Illustration for article titled Let break-and-bake cookies be your experimental playground
Photo: JohnnyH5 (iStock)
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I almost always have a bag of break-and-bake cookies in my fridge. The most important factor in any cookie’s deliciousness is whether it’s hot and fresh from the oven, and with a bag of B&Bs you can have exactly as many hot, fresh cookies as you want, whenever you want, in just 15 minutes.

But the food writer in me always wants to do more than just break and bake—I love to mess around with them however I can. I’m sharing my best ideas below, organized by “hack levels” that range from tame toppings to complete cookie overhaul. I tested these ideas with several brands of break-and-bake dough, and I’ve concluded that just about any of them will work with the suggestions below. That said, my personal favorite is Annie’s Organic, which calls its cookies “Bake & Share,” a term that feels appropriately hippie-ish.

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Hack Level 1: Sprinkle with salt and spices

Illustration for article titled Let break-and-bake cookies be your experimental playground
Photo: Jason Horn

A pinch of salt right before baking improves pretty much anything you’re putting in the oven, so you should always start there with break-and-bakes. Beyond that, go through your spice drawer sniffing things and sprinkling a little bit of anything that smells like it might pair well with a sugary-sweet cookie before baking per the package instructions. A little freshly grated nutmeg and cinnamon are a classic combo, but my most successful experiment was putting a whole bay leaf on a chocolate chip cookie. While baking, the leaf somehow suffuses the whole cookie with an herbal pepperiness that matches chocolate incredibly well. (Remove the leaf before eating!)

Hack Level 2: Smush and fill

Illustration for article titled Let break-and-bake cookies be your experimental playground
Photo: Jason Horn
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It’s a simple enough idea: Flatten two break-and-bakes and bake ’em with a square of chocolate in between. I was hoping to get a big, thick cookie with a melty chocolate filling, but the result was even better. The dough expands into the softening chocolate as it bakes, resulting in a double-size cookie with a fudgy—but still solid—center.

The best way to flatten the sticky, crumbly break-and-bake squares is by putting them between two layers of parchment paper and using the bottom of a pint glass or small bowl to just kind of smush down. If the cookie breaks apart, you can piece it back together pretty easily—what’s most important is that it be evenly thick.

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Besides plain chocolate, there are lots of options for cookie sandwiches: Chocolate and a couple mini-marshmallows for a s’more sandwich; a cube of caramel and some shredded dried coconut to imitate a Samoa (objectively the best Girl Scout cookie); a spoonful of peanut butter for a peanut butter cup sandwich. The sandwiches need to bake a little longer than a single cookie, but no more than a couple minutes over what the package directions call for. Take them out of the oven when the edges start to brown.

During Valentine’s Day season, you can also impress your date (you are cooking at home and avoiding the prix-fixe madness of dining out, right?) by turning a cookie sandwich into a heart-shaped cookie sandwich. As soon as you take it out of the oven, use a chopstick or a butter knife to make an indentation for the “top” of the heart and flatten the “bottom” to a point. (It’s easier than it sounds, and even if it doesn’t turn out perfect, your loved one will probably still be nice about it.)

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Hack Level 3: Go fuckin’ wild

Illustration for article titled Let break-and-bake cookies be your experimental playground
Photo: Jason Horn
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Since break-and-bakes can so easily be flattened and pieced together again, you can basically turn them into anything you want. Smush a bunch of different flavors together to make a cookie quilt! Bake a wad of cheesecake filling inside a ball made of cookie! Use a rolled-out sheet of cookies as a pie crust!

With the latter in mind, I present my finest break-and-bake mad scientist creation.

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Personal Pan Banana Cream Pies with Oatmeal Raisin Cookie Crust

Serves 4

  • 8 (unbaked) oatmeal raisin break-and-bake cookies, separated
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2/3 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/2 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 dash vanilla extract
  • 1 banana, peeled and sliced into thin disks
  • 4 fancy brandied cherries or cheap maraschino cherries
  • Whipped cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a muffin tin, coat four of the cups generously with cooking spray.

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One at a time, place each cookie between two pieces of parchment paper and flatten with the bottom of a pint glass or flat bowl until about 1/8” thick. Line the bottom of each of the greased muffin cups with one flattened cookie, then break a second cookie into pieces and press against the walls of the muffin cup to line the sides. (You don’t have to be super-precise here, but try to make sure the dough is an even thickness all around.) Bake for 13 minutes or until the edges of the cookie crust just begin to brown. Remove from the oven (leave the oven on) and let cool for at least 10 minutes.

While the cookie crusts are baking and cooling, place the egg yolk in a small bowl, stir briefly, and set aside. Add the milk, sugar, flour, and salt to a small saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring with a fork to break up any clumps of flour, until the mixture just begins to bubble. Stir a small amount (1/4 cup or so) of the hot milk mixture into the reserved egg yolk, and then pour that back into the milk mixture, stirring rapidly over the heat just until thoroughly combined. (The mixture should be thick enough to coat a spoon at this point. If it’s still very liquid, cook and stir for 30-45 seconds longer.) Remove from the heat, pour into a bowl, and add the butter and vanilla extract. Stir until the butter melts and the mixture is smooth.

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By now, the cookie crusts should have deflated somewhat. To make more room for filling, lightly smush down the bottom and sides of each with a spoon. Place one slice of banana inside each crust, and then fill with the egg mixture, being careful not to let any of the filling overflow. (Save any leftover filling in the refrigerator.) Bake for 10 minutes or until the filling is solid but still jiggly. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. Carefully remove the cooled pies from the muffin tin (a chopstick or thin knife can be very useful to loosen things up) and refrigerate uncovered on a plate until cold, at least 1 hour. Top each pie with another slice of banana, a cherry, and some whipped cream.

Mix the leftover banana slices with the leftover filling and eat with a spoon, with gusto.

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