above plain cookie dough (which I also love to eat, albeit in moderation) and a classic cookie, thus creating another category of its own! It was surprisingly not crumbly, given its thickness and beach-beaten-rock-like texture size, which speaks well of its ingredients, and perhaps hints at the dual action of the overloaded butter. Its taste almost reminded me of the cakey base of my favorite dessert, the paradise chip pie. This is one dough-to-cookie transitional snack that I can chew on forever.
Max Brenner | New York | OMG Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Despite many people’s love or hate relationship with this not too large but definitely commercialized chocolate haven, I enjoyed every morsel of the irritatingly titled cookie (I can do away with screeching acronyms used to describe divine consumables). Chunky is the best way to describe it, with its uneven, almost mountainous texture, bloating with chunks of chocolate chips. A chewy texture made it easy to hike through the cookie surface, which got better with more bites, just like the love of a rocky terrain for a hiker. I skipped the condiments, if you wish to call them that, that were served with it: whipped cream, which is my most detested consumable item of all time, a strange but interesting (albeit not alongside the cookie indulgence) red berry orange salad, and pure melted chocolate, which, from experience, can harden if not slurped instantly. I ordered milk on the side, to the dismay of my co-eaters. I wondered why. Milk is my favorite drink.
Momofuku’s Milk Bar | New York | Compost Cookie
Admittedly this one did not appeal to me at the onset. The oxymoronic combination of potato chips and pretzels (my least favorite snack, mainly since I do not see the point in something which is both tasteless and hard on the eyes) with chocolate chip cookies and the overall glistening shine of the texture reminded me of the glazed waters after the infamous oil spill. Yet, appearances and thoughtful notions can sometimes be proven wrong, and thankfully so. Although it was a bit greasy, the paradoxical tastes and unexpected crunch in the middle of a chewy bite is what made this a worthy of repeated trials. Imagine a gooey liquefying chocolate chip, alongside a chewy chunk of dough, followed by something resembling a roasted nut, alongside an unexpected crunch of a potato chip! It may sound strange, but the sequence had an electrifying effect on my taste buds. Gobble up! I certainly did.
Mrs. Fields | United States | White Chocolate and Macademia Nut Cookie
To those who cringe at the mass market world, straighten up. The packaged world does manage to evoke sighs amidst the sometimes overrated hole-in-the-walls or fresh-ingredient-hoggers of the world. The mass market world need not be a diluted, vicious and business minded tyrant; some businesses have grown out of joy, happiness, finery and have maintained their product promise. I think Mrs. Fields white chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookie is its best (and a signature) creation ever, with macadamia nuts that always retain their shape and freshness, evident from the sharp crunch that I come across when I’m nibbling through the uneven texture. With white chocolate being my least favorite, and on finding that it actually contains no cocoa at all, I find it hard to go wrong with it (purists may think otherwise, but frankly, I have no comparison to the white chocolate held captive within the cookie, since I never try it as a standalone item anyway). Its sweetness is a good undertaste to the rawness of the cookie and the chewiness of the dough, and given my low tolerance for the white chocolate chunks, Mrs. Fields does a great job of keeping them at a minimum (either by volume, or by taste). No crumbs, succulent taste and reasonably widespread availability – what more do I need?
Museu de la Xocolata | Barcelona | Spicy Cookie
Soft baked cookies are an American concept, and to find them outside of the US in fine quality is as easy as watching a cocoa bean thriving in the Arctic. Europe in particular has mastered the art of crispy biscuits, thanks to the generations of tea-sipping snobs (I am admittedly one of them, with my love for tea over coffee) who have popularized it as a mandatory supplement. However, I found a soft baked cookie in the Chocolate Museum of Barcelona, and it was far from ordinary. Infused with cardamom, flax seeds, alongside chocolate chips, almost like a cookie version of a Mexican Hot Chocolate, it looked absolutely inviting. I was afraid it would be crisp as a biscuit and the crackling sound in my mouth would flush away all the notions of a melting cookie. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find a slightly crisp exterior with an alarmingly soft interior, the credit to which went for its unusually longer bake time than its American counterparts. The paradoxical tastes of spice added to the exotic flavor, and were balanced out well by the cup of thick, gooey liquid chocolate that came alongside it. Visually stunning and tastefully served, this one made my trip.
