The Napoleon Bonaparte of Cookies
Could something as seemingly wholesome as the Oreo cookie not only be dangerously addictive but also a usurper of its celebrity status? It would seem that something as nostalgic as the Oreo could never be steeped in anything but childhood memories and milk but upon closer examination into the history of the fabled dessert, it would seem to possess a rather questionable background…you know, for a cookie.
Today the Oreo monopolizes the chocolate sandwich cookie scene but originally they were launched as an imitation of the Hydrox cookie. A creation almost identical to the oreo that predates it by five years (1908). By utilizing the time honored business practice of stealing an idea from a competitor and then marketing it better than the original, the Oreo was able to eventually snuff out the Hydrox altogether (that is, until the Hydrox re-release in 2015).
The similarities between the two cookies are unmistakable. The same chocolate wafers embossed with an intricate design, the same vanilla cream filling, the resemblance is uncanny. In a recent taste test done by Snaktaku, the Hydrox was actually the better tasting of the two and also contained healthier ingredients! It would seem that the giant downfall of the original sandwich cookie was its terrible name. The name “Hydrox” was said to have been based on the portmanteau of Hydrogen and Oxygen. The two elements were supposed to evoke a sense of purity in the consumer. I know that’s what I’m looking for when buying cookies. It would seem others did not feel the same and so what was a great original idea, and arguably better cookie fell by the wayside because of a horrible marketing strategy.
When first introduced the Oreo was released alongside two other cookies, Mother Goose Biscuits, and the Veronese biscuit. It would seem that Nabisco overshot a little with their holy trinity as who the hell has ever heard of a Mother Goose Biscuit?
The origin of the name “Oreo” is shrouded in mystery and many theories of its genesis have been told or imagined. From the Greek word meaning “mountain” to the French meaning “gold”, to the rather pedestrian notion that it’s simply “short, and easy to say” there is no end of conjecture on the cookie’s name. I personally like the theory that the name is derived from a dissection of the word. Taking the middle of the word cream “re”, and sandwiching it between two “o”s. Thus creating the “O-re-o” in two senses.
No matter the inception of its title the little wafer sandwiches have gone on not only to become “milk’s favorite cookie” but also America’s, selling over 12 billion every year.
In recent history, the company behind the production of Oreos (Mondelez) has fallen into disfavor with even its staunchest supporters by moving jobs and factories down to Mexico resulting in the “Oreo boycott”. Long time supporter and sometime spokesman Donald Trump proclaimed that he’d “never eat another Oreo again.” Hydrox are you listening?
In 2013 research on rats at Connecticut College revealed that Oreos might be as addictive to them as cocaine. Perhaps Oreos do not possess the same domination over humans as they do over rats, but why tempt fate? Hopefully, the homemade variety will be a less habit-forming alternative.
For the Chocolate Wafers
1 ¾ cups + 1 ½ tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup + 1 ½ tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
⅜ teaspoon baking soda
8 oz unsalted butter
2 teaspoons kosher salt
¾ cup + 1 tablespoon sugar
Place the flour in a medium bowl, sift in the cocoa and baking soda, whisking to combine. Place the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Although I own one I have come to believe that standing mixers are completely superfluous to the home baker and one can do quite as well with a simple hand held mixer. The long and short of it being you should feel free to use a hand mixer in lieu of a standing one for this recipe. Once the butter has reached a creamy consistency add the sugar and salt and thoroughly cream ingredients together. Add half the dry ingredients mixing until the dough just begins to come together then add the remaining half of the dry ingredients.
Mix again until the dough comes together. Pour out the still slightly crumbly dough and press it together with your hands until it becomes cohesive. Form the dough into a square shape about 6×6 inches and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least an hour and up to 2 days.
-Or if making ahead freeze for up to a month.
Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat at 325℉. Line your sheet pans with parchment.
When the dough has finished chilling bring it back out and roll to ⅛ in thick. Cut out into whatever shapes you fancy. Whether it’s bats for Halloween or circles for a homemade Oreo cookie. These cookies can even be ground up post-bake and used in place of graham crackers for a fantastic chocolate cookie crust.
After rolling and cutting transfer to your prepared sheet pans and bake for 15-17 minutes, turning the pans halfway through baking. These cookies are rather dark and so you cannot go off their color when testing for doneness. Instead rely on your nose, as they will become quite fragrant and small cracks will begin to form on their tops. Allow to cool for 5-10 minutes before transferring to a cooling rack to finish cooling completely.
-These can be stored at room temperature for up to a week.
For the Filling
4 ounces white chocolate, chopped
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup heavy cream
2 ½ cups confectioner’s sugar
This is a versatile and delicious icing that can be used in many applications other than the homemade oreo.
Melt together the white chocolate and butter in a heavy bottomed saucepan. Simultaneously bringing the cream to a simmer in a separate saucepan. Pour the cream over the melted chocolate/butter and whisk thoroughly to combine. Pour into a container and refrigerate until cool (approximately 1 hour).
Upon removing the cooled chocolate it should be considerably thicker. Give it a brisk stir as it may have separated slightly and sift in your confectioner’s sugar in two to three additions. I like to do it in smaller additions as the humidity and weather play a considerable role in achieving the consistency you are looking for. It might be necessary to add more or less than the called for amount of sugar. You are looking for a thick icing consistency that will hold its shape when piped.
When baking a batch of cookies there are always a few casualties it would seem. Ones that emerge from the oven cracked and slightly misshapen. If completely unusable I set them aside with the baked cookie dough scraps to be ground up for pie crusts, but if usable, albeit slightly less “refined” than their compatriots, I stick them on the bottom of the sandwich hoping to mask their imperfections. With that in mind, lay out your cooled chocolate wafers.
Using a pastry bag filled with your white chocolate, pipe your icing. This is where you can really get creative. Using different icing tips and techniques to create beautiful borders around your cookies and really make them stand out.
With a nod towards Thomas Keller’s TKO cookie, I did a small teardrop border about ¼ inch inside the perimeter of my cookie.
At this point, you could easily fill in the center quickly as the icing will all be hidden by your top layer of cookie in the end. I was having fun though, so I worked my way in carefully mimicking my first round of teardrops until the entire cookie was filled.
When you are done, top your filling with the second wafer and voila! A giant oreo. These are good right off but in my estimation benefit from a day of rest in a covered container where the flavors have a chance to come together and get acquainted.