Friday, January 24, 2014

Tate's Bake Shop's Butterscotch Pecan Cookies

Earlier this year, I described a sublime experience of cookie transcendence:
Speaking of cookies, best I currently know are at sherry b dessert studio (65 King Street, Chappaqua, NY; 914-238-8300). It's painfully pretentious, and it's agonizingly expensive (both of which are telegraphed by the name's lower case), but if you can sell some old gear on eBay or take out a second mortgage on your house to cobble together sufficient cash to afford a cookie, you'll find it's actually worth it.
The cookies have a lot going for them. Ingredients are perfectly harmonious, salt is at the inward edge of subliminal, they're texturally complex (crisp outer, chewy inner) and the flavor is as long and full and subtly-layered as a great wine. Plus, they have a quality that no other food writer ever seems to mention: oven flavor.

"Oven flavor", for me, is the distinctive flavor that comes from being baked in a home oven - much as the Chinese describe "wok breath" as the slightly smokey metallic flavor hint of well-sauteed noodles and such. You don't usually find oven flavor in commercial baked goods. It's the flavor that makes you think "home-made", and it is apparently hard to fake. With some items, you can do without it, but, for me, if it's not present in cookies, they'll inevitably taste soulless.

The whole idea of oven flavor angered some highly-respected professional bakers on Chowhound way back in the day. They didn't really understand what I was talking about, but took umbrage at the notion there might be anything missing or inadequate about their work.

The best theory offered was that I was describing flavor imparted by dirty home ovens, courtesy of the light smoke coming off the grease and other shmutz. And this sounds awfully disgusting (which was certainly the spirit in which the proposal was offered), until you realize that grease/shmutz smoke has, until very recently, been a fundamental part of human cuisine. We, as individuals and as a species, were raised on that!

Maybe that's it, but the cookies at sherry b dessert studio, with perfect elegant touch, refined ingredients and overall genteel wondrousness, have oven flavor. Lots of it. And there's no fricking way their tony, expensive ovens are anything but immaculate.

So: stick it, pro bakers! Oven flavor is a thing, and it's achievable with professional equipment!

But here's some news. I just found packaged, widely-available cookies that are very similar. They're nearly as refined, and, best of all, they're just rife with oven flavor!

I've known about Tate's Bake Shop cookies for some time. They make crispy, expensive supermarket cookies which never seem to come together into a delicious gestalt. For example, the chocolate in the chocolate chip cookies is fine quality, but ill-chosen (not enough depth). The butter flavor screams out at you, as if to justify the expense. They're a tad over-salted, and while I like crisp cookies, these are nearly hard/brittle. They're decent cookies, but a bit fussy and superficial.

But I just tried their butterscotch pecan cookies for the first time, and they kill. With these, the aggressive butteryness works. The extreme crispness works. Even the salt works. It all works. And there's even oven flavor! At $6 for a prissily-wrapped bag of eleven cookies, it seems like a regal purchase at my supermaret, but given that the cookies at sherry b dessert studio cost $6 each, it's actually a deal. These are the best widely-available cookies I've ever found in this country.

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