Baltimore’s finest

Have you seen the latest Saveur magazine? Gotta love it. It’s packed with gorgeous photos; I mean, total eye candy. The writing’s fine; the subjects are compelling, both to foodies and travelers; and the writing is calm and friendly.

When I see Saveur appear in my mailbox each month, I usually pick it up and flip through it right away: a preview of coming attractions for the evening ahead. The current issue of Saveur was delivered last Friday. Here it is:

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Although the picture of the crab was quite eye-catching, what REALLY nabbed my attention was the headline at lower left: “Baltimore’s Favorite Cookie.” What baker can resist a come-on like that?!

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And here’s a picture of Baltimore’s favorite cookies: Berger cookies. Note that these aren’t chocolate and vanilla cookies sandwiched together and iced; these are vanilla cookies with a HUGE slather of chocolate icing on top.

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Hmmm, I said to myself. I remembered baking these cookies, somewhere in the distant past… Oh, right—The King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion, where they were a variation on black and white (a.k.a. half and half, a.k.a. half-moon) cookies. (And look who gives us a nice plug on the cover—thanks, Saveur!)

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…and there they were, p. 294. Imagine that—we scooped Saveur by about 3 years! So of course, I had to make these cookies again, now that I see them getting some press. Here we go: Baltimore’s finest Berger cookies, King Arthur version.

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Start with butter, salt, vanilla, and baking powder. No sugar? Not yet.

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Beat together till fairly smooth; some little chunks of butter may still show.

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Now comes the sugar, and the dough starts to take on some body.

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Add eggs, and it looks like… well, scrambled eggs. That’s OK; the curdled effect will disappear when you add the flour.

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Stir in the flour…

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…alternately with the milk. You don’t have to beat; just stir to make sure everything is combined. Flour, milk, flour, milk… however many additions it takes, start and end with the flour.

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Nice batter, huh?

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Plop the batter by the 1/4-cupful onto parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheets. A muffin scoop works perfectly here. Since these are such big cookies, you’ll only fit six on each pan. And since the recipe makes 2 dozen, you’ll need four pans or, barring that (since who has four pans), you’ll need to bake in batches.

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Flatten each mound of batter into a 3” round. I use a measuring cup with a 3” base. Dip it in water, and press down gently; works just fine. You can also use your fingers (dipped in water), or whatever method you prefer.

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Here they are, ready to go into the oven.

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Eleven minutes later, they’re ready to come out. They WILL NOT be brown on top; they’re supposed to stay cream-colored and soft. You may notice the tiniest little bit of brown along the edge, as you can see here.

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Tilt one hot cookie up on its edge; you’re a baker, your fingers are tough, right? If not, use a pair of tongs. Notice the bottom is a mottled, golden brown. This signals that the cookies are baked enough. Allow them to cool while you prepare the icing.

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This is one of my favorite icings: chocolate ganache, a mixture of chocolate and heavy cream. This one is enriched with butter and some corn syrup, and uses both semisweet and unsweetened chocolate. Put everything in a microwave-safe bowl.

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Heat till the butter is mostly melted and the cream is becoming bubbly.

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Then start to stir. At first you’ll think, no way. What a mess! Oh no, I just wasted all that chocolate! Calm down… keep stirring…

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…and pretty soon, the chocolate will begin to come together in the center of the bowl.

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Continue to stir till it’s totally combined and smooth. And there you have it: chocolate ganache! But we’re not done yet. First, let the icing cool to room temperature; this will probably take several hours. Yes, you can speed the process by refrigerating; just be sure to stir frequently, so the icing doesn’t get too thick around the edges while it’s still warm at the center.

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Beat the icing for 6 to 7 minutes, till it lightens in color a bit, and thickens a bit. The change will be noticeable, but not dramatic; compare the color of the unbeaten icing on the spatula with that of the beaten icing in the bowl.

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Dollop about 3 tablespoons of icing on each cookie. A generously heaped tablespoon cookie scoop works well here.

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Spread the icing atop the cookie, leaving a border around the edge bare. This bare border accomplishes two things. First, it makes it easier to pick up, handle, and store the cookies. And second, it serves to heap the icing even higher in the center, which makes for a very impressive presentation.

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Here they are, all dressed up and ready to enjoy.

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Notice the height of icing and cookie—they should be close to equal.

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This is what the cookies look like if you ice all the way to the edge. Do it this way if you choose; it makes them look more like the originals in the Saveur photo.

P.S. Another “you saw it here first”: this month’s Saveur also highlights this year’s winning baguette at the Grand Prix de la Baguette de la Ville de Paris: a baguette we pictured a month ago in Jeff’s blog on the Coupe du Monde.

