Local whole grains aren't just for the patrons of The Mill anymore. This winter, the Northern California branch of the Whole Foods Market bakery officially entered into the local grain economy with a line of five cookies made with 100 percent California-grown whole grain flour. These "Outrageously Good Cookies" come packaged with cute names like Chocolicious and Hipster Chipster, intended to appeal to a younger, food conscious audience. Whether or not these names strike a cord with 20-somethings, the ingredient profile surely will.
But wait. Surely Whole Foods has always baked goods with such wholesome ingredients, right?
Not exactly. While the bakery has historically emphasized its use of "real ingredients" like butter, eggs, and unbleached flour, Whole Foods has never produced its own line of treats baked exclusively with whole grain flour. Plus, this whole grain flour isn't a mix of white flour and bran (like almost any bag of whole wheat flour on the grocery's shelves). With the help of the folks at Community Grains, the bakery has sourced its flour directly from local stone millers. Stone milling keeps the entire grain (endosperm, bran, and germ) intact, providing more nutrition to the eater.
In other words, the flour in these cookies looks a lot like the flour that's going into your $4 toast.
The sales numbers are all well and good, but leave me wondering: are these cookie customers just willing to buy anything with a health claim? Or do these new cookies actually taste better? There was only one way to find out.
There's very little to distinguish "The Outrageously Good" cookies from anything else in the bakery section of my local Whole Foods. I saw a large, colorful sign decorated with a rainbow of colored chalk, but I found nothing that screams the words "whole grain flour." I had to pick up boxes and read labels to make sure I'd grabbed the right cookie. My choice, the Hipster Chipster ($6.49 for 6), is the one vegan cookie in the line-up. It isn't advertised as such, but I suppose the marketing department finds a correlation between the words "hip" and "vegan." Uh huh.
One bite in, and I could tell that this cookie was different. The sweet nuttiness of the flour hit me first -- I had to check the label to make sure I wasn't eating their PB & Chocolate flavor. Much like a properly made loaf of whole grain bread, this cookie's earthiness is abundantly present, but is far from gritty or dense. The generous slabs of chocolate sing in harmony with the grain, rounding out any bitterness with sweet cocoa butter.
As much as I appreciated the full flavor from the whole grain, the, er, vegan-ness of the cookie was distracting. I wished for the silky richness of butter rather than the staid, obligatory palm oil used in its place. Vegans might not find this flavor offensive, and the Hipster Chipster was certainly better than most vegan cookies I've tasted. Still, I would have rather had a Chocolicious.