We're almost halfway through December, which means we are knee-deep in sugar season already. By now, you've probably already turned down a few chocolate treats, or maybe you've avoided the spread of sugary delights at a Christmas party or two. Perhaps you've gotten this far unscathed, but you know it's futile. Eventually, you're going to give in. No matter which way you turn, there is some other opportunity to fill your belly with more sweet creations than you've seen all year. Hun, those guilty glances at your Fitbit aren't going to save you now. You might as well enjoy the deliciousness and start mapping out your road back to fitness in the New Year.
What better way to open the holiday treat floodgates and start expanding that waistline than with a warm, fresh-baked cookie from your local bakery? Let's face it; the holidays aren't the holidays without cookies.
There are so many different types of cookies that fly off the shelves at this time of year. There are the staples, of course, sugar cookies and shortbread, gingerbread cookies and snowball cookies. Snickerdoodles are popular, especially in Connecticut and Alabama booms with turtleback cookie sales at Christmas. In Hawaii, white chocolate macadamia nut cookies are what make the holidays. In Maine, it's the soft molasses cookie.
Nothing beats a homebaked Christmas cookie, right?
But what if I told you, cookies baked in-store could be just as delicious?
Recall the scene in a recent Mr. Robot episode where Dom, the FBI agent, is preoccupied with work stress on Christmas, and we see her emptying a box of in-store bakery cookies into a Tupperware container. She's hiding the fact that she bought them. Off to see her family, she doesn't want her mom to know she didn't bake them herself.
Here's an unpopular opinion: I don't think she needed to worry! I'm here to suggest you don't lose any points if you hit your local in-store bakery for the good stuff. These days, cookies that are baked right in your local grocery store can measure up to some of the best home cooks.
I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "Blasphemy! No commercial operation can come close to Grandma's snickerdoodle!" and you may be right, but that doesn't change the fact that gourmet level cookies are coming out of your local grocer right now and I know you're living for those cookies. I'm living for these cookies. We are all living for these cookies.
The modern in-store bakery is set up to deliver high-quality, fresh-baked goods that can easily stand up next to your homebaked version.
How does production in an in-store bakery work?
There are several different methods of production used by your grocery store's bakery. They are:
- Thaw and sell
- Freezer to oven
The Mix Method
The mix method of producing mouthwatering bakery goods sees the dry ingredients already combined when they arrive at the store. It's kind of like an in-store version of a Betty Crocker Cake Mix, but on a much larger scale. All the in-store bakery has to do is add the liquids, mix, bake and sell it to you.
The Par-Baked Method
Often used with bread and rolls, this method entails partially baking the product at a lower temperature. The items are then frozen and shipped to the in-store bakery. Once they arrive, they are stored frozen until needed, at which point, the bakery finishes the baking process and puts it out on the shelves for sale.
The Bake-Off Method
When the manufacturer makes the dough and sends it frozen to the bakery, it's known as the bake-off method. The bakery will have to thaw and sometimes proof the dough before baking. Once baked, the product is put out for sale.
The Thaw and Sell Method
The thaw and sell method of production at your in-store bakery is when the product is shipped fully baked already, but frozen. The bakery then has to thaw it and put it on the shelves for you.
The Freezer To Oven Method
This method sees the product mixed and proofed at the manufacturer, quickly frozen and then sent to the bakery. Once it arrives, the bakery only needs to bake it before it's ready for sale.
The Scratch Method
This method is just as it sounds. The scratch method is when the in-store bakery produces a product from scratch. The bakery employees mix raw ingredients, proof and bake the product and then set it out for sale.
Outside of the methods that require freezing, many of these can easily produce a similar product to the sorts of cookies you might make at home. Outside of the quantity and perhaps the quality of the ingredients, not much is going to make an in-store mix or scratch method-baked cookie much different from your neighbor's fresh-baked shortbread.
Don't believe me? The data says it all. In 2018, in-store bakeries drove $13.8 billion in sales, with indulgent treats dominating that figure. 60% of all shoppers stop in at the in-store bakery to pick up an item or two. It's not uncommon to see your local in-store bakery sell out of cookies every day.
Several factors lead to these numbers. We are much busier these days and have less time to get holiday baking done, and that can lead to us choosing to buy rather than bake at home. If you don't do a lot of baking, to begin with, it can make more sense to buy your cookies instead of all the raw ingredients. Sometimes, it's even cheaper to buy the in-store baked cookies than it is to purchase everything you need to bake them at home.
Whatever your reason is for grabbing gourmet-style bakery cookies at your local in-store bakery, you're going to be able to get a great cookie.
How can I tell which cookies are best at the in-store bakery?
- Ask the baker on duty
- Check the label
- Ask friends and family who shop at the same store
- Ask for a sample
If you want to make sure you're choosing the best cookie for your next holiday party, ask the bakery employee which method they used for baking the cookies. If it was mix or scratch, you're probably going to end up with a delicious cookie. You can also check the label - in-store baked cookies are often in different packaging than cookies sent by the manufacturer. Your friends and family might even know which cookies are the best at your particular store, so don't hesitate to get other opinions. Finally, bakeries are often quite willing to offer a sample of their baked goods if you ask.
Of course, you could just buy all the cookies. You know, really lean into the season and go all out. It's no big deal, right? That's what New Year's Resolutions are for!