Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Berger Cookie Experiment

If you have been to Baltimore or the nearby surrounding area, then you should know what a Berger cookie is. If you don't, shame on you. There is even a Facebook page devoted to the local cookie. Go to your nearest Shoppers, Giant or other grocery store and pick yourself up a box today. They even ship. Go on. I'll wait.

For those who don't know, Berger cookies are a soft, dense but not 'cakey' cookie with a thick layer of a fudgy icing on top. I hesitate to call it 'icing' because it's not like any buttercream, swiss meringue or royal frosting you will ever taste. It is pure fudge heaven. The recipe was brought over with the Berger family and has been relatively unchanged since its modest beginnings in the early 1800's.

These cookies are still hand frosted to this day, which gives them the "homemade" charm that is lacking in a lot of baked goods today. Every single one is different. My "ideal" Berger cookie has about a 1.5:1 ratio of icing to cookie (or more!), but because the icing process is not automated, the amount of icing can vary greatly from cookie to cookie. I'm always eyeing up the box before buying to make sure there are at least a few cookies with a heavy fudge layer because, I'll be honest, I'm also the one picking the abandoned frosting chunks out of the box after all the cookies are gone. It's that good. If I didn't risk a nasty paper cut from the box, I'd totally lick it.

You could always tell who your true friends are by the way they distribute their Berger cookies. Best friends will let you choose your own straight out of the box; they're willing to sacrifice the fudgiest cookie because they love you that much. For good friends, you'll pick through the box once for your perfect cookie, and then you'll let them select from the leftovers. Acquaintances will have their cookie picked for them, typically the one with a nearly equal frosting to cookie ratio. And that's if you share with them at all.

Since moving to Chicago, the only thing that compares to the withdrawal symptoms of a bushel of steamed Maryland Blue Crabs or the lack of UTZ chips are the pangs of Berger Cookie hunger. We are so lucky that when my family comes to visit they bring us loads of Berger cookies (as well as UTZ - crabs don't travel that well. Don't think it hasn't come up).

Ever since we ran out of our last box, I've been trying to replicate the cookie for myself. I don't find the ingredient list itself odd, but I do find the ingredient list surprising because of the relative amounts of certain ingredients in the cookie. Cornstarch is a main ingredient with milk being way down on the list. Also complicating matters, fudge as I know it is typically made with milk or cream, but for this cookie I have been working with a "Water Fudge" recipe in an attempt to stay true to the ingredients in the cookie. Knowing what the cookie and frosting texture should be, and armed with only the ingredient list in descending order of weight in the product, I began formulating my recipe for my own Berger Cookie. I even have my own little notebook to write down all my recipes and notes.

It's not easy, though. Throwing together a dinner with no recipe is difficult, but not impossible. Trying to make the perfect cookie based on your 'mind ideal' is not. I know what it's supposed to taste like and what texture it's supposed to have. And I'm picky. I'm about to begin "Cookie Trial 3" and "Fudge Trial 4" at the current moment. You can see I'm starting to get something resembling the real deal. Can you spot the impostor?
My problem now is with texture. While the fudge is pretty close, the cookie still leaves something to be desired for texture. I'm planning to try again in the near future, in hopes that the cookie will be more like I think it should be.

This is an ongoing project, and I'll be sure to be posting updates as I have more trials.

Wish me luck! If you're nice, maybe I'll even consider sharing.

1 comment:

Maris (In Good Taste) said...

Congrats on starting a new blog! These look amazing. There is a cookie like that in Upstate NY (I forget what they're called, I'm not from there) that people absolutely love. They're similar to the black and white cookie. Love regional favorites!

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