and now, the purple pudge cookie you’ve been craving for 2 years
Fans of batch 22 bakery have come to expect an ever-evolving array of seriously thick “pudge” cookies, more than a third of a pound and bigger than your palm. But this afterschool snack season, baker Amy Wong just dropped a heavyweight contender that already promises to be a breakout bestseller: behold the new ube dulcey pudge. It’s big! It’s purple! It’s by popular demand! According to the cookie survey sent out to customers, the fans have been demanding an ube flavor for two years. But Wong hesitated. She feared that people love that electric purple color, but she’s committed to an equally deep flavor. It took two years, two months, nearly a dozen drafts, and 36 blind taste testers, but today is the day! The purple pudge you’ve been craving has finally landed with a satisfying thud, you cookie monsters.
Wong constantly develops new recipes, as well as tests existing recipes, tracking several in a spreadsheet every season, which may or may not ever roll out. Beginning a brainstorm, she often pulls inspiration from other drinks and desserts, including pink lemonade, spiced pumpkin pie, and mint chocolate chip ice cream. In this case, the ube fans were somewhat vague — they just wanted a purple cookie! So Wong started with a couple of the common combos, first ube and white chocolate, then ube with cheesecake filling, but both underwhelmed. It wasn’t until she tried an ube dessert from the one and only PQ from Atelier PQ, which specifically paired the purple root with caramel flan, that she finally saw the ultraviolet light.
Once Wong has an idea in mind, she digs into developing the flavor. As a root vegetable, ube has a mellow and earthy flavor, with nutty or vanilla notes. Mack from MackBox recommended an ube extract, and Wong poured in “a ton” until she could clearly taste it. Next she folds in the mix-ins, which layer in different flavors and textures. “Every cookie has a unique problem to solve,” she says. In this case, “The unique detail was that the ube was so easy to overwhelm. I put in one addition, and it was like boom! Where did the ube go?!” She tested two specific types of Valrhona blonde chocolate, the dulcey and the caramelia, which brought butterscotch notes. And she tested both toffee and white chocolate pearls for crunch.
To Wong’s taste buds, the dulcey and the toffee were the standouts, enhancing without overwhelming the mellow ube. But this is when her partner Lawrance Combs crunched the numbers, and pointed out that a slightly less prestigious brand of blonde chocolate would cost considerably less. Diving down a rabbit hole, they organized a blind taste test, sending out numbered cookies to 36 different friends (some at Pastel!). Who unknowingly but ultimately agreed with Wong and many other pastry chefs around the world — Valrhona won by a landslide.
Once settled on a flavor and the mix-ins, Wong calls the final tweaks the “tedious part of testing.” The dulcey and toffee added flavor and texture but also too much sweetness, so she dialed down the sugar, in tiny incremental spoonfuls of 5 to 10 grams. She runs “stress tests,” throwing in pans of the new flavor with whatever else is baking, and watches the spread, because what is a gooey pudge cookie if not thick? “Some cookies spread more or less, but I want them to look like part of the same family,” she says. (The ube was too “spready,” but she fine tuned it into shape.) The ube was the only new flavor to make it out of such exacting testing this season, for the deep purple cookie that you can weigh in the palm of your hand today.
Other cookies have eluded Wong for years. Originally inspired by a trip to Levain Bakery of oversized cookie fame in New York, it took a full three years for her to develop her perfect pudge. The fastest recipe she’s ever developed was the pumpkin spice, featuring brown butter and cheesecake filling, which fortunately came together in only half a dozen tries for fall. She did lose one recipe entirely in the early days of disorganization: She’s still chasing the great ginger molasses, which she’s been working on for three years, and is only coming back to this season after an emotional break, with plans to isolate and test three different types of ginger.
“For most cookie makers, brown butter is where the effort peaks, and for us, brown butter is the beginning or baseline,” Wong says. “As I make more and more flavors, it becomes harder for me to commit, because I know it will take weeks. But I’m always looking for a good challenge.”
This article originally appeared on the Pastel blog on August 16, 2022. Copyright © 2022 Pastel Ventures, Inc. Reprinted with permission.