Find the complete recipe for Baltimore Berger Cookies. Note: the recipe has been updated, as of June 2014.

Bake vs. Buy:

BUY Berger cookies: 15-ounce package (about ten 1 1/2-ounce cookies), $4.75. Price: 32¢ per ounce.

BAKE homemade cookies from the above recipe: Two dozen 3 3/4-ounce cookies. Cost of ingredients: 17¢ per ounce.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. Yvonne

    Wow!! When I saw your photo I immediatly wanted to reach into the screen and eat a cookie!
    I know that in the blogosphere there had been some discussion on the wonders of the Berger cookie (ala mylittlekitchen blog) and that folks have tried to replicate the Berger. Now two of my favorite foodie things have come together: Saveur magazine and King Arthur Flour!
    Thanks!

    Reply
  2. Katie

    Baltimore native here and there is nothing like a real Berger. The frosting for the KA version appears to be softer (?), but I am interested in trying out this recipe. Thanks for posting!

    Reply
  3. Jackie Watts

    Some women drown their sorrows in whiskey but in Baltimore a bag of Berger’s will usually do—unless he’s a real lying cheating sonofagun, at which point we do Bourbon and Berger’s and call in sick to work the next day.

    Thanks, PJ! I gotta try these.

    Reply
  4. PJ Hamel , post author

    Jackie, I realize in retrospect these are more than twice the size of real Berger cookies; not sure you’d want to down a whole bag of these babies, with or without the bourbon…

    Katie, I look forward to the day when I get close enough to Baltimore to experience a REAL Berger.

    Reply
  5. Anne

    Another Baltimore hon’ chiming in here. We have displaced friends who, when they return home for a visit, demand Berger cookies as soon as the plane touches down. We also send them to homesick friends in a number of far-flung places. I have to admit that at the moment I don’t have any reason to drown my sorrows with Berger’s and bourbon. But I do find a great deal of comfort in a scoop of Cherry Garcia ice cream with Berger’s on the side. I’ll enjoy trying out this recipe, but I do think I’d like to experiment with making them a little smaller.

    Reply
  6. Kindmtnmama

    This Maryland girl living out here in the high country of Colorado is very excited to try to make these on my own as mail ordering the real Berger’s was getting expensive. There truly is nothing like a fresh pack straight from the bakery in Bmore, but when that isn’t feasible, making my own will be the nest best thing. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. Margy

    As a native Baltimorean, I was raised on Bergers cookies. They are strictly a local treat–my Washington D.C college niece can’t get them there, so we have to mail them to her regularly, or stock up when she visits home–needless to say, when the cookie box arrives, she is the most popular girl in her dorm! Just for authenticity, the usual Berger is approx. 2 inches across. Also, they are iced on the bottom (flat) side, and the cookie is actually scooped through the icing to pick up a nice thick layer that often is wider than the cookie. Then you get all that fudge to nibble off the edges before you get to the cookie. Bergers and a big glass of ice-cold milk—Heaven!

    Reply
  8. PJ Hamel , post author

    Thanks for the hints, everyone. I totally blew it as far as the size. And Margy, had I examined the photo in Saveur more closely, I probably could have seen they were iced on the bottom… So, it’s a work in progress. But what a DELICIOUS work in progress…

    Reply
  9. Halley Silver

    PJ, since you missed the icing on the bottom, and made them approximately four inches across, I think you should re-bake them… (I have the terrible job of sitting across the room from PJ, and frequently need to taste-test her creations)

    Reply
  10. Rachel B

    Wow!! This is so funny–I was just searching for a recipe for these cookies online, because I read the article in Saveur yesterday! I wonder if something like a Texas sheet-cake frosting made with Dutch process cocoa would be closer to the original topping? I’ve never eaten one, but the topping looks a bit grainy in a fudgy sort of way. I’ll have to try these, in any case!

    Reply
  11. Julie O'Hara

    I was so glad to see this recipe on your blog! I love Saveur, but HATE it when they run a gorgeous photo sans recipe. This was definitely one of those times. Do you have a variation or a tip on how to make the ganache a little firmer, like the ones in the photo?

    Reply
  12. PJ

    Hi Julie and Rachel – I actually don’t have a recipe for that kind of frosting – but I imagine simply stirring together confectioners’ sugar with cocoa powder and milk or cream till thick enough to spread would work…

    Reply
  13. Gail In Michigan

    Wow,
    My very favorite, vanilla cookie and CHOCOLATE FROSTING! I think KA has perfect timing. The emails always seem to come at lunch time and when I am really craving something chocolate. Thanks for all you do. A true dedicated KA fan and chocolate junkie. Remember Chocolate is a food group. We need at least 3 servings a day!

