Tag Archives: cookies

Sweet Middles

Three crème brulée Sweet Middles

I find a lot of decidedly nut-free nonsense in the bowels of this city’s low-end supermarkets. Lofthouse cookies, Everyday Favorites (i.e. Maplehurstcupcakes, box after box of shitty (nut-free) donuts…there’s no shortage. I hardly ever buy any of it, because I’m well aware that all of it is sub-par and way, way, way too sugary—but every once in a while, I “forget” all about that and let myself be marketed to.That’s how I end up with something like a box of Sweet Middles on my kitchen counter. Waiting to be sampled. Waiting to be photographed. Waiting to be written about. Waiting. Waiting.

…Well, now I’m here.

Most of Our Specialty‘s products—cakes, flatbreads, pizzas—aren’t made in a nut- and peanut-free environment, but Sweet Middles are, lucky us. There’s no allergen information to get into, really: just a little nut- and peanut-free logo on each box. And for better or for worse, that’s all it takes to get me to pull out my wallet. So now, I’m the proud owner of my very own box of crème brulée Sweet Middles.

The back of a box of crème brulée Sweet Middles

And what is there to say, really? They’re exactly what they look like: ridiculously over-sweet (and overpriced) supermarket “cookies” that I would’ve been guaranteed to love at age 9 or 10, but that sort of just hurt my teeth and make me feel bad about myself at 20. They’re basically just semi-hardened globs of super-sugary icing wedged between sets of soft-baked cookie-ish things. I haven’t been able to detect any crème brulée flavor (nor any flavor beyond that of pure sugar, really), but it’s possible that it’s there, I guess. (And it’s possible, too, that the other flavors are better…but I’m inclined to doubt.)

Honestly, though—and I’m so, so ashamed of this—I don’t quite hate them. While they’re, yes, so sweet that I haven’t been able to bring myself to take even a single full-sized bite, there’s definitely something that’s keeping me coming back for additional nibbles. And after a few days of on-and-off wrestling with these stupid things, I’ve figured out what it is: their striking similarity to the Mrs. Fields cookies of my pre–careful eating childhood. (As a kid, I was obsessed with both the Mrs. Fields cookie-and-icing sandwiches and the Auntie Anne’s pretzel bites that you’ll find at, like, every single mall on the planet. But neither of those vendors is allergy-friendly in the slightest, so I’ve since decided to abstain.)

With a lot of water—and I mean a lot—I can even get through a whole serving (that’s one cookie, I think). Slowly, slowly, slowly, I will make my way through this $6 box of shame. And then I’ll be free. To never, ever, ever buy a box of Sweet Middles ever, ever again. But then, I’ve learned this before. A million times, at least. So really, between you and me, I’m not feeling all that hopeful about the whole well-at-least-I’ll-learn-from-this thing. Oh well.

Find these half-delicious, half-painful cookie monsters at Key Food, Gristedes, D’Agostino, or Fairway. (Actually: 2% delicious, 18% genuinely painful, and 80% just plain bad.)

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Eleni’s: NYC’s Only Nut-Free Bakery

A wall of nut-free cookies at Eleni's

[Edit: As of the new year—that’s 2017—Eleni’s has closed its Chelsea Market storefront. Everything’s still available through their website, though.]

Eleni’s just might be New York City’s most well-known nut-free establishment. At the very least, it’s the city’s only full-fledged nut-free bakery. And, it’s (to my dismay…) one of the first few Google results for “nut-free New York”—or it was a few months ago, before Google decided to start kissing my ass and showing me (and me alone) my own blog above all else. In any case, Eleni’s is important, so I figured it was about time I write about it.

Boring stuff out of the way first, though. Eleni’s is 100% nut-free, in the most legitimate sense of the term. There are no peanuts or tree nuts allowed in their bakery, and they require allergen statements from all of their vendors, too. They also test periodically for the presence of nuts in both their bakery and their Chelsea Market storefront. (And by the way, all their products are kosher, too.)

img_6613Nut-free chocolate cupcakes with vanilla frosting from Eleni's

Located within Chelsea Market, Eleni’s is sort of out of the way. On the bright side, though, it’s maybe a 30-second walk from Los Tacos No. 1, which consistently churns out some of the best tacos in this city. That place is seriously delightful, and actually motivates me to deal with the straight-up horrors of Chelsea Market. But I’m here to talk about Eleni’s, so I’d better, um…get to doing that.

