For your consideration: Tate's Bake Shop, in Southhampton, NY. As their website invites,
If you're in the Hamptons and walk around the charming little Atlantic coast town of Southampton, you'll see a celadon green Victorian structure with white shutters, framed in flowers, that seems to attract people like bees to a hive. It's Tate's Bake Shop, the fairytale culmination of a dream that got started when 11-year-old Kathleen King began baking cookies to sell at her family's farm stand not far out of town.
Sounds pretty idyllic, huh? But wait, there's more: in addition to having a full-fledged retail store, retail mail order business and wholesale division, they also have a cookbook, released a couple of years ago: Tate's Bake Shop Cookbook: The Best Recipes from Southampton's Favorite Bakery for Homestyle Cookies, Cakes, Pies, Muffins, and Breads.
And even more recently, they sent me a parcel of samples, containing aforementioned cookbook, as well as a variety of mail-order cookies (in three flavors: macadamia, oatmeal raisin, and their bestselling item, chocolate chip cookies). Now, of course I am thankful for these goodies--I mean, who doesn't love free stuff? But at the same time, every time I receive something like this, the mischievous side of me can't help but cry out to be heard.
And so I decided to put these cookies to the test by doing a taste-off: Tate's Versus Tate's. I made a batch of their bestselling item--the chocolate chip cookies--and then my friend Danny and I did a taste-test of the mail-order version versus the homemade version. Which would win?
Now, I realize that I probably had the home-team advantage here: my cookies would be slightly fresher, warmer, and we both would have known that someone superbly cute had made them. So to level the playing field, I did make sure to fully cool the cookies before serving, and then to lightly warm both specimens on the still-warm oven before serving. The results?
Tate's Mail Order: More perfectly formed than the homemade version, and the chocolate chips must have been different, because they were slightly flatter in this version.
Tate's Homemade: Slightly irregular, but not displeasing in appearance. Also the centers were slightly lighter, probably because if anything I err toward slight underbaking.
Tate's Mail Order: Very crunchy--crackery, even.
Tate's Homemade: Crunchy on the outside and mostly through, but lightly chewy in the center even when cooled.
Tate's Mail Order: Dry, but not stale--still very buttery, and redolent of brown sugar and deep chocolate flavor.
Tate's Homemade: More moist, even when cooled and crunchy. Pleasingly salty, and although they used less chocolate than the original recipe, they still tasted like they had more chocolate chips. Perhaps uneven distribution? Or perhaps the fact that although they had cooled, they still retained that chocolatey glow of taste from the oven permeations?
All said and done: While it was clear that these were variations of the same cookie, the homemade version definitely won. Obviously, even though I tried to level the playing field, one thing holds true: just-baked cookies always win. There's a certain something that comes from home baking that can't be beat. Nonetheless, I feel as if it might have been a slightly different outcome had we just scored the Tate's mail-order ones on the same day they had been baked.
Final word: Unless you're in the tri-state area and can go to the source, buy the book and make 'em yourself.
Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup salted butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 teaspoon vanilla (I used Rodelle--they recently sent me some as a sample and I am very impressed!)
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
- Preheat oven to 350. Grease or line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpat.
- In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt.
- In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the water and vanilla. Mix the ingredients just until combined.
- Add the eggs and mix them lightly. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Don't overmix the dough.
- Drop the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets using two tablespoons or an ice cream scoop.
- Bake for 12 minutes or until the edges and centers are brown. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.