Sobo Chocolate | London | Smarties cookie
I grew up in Africa, where Smarties were a popular import, and my fad of childhood days. Flatter than their American counterpart called M&Ms and with a thinner shell (hence none of this “They melt in your mouth, not your hand” claim, but who holds these in their hands anyway, with such cute boxes and holders?), they are the perfect addition to a cookie. I find the M&M shell too thick for a cookie, since it tends to maintain its rigidity when chewed alongside a soft baked cookie texture, instead of complimenting it or blending in with it. Perhaps not an entirely bad experience, but it simply does not compare to a Smarties cookie. The cookie itself was not overly thick and not at all buttery. So, the Smarties sat their comfortably (for you can tell when ingredients have been garnished so haphazardly on an item that they almost look like they are choking). The unexpectedly soft crunch in an otherwise soft cookie was what made this one a favorite, and the chocolate inside the Smarties was succulent and fluid. Although it had a slightly crumbly surface as I nibbled through it, this just made me nibble more slowly and carefully, thus savoring every bite and tasting every one of those Smarties (whilst developing checklists that made them win over M&Ms in many respects).
Uno Chicago | Chicago | Deep Dish Chocolate Chip Cookie (with Ice cream)
Riddle time. What’s better than a giant cookie? A giant cookie with ice cream. And what’s the best part of it all? That you can still taste the essence of the cookie, despite having ice cream melting on its warm surface. One that I shared with my soulmate, and left off the juicy red cherries (the juxtapositioned taste of fruity cherries and velvetry chocolate does not resonate well with my taste buds). To the surprise of passerbys whose natural reactions were blatant oohs and aahs, I relished every scoop of this monstrosity. Despite not being a chain enthusiast, this was a perfect creation; or perhaps its sheer size and delectable toppings are what did it. A piping hot cookie with hard shelled chocolate chips with melted cores blended seamlessly with cold but not icy ice cream, with a drizzle of classic chocolate fudge for the subtle but elevating undertaste. Fast foody as it may seem to some purists and niche-food-huggers, I enjoyed the perfect dessert for the town of deep dish. I saved some edges of untouched cookie for the finale of the consumption festival, as an ode to my true obsession (ice cream comes second or so, still one of my top five sweet indulgence categories of all time though).
Homemade | Chez Moi | Chocolate Chip Cookies
And finally, nothing beats the taste of homemade cookies. It’s not that I think they may taste particularly better than the ones on the market, or that their price ratio works in anybody’s favor. Nor do I seek the ingredients out from quaint African towns or exotic Belgian villages. I simply get an extra ounce of self fulfilling pride and excitement every second that I spend on mixing the dough, feel an exhilarating happiness when I crack open the eggs (an art of mastery on its own), sprinkle the chocolate chips and walnuts liberally, and watch the delicious balls inflate, rise and spread in the oven, where I always leave the light on to simply gape relentlessly. And I do not wait for them to cool down either. Burning fingers and singed tongues aside, I have often guzzled down several piping hot cookies, melting fluid chocolate chips and everything. Plus, with my knack for design, I tend to arrange the leftovers in a contemporary tray or giftable box (to myself, usually), and voila, a recipe for self indulgence.
And what is the perfect compliment to a handful of cookies? Milk, naturally. From the days of Mary Poppins and even before, to the present day, milk and cookies have been a heavenly combination. With the reemergence of milk as a fad and possibly even a lovemark, via the superb marketing campaign of got milk?, I am positive that the trend is not one that will languish soon, despite research suggesting that milk isn’t the best source of calcium. Well, nutritional value or not, with loveable cows and childhood associations, milk is still my favorite!
Despite my efforts to conjure my top ten list for soft baked cookies, this may not be a comprehensive list, as I am continuously trying out new varieties by the same creators, or new ones altogether! I guess that is what passion is all about; finding new obsessions, and being seduced in new ways. Oh the joy of double entendres, and double chocolate chip cookies, too.