    Reply
  14. kent

    Your directions state to frost the cookies on top, but the picture of the REAL McCoy shows they have been frosted on the bottom. These look so delicious and something a “chocoholic” can really get into that where the frosting is will not make a difference. Any comments?

    Reply
  15. Roselee Bogosian

    I love this web site, I didn’t know it existed. The step by step demonstration is so helpful!! Dose this site change monthly with a new demonstration. I have been a fan of King Arthur flour for a long, long time and wil lcontinue to purchase all their products. For the past five years, every Wednesday, I’ve made cookes for our Bible Study group, I just know they will love this recipe, thanks so much for posting.
    Roselee B.

    Reply
  16. Lorraine Stevenski

    Imagine that…I had the Saveur article on Berger cookies on my desk. I am going to develope a recipe to duplicate this cookie. It looks like the cake bottom is domed and a bit more moist and the fudge topping is more brownie like. I will see how it goes in my test kitchen.

    Reply
  17. Barb

    This blog totally ROCKS! One of my most favorites and I love, love, love anything King Arthur! Thanks so much for so much fun – all the time!

    Reply
  18. PJ Hamel , post author

    Yup, I’ve been told – frosting on the bottom. Gee, guess I’ll have to try them again, huh? : )

    Reply
  19. Lyna

    It’s a dirty job, PJ, but somebody’s got to do it. Get back in there and try it again–maybe you could invite Mike Rowe to help? Please?

    Reply
  20. Ginny Jones

    These look wonderful! I feel the need to send a care package but how does on ship them without ending up with a box full of cookie mush?

    Reply
  21. Alvara Tompkins

    I can’t wait to make these cookies. I make black & whites all the time but these look a little thicker and ALL THAT FROSTING looks scrumptious. My KA order just arrived this afternoon and I was about to make the pullman loaf in my new pan but the cookies are calling my name. I also received the tea loaf pan today and am anxious to try a Pumpkin loaf in that. It looks like I’m gonna be busy.
    Thanks PJ for this blog. I sign on every day to see if there is anything new that I need to know about.

    Reply
  22. Jennifer

    You folks sure know how to make it tough for someone temporarily off chocolate. this is being added to my pile of when I’m allowed to have chocolate again I’m going to make/eat. Thanks for posting.

    Reply
  23. Linda

    PJ, maybe yours aren’t the “true” Berger without the bottom icing and the larger size but I have to say they are more visually appealing to me with their fat chocolate caps that compete with the same thickness of cookie. Unfortunately I have a larger group to bake for and some folks would take one and there wouldn’t be enough to go around unless I doubled the recipe–but that’s a thought too! Thanks for giving us TWO versions to try and see which is favored!

    Reply
  24. Jenny

    I just mail ordered these cookies and they were very good, but I don’t agree that they are iced on the bottom, it is more like the frosting fell down the sides and pooled around the cookie on the cookie sheet, and then dried there. I can’t wait to make the homemade version.

    Reply
  25. Valrie

    PJ,

    When I saw these cookies I thought of a chocolate pan frosting or cooked fudge frosting for the top. The ganache looks beautiful though! Love the blog–keep those recipes coming.

    Reply
  26. Jan

    I shared this recipe with a friend who grew up in Baltimore. His comment was “Oh WOW, the memories. Had to eat this with strong black coffee to not OD on sugar.” Guess I will have to make some for him.

    Reply
  27. Gmama

    I can’t wait to try these. They look so much like what we called sugar cakes when I was a child. My Mom made these often when my Dad was away in WWII. Thanks for the recipe.

    Reply
  28. Alice

    I am an immigrant to Baltimore (from US points north), and learning to love Berger’s cookies was easy. The unfrosted part is definitely rounded, so they are frosted/dipped on the bottom. My favorite way to eat them is to skip the cookie, which is more dense than cakey, and eat just the frosting, which seems to be buttercream that has been made with less milk or cream than usual to keep it firm and with something added to make it shiny (corn syrup?). Guess I’ll just hafta buy a box and analyze the ingredients as I eat them. PJ, good luck with your second try on these gems!

    Reply
  29. Bonnie Kohl

    Is there a recipe for fabulous Vanilla frosting?? I grew up loving black and White cookies, but I, as well as my family, always preferred the “White” side.

    Reply
  30. PJ Hamel

    Bonnie, we actually have the recipe for black and white cookies (with their white frosting – more a shiny white glaze) in our “King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion.” See if you can check it out of your library- it’s packed with good stuff!

