The Great Cookie Puzzle

Cowboy Cookies

Victoria, of Victoria’s Fancy Foods, in Severna Park, MD told me she wanted to start up a cookie case for the holiday season; was I interested? I was. The question was when? I have about five spare minutes a day, and that’s being generous. But, if I saved them up over the course of a week, that’s enough for a batch of cookies, right? Peter, whom I’ve been robbing to pay Paul, will not be happy with my new time management arrangement. He’ll find it even less accommodating than my previous schedule. In fact, if he ever meets up with Paul for a drink they’re going to be super steamed when they realize I’m robbing them both blind. Hmpf. Best not to think about that. I turned my mind to cookies.

The criteria was tight. They had to be simple because they’re being made on-site in the store, which is not a bakery. It’s Health Board certified, of course, but not kitted out like a Cake Boss kitchen with deck ovens. Next, they have to either be drop cookies, or relatively fast to shape because with small-batch production my time is my biggest expense. They have to be chewy, because that’s the kind I like.

And, I wanted them to have something wholesome about them. Maybe even…no dairy no eggs? A.k.a., “vegan”? Vegan whaaaaaat??? What a challenge!

Well, why not? Vegan cookies are not that hard to make, it’s just a question of how easy or cost effective it is to find a quality vegan chocolate. Remember folks, I’m in Maryland, and while we have Whole Foods and Wegman’s here, I wouldn’t say buying vegan chocolate chips at specialty retail prices is the best way for a cottager such as myself to turn a profit. Most high percentage chocolate is practically vegan by nature, except that it may be processed on the same equipment with other lower percentage chocolates, like milk chocolate which keeps it, in the strictest sense, outside the definition. Ah, technicalities.

So, I thought about it. Lots. And lots. I like a puzzle. Well, I don’t like actual puzzles — how maddening! So many tiny pieces! Who has time for that? Those kinds of puzzles stress me out. But this kind of puzzle I like.

Here’s how I worked it out:
1.) Flax is my friend.
2.) Pastry flour is oddly expensive & hard to find. Whole wheat pastry flour even more so.
3.) Applesauce cookies sound warm like Grandma but can go really wrong when you swap out three ingredients at a time (rookie move), so ditch ’em if you’re smart. But, I’m stubborn, so I will keep working on them until I get one I like. Which I did.

Apple Spice Cookies

This whole process reminded me of waaaaay back when when I (briefly) went to University of California, Santa Barbara and was knocking around that town for a bit. I found this cookie that I really dug — this was way back in’89 now, so keep that in mind — that I think might be influencing me to this day. I think it was called the “No” cookie, so I looked it up. And it is called the “No” cookie  (even then I wondered at that marketing strategy)– as in, no dairy, no eggs, no wheat, no refined sugar, and so on and so forth — and it’s made right in my hometown of Oakland, CA. How funny that I traveled 325 miles south on Hwy. 101 before I met them.

These “No” cookies, along with another cookie brick made of oats and stuff that kicked off a big oat cake phase for me, were expensive ($3 was expensive for a cookie for a college freshman in 1989) so I only had them a couple of times, but the idea fit so well with what I thought a baked good could be via my bean pie experience that it lodged in my brain and has been percolating ever since.

Now whole grains have come a long way since then and people’s tastes have evolved (devolved, since unrefined baked goods came way before refined baked goods?) to the point that goodies made with what I consider to be very interesting ingredients like whole wheat, oats, flax, etc. are practically passe. Which is good, because I want more people to like this kind of thing, for less refined baked goods to be as common and enjoyed as all other kinds of baked goods, and not for their health benefits, which are undeniable, and not for their smaller global footprint or any other sociopolitical attachment, but because they’re good. They taste good. They’re appealing. They have texture and interest on their own. They don’t need to try to imitate their more worldly, refined cousins. I like them for who they are; I’m not worried about what they are not.

I think these cookies that I’m making for Victoria’s are good. In fact, one of them is my all-time cookie favorite, my go-to cookie, the one I look for if I’m playing dilettante at a cafe. The label will let you know the ones without dairy, without eggs, but only because some people might want or need to know, not because the cookies are trying to make a statement.

In the end, for my Double Chocolate Cherry cookies, I decided to stick with Ghirardelli chocolate chips because I wanted to use a bittersweet chocolate — 60% cacao instead of the lower percentages usually used for semisweet. Bittersweet chocolate has less sugar and more overall health benefits than semisweet. Plus, I like it better. Yay! And I did finally get an applesauce cookie the way I wanted it, so that’s in place. And my favorite? The Cowboy Cookie. You’ll just have to try it for yourself.

We’re going to roll them out fresh in the store on certain days and they can always be special-ordered.

Happy Owl is Extra Happy Today!

Today marks the official debut of Happy Owl’s Sweet Bean Pie, and it went swimmingly! Hosted by Victoria’s Fancy Foods in Severna Park, Happy Owl set up a sampling table amongst the salsas and rubs. Like at the Faux Trade Show, customer response was overwhelmingly positive. I do believe I made a few converts today. We had mini pies (pie-ettes? pie-inis?) for sale to stick our toes in the water, but 9″ pies are already on the books.

Here they are going into the convection oven. Aren’t they cute?

Sweet Bean Mini PiesAnd here is our sampling space; bean pies hobnobbing with spices and jams:

Serendipitously, I received a mystery package in the mail today. Waiting for me when I got home was something fabulous: this handmade home-crafted Happy Owl homage wall-hanging, courtesy of a friend and fan. Perfect timing!

Victoria’s will have a limited supply of bean pies on hand. Or, they may be special-ordered through Victoria’s Fancy Foods, or by contacting me directly here at Bean Pie and Baking.

Happy Owl Baking’s Sweet Bean Pie makes its official debut!

I am happy to announce that Happy Owl Baking will make its official debut on Saturday, May 12, 2012 as part of Victoria’s Fancy Foods Saturday Tastings Series.

Victoria’s Fancy Foods is a cool little shop that sells meats, cheeses, and lots of gourmet products that you’ve probably been wondering where on earth you could find without driving to…well, honestly, who knows where else you could find this kind of stuff around here. We’re in the ‘burbs, baby, so it’s a good thing Victoria’s has done all the legwork for you. She, Victoria herself, has also hand-picked a very accessible selection of domestic and international wines.  She’s a Certified Wine Specialist, so trust her. And if you’re a suspicious son of a gun and don’t want to trust her, then come to the free wine tastings. She has them, and a whole bunch of other stuff, on her calendar —  including my bean pie on Saturday, May 12, so check out her website for more info.

What I dig about this shop is her emphasis on  “clean food” — food that has been “produced, grown or raised completely naturally.” Click here to see her discussion of clean food on her blog  She does a lot of local sourcing and she also happens to be the pick-up point for several CSA’s — makes it all super easy.

So come out and say hi on Saturday, May 12 from 1:00-4:00. Victoria’s is tucked into a shopping center on Ritchie Highway in Severna Park, MD, so if you haven’t been there before, keep your eyes peeled! It’s in the same shopping strip that has Poor Boy’s Steakhouse.

The deets: Victoria’s Fancy Foods, 350 Ritchie Highway, Severna Park, MD (410) 384-9463