Eleni’s sells a pretty wide array of products—cupcakes (traditional and mason-jarred), brownies, popcorn, whoopie pies, chocolate-covered pretzels, and, of course, cookies: hand-iced cookies, soft cookies, crisp cookies, photo-printed cookies, and even colorable cookies. Very obviously, the place is geared toward children—which would be fine by me if its products were good enough to pass the adult (or quasi-adult) taste test. Unfortunately, though, most aren’t.

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Cupcakes and cookies are clearly the bakery’s main focus, so you might expect those, at least, to be good. But they aren’t. The cupcakes, though cute-as-can-be, are ridiculously sweet, and the cookies…well, they’re hit-or-miss. The boxed cookies (i.e. the crisp cookies, which are, I think, the only Eleni’s product sold in grocery stores) are good, but the hand-iced cookies are, again, too sweet (and too expensive). For (what I hope to be) obvious reasons, I’ve never tried the Color Me! cookies, but they seem to be nearly the same as the hand-iced cookies, minus some color. And then there are the soft cookies—good when they’re soft, but rock-hard (and pretty bad) by the end of the day.

Still, the cupcakes (and the super-sweet cookies) are absolutely perfect for children. As a kid, I know I would’ve loved each and every one of Eleni’s cupcakes, should they ever have found their way into my greedy, sticky five-year-old paws. But they didn’t, and now I’m 20, with a palate that’s (only a little) less tolerant of absurd amounts of sugar, so I have a hard time getting through even a single Eleni’s cupcake. Oh well.

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The brownies, though, are another story. They’re rich and chocolatey, without being overly sweet—and all the varieties (chocolate chip, cheesecake, salted caramel, and s’mores) are pretty damn good. Beware, though: they, too, transform into something else by the end of the day, having lost all their moisture (and having become rather icky indeed). If you can manage to snag one early, though, I’d certainly recommend doing so, as it’s not easy to find nut-free brownies as good as these.

I also love, love, love the chocolate-covered pretzels. I don’t have much to say about them—they’re just your average, run-of-the-mill chocolate-covered pretzels, with (fortunately) no frills or added “bonuses”—but I have a special place in my heart for them, given how difficult it is to find nut-free chocolate-covered pretzels. (Seriously. Try looking for safe ones in stores. You won’t find any.) They’re grotesquely overpriced, sure. But they’re safe, and they’re tasty, so I buy them.

Aside from the brownies and the pretzels, though, there isn’t much at Eleni’s that I buy often. I always want a cupcake or two, but I (sort of) know better than to spend any more money on a product I know I don’t like, so usually, I find the self-control to abstain. The same goes for the whoopie pies—I know they’re too sweet, but I always, always want one. As long as I can quickly redirect myself toward the brownies, though, things tend to turn out all right.

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I’ve been pretty mean to Eleni’s, I know. It isn’t my fault their bakers are so heavy on the sugar, obviously—but I do feel bad for hating on the place, given its lovely mission. I mean, come on: it’s a decidedly nut-free bakery. How many of those exist in the entire world, even? New York City has The Donut Pub and Everybody Eats, sure—but the former’s a one-trick pony, and the latter’s gluten-free (and focused almost exclusively on bread, anyway). Eleni’s is, as far as I know, the only nearby business of its kind—so what kind of a person would I be if I weren’t grateful for its existence?

Anyway, I’m (sort of) sorry for trash-talking the place. For those of you who need to steer clear of nuts—which is only, like, 60% of my readership, for reasons that are totally beyond me—I’d say Eleni’s is definitely worth a try. Especially if you’re really into sugar (and especially-especially if you have children).

Find Eleni’s inside of Chelsea Market, which is itself located at 75 9th Avenue, between 15th and 16th Streets. (Or, if it’s just the boxed cookies you’re after, check out Whole Foods, Dean & Deluca, Gourmet Garage, Grace’s Marketplace, or Morton Williams.)

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Fancypants Baking Co.

Fancypants chocolate chip cookies

I’m forever bitter that I can’t (well, shouldn’t) eat Tate’s, so I’m forever searching for an allergy-friendly alternative. Store-bought cookies suck, though, and the ones that don’t are almost always made in facilities that handle nuts. (For some reason, nearly every bakery worth its sugar is filled to the brim with nuts. Life’s bad, I tell you. Bad.)

But Fancypants, stupid name aside, is one of those rare bakeries that’s both (a) decent and (b) totally, 100% nut-free. Their cookies taste way too good to be free from cross-contamination, but they most definitely are—and deliberately so, at that. According to their packaging (and website), both their crunch cookies and their hand-decorated cookies are made in a dedicated peanut-and tree nut–free facility. Nice.

