This article was originally published in the July/August 2018 issue of Salt Lake magazine. We are sharing it again today to celebrate National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day.
The room was strangely quiet when I entered. I had expected chatter and smiles from our group of chocolate chip cookie judges—this is supposed to be a fun gig, right? Then I figured out the silence: All five mouths were full. Few have taken chocolate chip cookies as seriously as this group.The expert panel had been invited to taste eight cookies, narrowed down from hundreds of nominations, and determine the best one. Chocolate chip cookies have come a long way since Mrs. Wakefield’s Tollhouse Inn—they sank into commercial dreck like Chips Ahoy, were revived by Mrs. Fields, then sugar became a criminal. Now they’re back—the latest trend is cookies delivered hot right to your door. Even fortified with milk, our judges experienced palate fatigue—Stuart immediately headed for Beltex Meats for a protein fix and Pat was aiming for a salad.
Chocolate chip cookies, especially fresh-baked ones, are a definite trend. Of course, they’re more a mainstay than a trend in sweet-toothed Utah—Debbie Fields’ ubiquitous cookies were headquartered in Park City until she sold the company. We asked Salt Lake magazine readers (that’s you) to send in their favorite bakeries and spots for great cookies and assembled a team of judges to sample the top suggested cookies. The question is: In an era when culinary innovation rules, do you need to improve on the chocolate chip cookie? Our judges thought not, although they enjoyed all their cookies. Still, everyone has their platonic ideal of the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and that ideal is tied up with childhood, Mother and the American way. Okay, that’s a little overboard, but most of our judges (not Stuart, the Brit) definitely compared these cookies to the ones they ate when they were kids. The truth is, sometimes memory is the sweetest.
The judges had scoresheets with suggestions for qualities to be considered when tasting each cookie—appearance, texture, cookie flavor and chocolate flavor. But in the end, the assessment of cookie excellence is subjective. Theoretically, each cookie quality rated a numerical score, but the only score that really counted was the overall score—one through 10 for each quality. So, the highest possible score was 50. The lowest score was 19. The highest score—44.5—was awarded to our contest winner.
Meet the Judges
Pat Holmes is the former V.P. of Partnership Development at Visit Salt Lake. She has been selling Salt Lake as a destination for over 30 years, and is always looking for and touting “the best…” in Salt Lake. Now she can add the best chocolate chip cookies to this list of superlatives.
Lydia Martinez comes from a melting pot of culinary backgrounds—she has family food ties to Russia, Mexico, Japan and the Philippines. Her marketing company, Elle Marketing, represents many restaurants.
Stuart Melling has been writing about the Utah dining scene for more than a decade. More importantly, he has zero nostalgia when it comes to cookies. “Hailing from the UK, my childhood was filled with Eccles cakes, Bourbon biscuits and Jammie Dodgers—Google them. In judging the perfect chocolate chip cookie I’m purely tasting what’s on the plate here and now, not some misty-eyed memory.”
Valerie Phillips has covered Utah food for 25+ years as an award-winning writer/editor. Now she owns Chewandchat.com. She’s freelanced for The New York Times and magazines such as Utah Life, Wasatch View and Food Network. She’s the author of “Soup’s On!” and “Dining Through the Decades.”
Derek Deitsch is Salt Lake magazine’s former dessert reporter. He is working to master his own chocolate chip cookie recipe, making him a perfect cookie critic.
History: All About the Best Chocolate Chip
The chocolate chip hadn’t even been invented when, in 1938, Ruth Graves Wakefield chopped up a Nestle semi-sweet chocolate bar to put in her cookie dough. At first, the company included little hammers to break the bars into chips. In 1941, they finally came up with the morsel—a chip of chocolate that holds its shape when baked. According to Art Pollard, owner of Utah’s much-awarded Amano chocolate, this is because “Chocolate chips contain less cocoa butter than, say, a high-quality chocolate bar.” If you want to up your cookie’s chocolate intensity (and get rid of some aggression) buy an Amano bar, or other high-quality chocolate—there are lots made in Utah— and break it into bits for your cookies.
Cookies & Beverage Pairings
MILK: A cold glass of milk is the classic accompaniment to American cookies. The judges had some disagreement about whether skim, 2% or whole milk is best, but milk, with its heft and hint of protein, is what helped the judges through the contest.