    Reply
  31. A. Stump

    I just made these last night and the ganache icing firms up just fine if you can stand to let them sit. OMG, these are sinfully good. I suppose I must share with officemates tomorrow…. maybe.

    Reply
  32. PJ Hamel , post author

    Not only does the ganache firm up, the cookies absorb a bit of its moisture, and they soften just a tad. Overall, I found these cookies were even better the second day than the first. And they keep for quite awhile (if you can hide them somewhere!)

    Reply
  33. L K MC ILROY

    Hi King Arthur Folks. I went to high school in downtown Baltimore. Before getting on the bus, my best friend and I would hurry to a little bakery that was near the bus stop, hoping that they would have what we called “Star Cookies”. (The icing was piped on with a star tip) I never knew the real name or that Baltimore was famous for them, but I can still remember sitting with my girfriend, two starving high school girls, devouring each one with delight. I can’t wait to make a batch. Thanks!

    Reply
  34. Amy

    LK – I’m a “Balmoron” and my mother used to be the buyer for Silber’s, a long gone chain of local bakery stores. Along with their regionally famous Fresh Peach Cake, Louisiana Crunch Cake, Jewish Rye Bread, and many other delectable specialties, they made a Chocolate Top cookie, just as you described. I worked in their offices on weekends during high school and college – what a great job!! The bakers would bring down trays of “imperfect” donuts, pies, etc. It was always a happy day when batches of Chocolate Top cookies would arrive, not pretty enough to sell, with “tops” slightly askew – but tasting as rich and decadent as their perfect counterparts. Yum!! Thanks for stirring THAT memory!!

    Reply
  35. Allie

    When I was little, I used to get Fudge Fancy cookies at a bakery in upstate NY, and I’ve seen other fudge fancy cookies elsewhere in New England. These look very close. Any idea if the fudge fancies are an imitation of these Baltimore cookies?

    Reply
  36. PJ Hamel , post author

    Allie, I’ve never heard of a fudge fancy. Give these a try, and see how close they come – from what I’ve read of the history of Berger Cookies, they weren’t an imitation, but an original-

    Reply
  37. Felina

    This “cakelike cookie” is a hit & will be a mainstay in my book. I only used half the recipe of the chocolate topping and it was plenty. Also, I used my 2 tbsp scooper. The cookie complements the almost bittersweet chocolate topping. Love it! Thank you so much for sharing this yummy recipe.

    Reply
  38. Joy Dhar

    My father is 93 years old – born and raised in Baltimore, as was I. We had never heard of these cookies, until we read the article in Saveur. My father worked for the Baltimore Sun and the News American and was all over the city. I attended Baltimore’s International Culinary College, for Baking and Pastry – the cookie was never mentioned over one year’s time. My girlfriend of over 50 years – also from Baltimore – never heard of these cookies either. They look sloppy!

    Reply
  39. Carolyn

    I live right around the corner and down the street from Lexington Market. I’m having lunch with a friend tomorrow and picked up a pound of Bergers cookies fresh from their stand to surprise him with. They are totally unmatched in taste and consistency from any other cookie. Love them with a hot cup of tea. They are my ultimate indulgence.

    Reply
  40. Jon

    Allie,

    I’m a DC transplant from upstate NY and the fudge fancy cookies I enjoyed there were my favorite since the 70′s. I have not tasted these yet, but I hope to soon. I worked in Baltermore for five years until 2007, and I can’t believe I did not find these. I have a friend who is still in NY who occasionally mails me a dozen or more fudge fancy cookies. The NY bakery burned down a couple of years ago. However, one of the bakers brought the reciepe to another store and has continued the baking. I can’t believe they do not have a website. I hope these cookies tast the same or better. It would be a lot easier to drive to Baltimore from DC then all the way to Cohoes, NY.

    Reply
  41. ocdgirl2000

    just tweeted this recipe and thread on Twitter! All my friends are going to go crazy for it! TY! Do you have a twitter name? mine is same as above.

    Thanks! We’re kingarthurflour on Twitter… – PJH

    Reply
  42. mom24

    I also thought these looked like fudge fancies and that is what caught my eye on the blog. I am going to try them and hope they are similar in taste. As I have never tasted the Baltimore cookie I am hoping for a similar taste to the fudge fancie. Do you have a recipie that mimics the fudge fancie from NY? or is this a close enough option?

    Sorry, I’ve never tasted a Fudge Fancie, so can’t help with whether these taste the same. When you make them, write back and let us know, OK? PJH

    Reply

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