When you first joined me in my quest to unlock the secrets of culinary time travel, I told you it would take equal parts science and magic to make the foods that could power the flux capacitor of the mind. I said, "leave the DeLorean in the garage, preheat your oven to one point twenty one gigawatts, and rev that Kitchen Aid to eighty eight mph. We're going back to the Eighties."
And we did. But while there, what if some careless action altered our timeline? Could we, like Marty McFly, inadvertently create an alternate universe? Like the one where George and Lorraine never fell in love? Or one where the Keebler Soft Batch Cookie tastes freaking delicious? Friends, this isn't speculation. I have done such a thing.
I didn't mean to, of course. I had simply locked myself away in the kitchen to experiment with some recipes, substituting this ingredient for that, changing ratios, shortening bake times, altering the fabric of the space-time continuum...
I'll start from the beginning. It began, as so many things do, with clarified butter.
To begin my recipe development, I made a list of all the ingredients contained in an authentic Soft Batch Cookie. Excluding vitamins, stabilizers, Elfin magic and assorted scariness, I found flour, corn syrup, vegetable oil, sugar, chocolate, chocolate chips, corn starch, baking soda, milk, salt, caramel color, eggs, and artificial color.
So I experimented long and hard with oil based cookies, staying true to the ingredients. After an obscene amount of trial and error, I developed a cookie with a perfect Soft Batch texture and flavor. It lacked but one thing: color. I knew the only way to mask its anemia would be with dye, and I knew dye to be the only authentic solution. But...I had my doubts.
Despite myself, I thought about using butter. My Mock Batches didn't need butter to taste authentic, but I thought perhaps by using butter, which would brown while baking, they could gain the color they lacked. Their perfection would be complete.
I should have left well enough alone, but the idea held such allure. I decided to try it. Of course I couldn't just substitute butter for oil outright; butter contains roughly 15% water by weight. I'd have to clarify it (or at least cook the water out) if I wanted to get, ounce for ounce, the same fatty moisture of oil. But when I did, I turned my back for just a second too long. I browned the butter. And what I did next could never be undone: I made browned butter Soft Batch cookies.
I nommed the forbidden fruit and I found myself adrift in the Soft Batch Cookie Multiverse.
Yet even with the butter, they didn't brown significantly. They paled next to the packaged original. But they had a soft texture and a rich, nutty flavor. And then I thought, what if I added vanilla bean? I knew what I was doing was wrong, but I couldn't stop myself.
I added Frangelico, hazelnut liquor of the gods and go-to culinary time travel elixir. I traded mini-chips for chopped dark chocolate. A splash of cream. And so long as there was no going back, a pinch of cinnamon. Great Scott, I'd crossed a line. A delicious, delicious line.
In my guilt, I rushed here to Serious Eats. Jumped on Talk and asked for guidance. I thought I would be steered to safe harbor. "Abandon the pretentious ingredients," they'd assure me. "Artificial color or bust!"
But rather, they said, "give us both."
And so I shall. Both the Mock Batch and the Better Batch nail everything about the texture of the Soft Batch. Soft but not cakey. Tender but toothsome. Darker and more chocolatey on the inside, paler on the outside. Neither perfectly match the nuclear glow of the Original, but that doesn't bother me. Industrial chemicals are best left to the factories.
The Mock Batches strive to copy Soft Batch in every other way, from their vaguely cardboard like aroma, stingy dose of chips and that certain je nais se crap we loved as kids. The Better Batches, on the other hand, don't try to taste like a Soft Batch at all. They come from another place, another time. Perhaps made by Lothlórien rather than Keebler elves. But still soft as a whisper from edge to edge.
Which will you make?
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About the Author: Stella Parks suffers from an unhealthy obsession with recreating the mass produced snacks of her childhood, but ironically is employed by a Frenchman to make the high brow desserts of his childhood. She blogs that dichotomy at bravetart.com and can be followed on Twitter at @thebravetart.