BEER: The flavor combination of beer and chocolate is much discussed and the bitterness of brew does complement the slight bitterness of semisweet chocolate. A sip of beer is also a total palate reliever when you’re eating cookies professionally.
TEA: Although our British judge Stuart Melling kept on about English biscuits and tea, chocolate chip cookies are too rich to pair with a cuppa. The aromas clash. At the competition, Melling preferred water.
COFFEE: Cookies and milk are for evening snacking, but coffee and cookies are an energy boost midday. Or midnight.
And the Nominees Are...
Reader nominee: Ruby Snap Our most-nominated cookie came from Ruby Snap, which actually makes lots of kinds of chocolate chip cookies—Ricki, with coconut dough, Maris, with a caramel center. The cookie in contention was Trudy, and what the judges noticed first was the smell of cinnamon. Judge Valerie Phillips compared it to a Snickerdoodle with chips.
Reader nominee: Rose Establishment The only crispy cookie we tasted—most bakers opted for a softer, chewier style. The judges agreed that these cookies were less uniform—they liked the more homemade look. And the obviously high quality dark chocolate layer that ran through the middle. “I can’t help but keep coming back to this cookie,” said Lydia. “Looks like a flapjack,” said Stuart.
Reader nominee: Buds Our judges were perplexed by the cookie from Buds. It crumbled very easily and Val detected green flecks as well as chips throughout, which the judges determined to be zucchini. “It’s compensating for something,” said Stuart. “There must be something missing or they wouldn’t put a vegetable in it.” Turns out it was vegan. Most agreed the cookie tasted good, it just didn’t quite measure up to the other cookies.
Reader nominee: The Koekie Co. At first glance, these cookies were almost too perfect. Each one was perfectly circular and exactly the same size. That isn’t easy to do with a drop cookie. The chewier texture made clear there was oatmeal inside—a common addition, but not strictly canonical. Not everyone likes oatmeal in their chocolate chip cookie, but “it just sort of works in this one,” said Derek. The smallest of the bunch, it was the only cookie any of the judges actually finished.
Reader nominee: CHIP Chip was adamant about delivering the cookies fresh so the judges could taste them warm and gooey. To true Utah taste, the cookie is very sweet. Pat liked the sweetness of the milk chocolate chips, but other judges disagreed. “I can eat a lot of cookie, but this might be too much even for me,” said Derek. Overall, the judges agreed this was the most traditional in appearance, and certainly the largest.
Reader nominee: Goodly Cookies The aroma arrived first, as it should. “This one smells like a homemade chocolate chip cookie,” said Pat. Can there be too much of a good thing? Our judges thought so. “This cookie is intimidating,” said Val. Stuart’s only comment was to drop the cookie on the plate where it landed with a loud clunk. Problem: “It’s so thick it’s undercooked, and doughy,” said Val. Some judges did not have a problem eating cookie dough, of course. “But we’re judging cookies, not cookie dough,” said Lydia.
And the Winner Is…
Süss Cookie Co. The name: “Süss” means sweet or cute in Swiss German. We generally think of cute implying small. “In England, biscuits [cookies] are small and you dip them in tea,” said Stuart Melling. This cookie was certainly not small. Judges liked that it had lots of vanilla and semisweet chips. This was dubbed the “Goldilocks cookie”—not too big, not too sweet, not overpowering. In fact, just right. Well, Val did wish for a few more chips.
Eat the Cookies
- Ruby Snap, 770 S. 300 West, SLC, 801-834-6111, rubysnap.com
- Rose Establishment, 235 S. 400 West, SLC, 801-208-5569, theroseestb.com
- Süss Cookie Co., 275 S. Center St., Midway, 801-508-4548, susscookieco.com
- CHIP, 155 E. 900 South #101, SLC, 801-889-2412, chipcookies.co
- The Koekie Co., Millcreek, 801-831-3803, thekoekieco.com
- Goodly Cookies, 432 S. 900 East, SLC, 801-784-4848, goodlycookies.com
- Buds, 509 E. 300 South, SLC, budsslc.com
Produced by Derek Deitsch; Photos by Adam Finkle. Note: Cassie’s Cookies, which was featured in the original story, has since closed.
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