The Stepford Cookies–Famous 4th St. Cookie

It started innocently enough–girl craving sweets smells cookies baking in the distance. She finds the Famous Fourth Street Cookie Co. in the Reading Terminal Market, where women are mechanically shaping and stacking cookies. The array being offered is tempting. Softly mounded black-and-white cookies, the glaze shining just so. Chocolate chip cookies, baked to a deep caramel color, oozing with chocolate. And more: snickerdoodles, sugar cookies, butter almond, white chocolate… Headspinning with desire, she chooses the black-and-white, a delicacy that she hasn’t eaten in years, and that she once was famous for baking back in grad school. One bite, two….it’s good, yes, but. But. Like a David Lynch movie, there’s something not right at the heart of this seemingly simple good thing. The cookie is eaten, but there’s a niggling thought forming at the back of her brain. What’s going on here?

She returns, this time for a taste test. Three cookies, sugar, chocolate chip and butter almond, weighed and handed to her in a waxed paper bag. Starting with the sugar cookie, it begins to dawn on her. The same texture, the same size. She chews, swallows, tasting the subtle sodium afterburn of baking soda, just like with the black-and-white cookie. Glancing around her, she cuts into the chocolate chip, which bleeds chocolate. Dense and chewy, it doesn’t taste much like the others. Perhaps she’s wrong, seeing conspiracies where there is only good baking. Relieved she bites the butter almond and the realization nearly knocks her backwards. Chunks of almond can’t mask it. This is the same cookie as the sugar cookie. As the black-and-white cookie. As all of the cookies. My god, they’re making Stepford Cookies.

Which is not necessarily a bad thing, of course. Fourth Street Cookie is giving America what it wants. Sugar and fat in a warm, chewy format. But, like a 3 minute pop song, the format often flattens what could otherwise be transcendence. Sure you can “make” an almond cookie by doctoring a basic sugar cookie dough, but wouldn’t it be better, richer, goddammit, truer to actually create a cookie that is almond to its very last crumb? Course, not having sneaked into their kitchen or analyzed the cookies at a lab, I can’t swear that the Famous Fourth Street Cookie is using an ur-dough, but it sure tastes possible to this foodie. So, humble reader, forewarned is forearmed. If you’re looking for a cookie to soothe you, return you to some Platonic childhood ideal of dessert, than get yourself to the Famous Fourth Street Cookie Co. But if you want more from your desserts, than I encourage you to look elsewhere.

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About Mary Rizzo

No denying it, I like the sensual things of the world, especially good food and drink, though I'm no snob when it comes to either. A background in American cultural history and food studies makes me approach the world with a desire for contextualization and connection on the way to synthesis.
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2 Responses to The Stepford Cookies–Famous 4th St. Cookie

  1. Dawn says:

    I am, also, on your same quest, being that I work on 13th st. now at a Philadelphia based non-profit. I am a baker, and i walked passed this place, slightly disgusted SEEING that they were doing that. In order to fulfill my quest, of course, I have to do it, but I will stick with one sugar cookie. I have also avoided the Chinese places, and Tokyo Sushi which I have heard nothing but bad things. If you ever want a partner in this, I share a common friend with you, and I’d be happy to have company (and lend you company). Of course, my quest is almost through, but I will be starting Chinatown when I’m complete. Next time to go Termini Bros, or the Amish bakery, mucho better.

    • ah ha! i’m so glad to have confirmation from a baker that they’re cheating.. i agree that termini is sooo much better. i have the great good fortune of living near the real termini bakery in south philly which is amazing..

      i’d love to have some company (my partner usually comes with me)! and chinatown would be fun too..

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