I can’t speak to their hand-decorated cookies (I’ve never tried them, and I probably never will, as $4+ is not a price I’m willing to pay for a single frosted sugar cookie), but I can say that their crunch cookies (sorry, their Non-GMO Project Verified Crunch Cookies) are straight-up delicious. They come in a bunch of varieties—chocolate chip, double chocolate, brown sugar oatmeal, vanilla bean, and gingersnap—and so far, every one I’ve tried has been great.

I’m particularly into the brown sugar oatmeal—I’m a sucker for most oatmeal cookies, really—but the chocolate chip (pictured above) is good, too. Both are crisp and buttery, and neither is too sweet, which is a welcome relief in the world of allergy-friendly cookies. (Imagine the polar opposite of Lofthouse‘s gummy-ass sugar cookies; that’s sort of what Fancypants’s crunch cookies are like.)

There isn’t much more to say (a tasty cookie’s a tasty cookie), other than this: It’s not often I find a brand that’s only nut-free, so when I do, I tend to get pretty excited. I’m allergic to nuts, not gluten, dairy, or eggs—so it’s not as if my cookies have to suffer. They just…tend to. But with Fancypants, there’s no suffering involved. That’s why I’m a fan.

Find Fancypants products at Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Fairway, Union Market, Gourmet Garage, and probably a whole bunch of other stores, too.

[By the way: My semester’s officially started, so I’m finding myself with far less time on my hands to find foods and, you know, photograph/write about them. My posts are going to slow accordingly—only by a bit, though. Bear with me.]

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Biscoff Cookies & Cookie Butter

Two jars of

I spend a lot of time eyeing European sweets I know I can’t touch. Like, a lot of time. But for the most part, I’ve accepted that I can’t eat most of the stuff I see, and that my place in the food world—well, the European grocery world—is only that of an onlooker. Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that Biscoff products are safe for me to eat.

Products like these (as in: real-deal products, good products, products I actually decide I want before I know whether they’re nut-free) are almost never safe, so I was pretty shocked when I read that both Biscoff Cookies and Biscoff Cookie Butter are produced in a facility that doesn’t handle any nuts whatsoever. Don’t believe me? Check out their FAQ. (And please note that the whole nut-free thing does not apply to Annas Thins. They don’t have a “may contain” warning, but they aren’t made in a nut-free facility, and I think I’ve reacted to them before.)

Anyway, onto the products themselves. The cookies, which are pretty common on Delta flights, are tasty as hell. They’re Speculoos cookies, which are a crispy (but not particularly hard) sort of spice cookie—and Biscoff’s, rich and buttery with a nice, mild spice to them, are unusually good. A lot of lesser Speculoos products (I’m looking at you, Ben & Jerry’s) are way too cinnamon-heavy; fortunately, though, Biscoff’s are not.

Forget cookies, though. And forget allergy information. (Obviously, please don’t.) What I really want to talk about is cookie butter, which is basically a spreadable, peanut butter–textured version of a Speculoos cookie. Right now, cookie butter is pretty trendy; Trader Joe’s sells a jarred version, as well as a whole bunch of cookie butter–centric products—but few are nut allergy–safe, and none are as good as Biscoff’s real-deal jar of heaven.

Biscoff makes two varieties—smooth and crunchy—and both are wonderful. Smooth is super rich and creamy, with a peanut butter–like texture. I definitely prefer it, but the crunchy version’s great, too. It’s a little less rich, but what it lacks in flavor, it makes up for in texture. It’s packed with cookie bits, and it’s a little more fun to spoon (or finger) into your mouth than its smoother counterpart. Flavor-wise, it has a pleasant element of burnt-cookie-edge that the smooth version is lacking—but I maintain my original stance: Smooth’s a little better.

Point is, you can’t really go wrong with Biscoff. Both cookie butters great, and both are worth tracking down. They’re available online, but if you (like me) are a cheap-ass who pretty much refuses to shell out any amount of money for shipping, then you might be able to find Biscoff products at CVS, Walgreens, Rite Aid, Stop & Shop, Target, D’Agostino, Westside Market, or Gristedes. (I’ve had some trouble finding their stuff, actually. But I do know that their spreads are available at the Westside Market on 7th Avenue and 14th Street and at the Fairway on 6th Avenue between 25th and 26th. Good luck.)

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