C is For Cookie – The Nitty Gritty

I spent Saturday in a conference room full of farmers and nutritionists. I scored a media pass to the Canadian Organic Growers conference, and besides the free organic lunch, everyone went home with a bag of organic swag. Most of the stuff was from President’s Choice Organics and included cereal, chocolate and tea. Some of the bags included pasta, while mine had a box of Nature’s Path organic chocolate chip cookie mix. We use other Nature’s Path products such as some of their cereals, and even the frozen waffles, so I was vaguely interested in the cookie mix.

As a die-hard home baker, I can’t remember the last time I bought a pre-made mix of anything [1]. My folks sometimes send me one of those “beer bread” mixes in a clay pot things at Christmas, but I think I still lived with my folks the last time I used a mix for anything. Certainly, they got used frequently when I was growing up, and I can recall my Grandmother using mixes for various things quite frequently, but then, it was the style of the time (her being a 50s housewife, after all), she had a brood of kids and grandkids to feed, and she hated cooking.

I was going to set the box aside for a food bank donation, but my curiosity got the better of me. Maybe they had figured out some way to make box mixes better these days. Maybe thirty years on, they were better tasting than stuff made from scratch.

The instructions were simple, dump the mix into a bowl and add 1/3 cup of oil and 5 Tablespoons of water. Which left me with a greasy, gritty dough. I checked the ingredients – organic whole wheat flour, organic sugar, organic chocolate chips, organic wheat bran, sea salt, organic soy flour, and some natural preservatives. Fair enough.

I baked them according to the instructions, noting that the calorie breakdown wisely counted 1/10 of the package instead of per cookie so that even if you made really small or really big cookies, a little bit of math was easier to do than to figure out if your yield was the same as the recipe (because don’t you just hate when you bake something and the yield is something like 70 cookies and you get 40 and they’re tiny??). I got 28 cookies out of the mix, which made a serving 2.8 cookies, at 150 calories and 2 grams of fat. Which really isn’t bad at all.

They looked a little weird when I pulled the pan out of the oven. Sort of… lumpy. Then the taste test confirmed it – those were some damned gritty cookies. If I had to explain them, I’d say they were like cookies made on the beach – salty and gritty. Part of this obviously comes from the fact that they’re made with whole wheat and bran. This makes for a much healthier cookie, but the mouthfeel was just too weird. This is what all those poor children born to hippies had to endure until retirement savings plans lured their parents off the commune and into yuppiedom.

I ate a couple more with tea this afternoon. They became marginally more bearable with something to wash them down, but I still found them far too salty, and the gritty texture is a real turn-off.

So the final judgement – I’ll take a pass. I’ve no idea how much such mixes go for in the supermarket or health food store, but it’s probably too much. The tiny amount of time saved really isn’t the trade off – there was still mixing to be done and only slightly fewer dishes to be washed than with a “from scratch” recipe. One of the positive aspects regularly mentioned with baking mixes is that the cook isn’t required to have a variety of flours and other ingredients on hand to make the item. This one didn’t even require an egg, and is, in fact, vegan – if you don’t count the fact that it was made in a facility that processes other products that contain milk.

Anyone who bakes regularly would have all the necessary ingredients on hand, however, and would undoubtedly turn out a far better product than this. Obviously, an organic mix with a low fat content and lots of fibre is far preferable to junkier cookies made with white flour, but a creative home baker can find ways to make even cookies healthy and delicious. This would be a good option for someone going to a cabin where hauling a variety of ingredients is inconvenient, and I’d even recommend mixes like this for people just learning to cook, but someone baking with the intention of turning out a great-tasting product will be sorely disappointed.

[1] Greg pointed out that we did, in fact, buy a boxed mix for Boston Cream Pie back in November of 2005, but as I had a broken arm at the time, he was the one who actually made the cake, and I think we each had a tiny piece before throwing the whole thing out because it was just gross.