When someone asks me where I grew up, I say, “Albany, New York.” If the person is from anywhere but Albany, they say “Cool” and move on. If they are from Albany, they say, “Oh, me too. Where’d you really grow up?”
If you live “in Albany,” you really live in the Capital District, which comprises a lot of suburbs and small cities surrounding the actual city of Albany (the capital of New York). Some people live in actual Albany, but far more people live in the Capital District. And that’s where the world’s best cookie can be found.
There are several bakeries in the region that sell this exceptional cookie. Most people call it the fudge fancy, but at least one bakery refers to it as the fudge fantasy. It is, essentially, a vanilla shortbread cookie with a dollop of fudge on top. It’s both fancy and the things of fantasies, so whichever name you choose, it’s accurate.
This cookie pops up in a lot of local bakeries. One of my favorite spots for this storied sweet is a bakery called Bella Napoli, which makes both a small and oversized version. The fudge on a Bella Napoli is not piped with any kind of flourish—it’s a flat blob of incredibly delicious fudge atop an equally delicious shortbread cookie. Bella Napoli has locations in Troy, New York, as well as Latham. Both are about 10-15 minutes from the center of Albany.
Another place you can easily get a fudge fancy—though it’s called a fudge fantasy—is The Cookie Factory, which has locations in Troy and Clifton Park. This is probably the best-known version of the cookie currently, because fudge fantasies from The Cookie Factory are available in local grocery stores including Price Chopper/Market 32 and Hannaford, the dominant supermarkets in the Capital District.
Though procuring the cookies from The Cookie Factory is relatively easy, it’s with The Cookie Factory that the story of the fudge fancy/fudge fantasy gets complicated.
In the 1990s, a couple named Debra and Carl “Buster” Alberino opened a now-defunct bakery called The Vanilla Bean. It eventually expanded to several locations, and legend has it that the Vanilla Bean is where the fudge fancy was truly born. Then, in 2007, the Alberinos abruptly closed the business, citing competition, financial concerns, and personnel issues as reasons for the decision.
As it turns out, Chris and Joe Alberino, nephews of Buster Alberino, had opened The Cookie Factory six months before the Vanilla Bean closed its doors. Some said the opening of The Cookie Factory—and the deals it quickly struck up with area grocery stores—hastened the demise of The Vanilla Bean. Family members on both sides have denied a rift, and Debra and Buster Alberino have refrained from pointing any fingers or placing any blame.
That said, the couple has not taken a step back from the fudge fancy business. Debra and Buster Alberino now own and operate a different bakery, this one in Lake George, about an hour north of Albany. The Lake George Baking Company still sells fudge fancies and touts the recipe as the original.
“The tradition continues at the Lake George Baking Company, which produces the original ‘Fudge Fancy’ cookie,” the website says. “A happy marriage between fudge and cookie that consists of a huge swirl of richly textured chocolate fudge on top of our signature sugar cookie. This cookie was known as ‘the dessert cookie’ and it was the signature cookie of the formerly owned Vanilla Bean Bakery and it can still be enjoyed today at the Lake George Baking Company!”
Speaking with Capital District locals about this delightful cookie, you’ll find many differing opinions. In my own family and close circle of friends, the Bella Napoli version is preferred over others. Meanwhile, some people are surprised to learn the name isn’t always “fudge fancy.” Blogger Jess Sims likened the name confusion to a local version of the Mandela affect.
But among those I spoke to, most were surprised this confection is local at all. How could something so good be so niche? Why hasn’t this goodness spread to the rest of the nation? And if bakers in other regions have discovered for themselves that fudge-heaped shortbread tastes incredible, have they given it a name even half as good as “fudge fancy” or “fudge fantasy”?
Buying the genuine article from the Capital District might prove tricky for those living out of state. The Cookie Factory has an online store, but as of this writing, everything on there is listed as “out of stock.” If you’re in the Northeast, you could always take a road trip to Albany, by which I mean Latham and Troy, to get the Bella Napoli and Cookie Factory versions for yourself, then continue on up north to Lake George and try the cookie that claims to be the original. I mean, it’s winter. What else are you going to do, if not drive around in search of America’s best cookies?