I love stories, especially about businesses. Not the ones about record sales, big profits, name-dropping customer lists, or other statistics. But ones where I learn the back-story behind a business. About the owners, the employees and the ingredients that when combined in a unique way, create a magical experience for the customer.
At the Spring Conference for the NC Specialty Foods Association, I was speaking with a group of marketing experts from The Fresh Market, a regional chain of specialty foods grocery stores. I’m always anxious to learn something new from smart people. The conversation moved to ingredients in food products and I shared the story behind two of ours – flour and vanilla.
As I was sharing the back-story of these suppliers and how they fit into the cookies and brownies we make at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies, it occurred to me that I’ve probably shared stories like this a thousand times over the years. It was a light-bulb moment and I decided to share a consolidated version with you and put it on our website.
If you look at the back of a package of our cookies, or click on the ingredient link on our website, you’ll see a list of everything that goes into our products. We don’t hide behind ‘natural flavors’ or other words you can’t pronounce – it’s all there for everyone to see.
While we’ve made some slight changes over the years, most of what we use rarely changes. We don’t chase ‘pennies’ or special deals to improve our margins by a fraction of a point here or there. We spend a lot of time and energy finding and cultivating long-term relationships with our suppliers.
Part of the magic of Anna’s Gourmet Goodies and what we do comes down to this: We’re in the business of consistently creating memorable moments for our customers and the recipients where we send our gourmet cookie and brownie gifts.
The list of ingredients on our cookies and brownies are one part of that magical recipe.
We started using Lindley Mills flour when we bought in small quantities from the local Whole Foods Market. As we grew larger and larger, we started buying direct from the mill. While you won’t find them on any lists, I believe that Lindley Mill’s is among the oldest family owned businesses in America. Founded by Thomas Lindley in 1755, they were a business before we were a country. And while it was not in the family the entire time, Joe Lindley, Thomas’ decedent now runs the mill with his wife and daughter Caroline ready to carry on for another generation.
I could buy from a distributor, but there is something soulful about driving out to the country and picking up a load of flour from a mill located on a creek where the Revolutionary War Battle of Lindley’s Mill was fought in 1781. I included the background in a post I wrote, you’ll find the story here. Their flour is the basis for everything we make at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies and I’m confident they’ll be grinding wheat long after my earthly labors have ended.
We don’t use ‘cookie drops’, they are not chocolate. We’ve changed chocolate a few times over the years, but we’ve been using Ghirardelli chocolate chips in our cookies for a long time. We chose them some years ago because they were Feingold Certified, meaning that they did not use anything artificial or petroleum based in the product or the manufacturing process. We’ve tried others, but our taste-test panel consistently agrees that for our chocolate chip cookies, these are the best.
For our brownies, we use dark chocolate callets and rich cocoa powder from Barry Callebaut. We settled on these products several years ago after an exhausting blind taste test from several leading companies. Our brownies are rich, dark, with just enough moisture to make them the kind where you take a bite, close your eyes and savor the moment.
We use pure cane sugar in our regular cookies and brownies. We settled on Domino’s brand for consistent quality and the fact that they are non-GMO. Some granulated sugars come from beets, which are often genetically modified. While we don’t certify all our ingredients as non-GMO, we do try and stay away from these foods whenever we can.
We crack our own eggs. It is possible to buy eggs in a carton, but we still prefer the old-fashioned way of cracking and measuring by weight. Egg sizes vary with the season, so we make sure that every batch of cookies and brownies gets the exact same amount of real eggs.
We use real grade AA butter with no other ingredients, other than cream and salt. While some baker’s prefer unsalted butter, we started that way and have adjusted our recipe to reflect the salt in the butter. For us, the flavor comes out just right, so we’ll not be changing that any time soon.
We’ve always used pure vanilla extract in our cookies and brownies. Early on, we started buying gallons from a large, established, well-respected manufacturer when the cost was around $79. Over the years, the global vanilla bean shortage and natural disasters pushed the price of the pure vanilla to over $500 a gallon (no – that is not a misprint). Still, we refused to substitute an artificial product which could be had for under $10 a gallon.
As the vanilla bean supply stabilized and the global price began to fall, our long-time supplier chose not only to keep their price high but also make it harder for us to order the quantities we needed. After an exhaustive search of other manufacturers of pure vanilla, we were lucky enough to find Cook’s. Not only do they make a superior product, their values and passion for excellence align perfectly with Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. They treat their employees, their customers and their growers with a level of respect and kindness that is rarely found today.
Salt, baking soda and baking powder
We use non-iodized salt in our cookies and brownies. While there is no clear answer as to which is better, non-iodized salt means one less ingredient in our cookies. To make those cookies and brownies rise, we use baking soda and baking powder – probably the same thing your grandmother used from her cupboard.
Well, there you have it. The food ingredients that go into making cookies and brownies at Anna’s Gourmet Goodies. It is possible that some things may change slightly over time, but you can rest assured we are not going to compromise on what we put in our cookies and brownies.
Clearly, there is more to a recipe that transforms simple ingredients into a magical experience people always remember. The secret is not simply in the list of ingredients, but the process. Two restaurants might use the same ingredients from the same supplier, yet one is a five star experience and one is mediocre at best.
For us, it’s how we mix everything in small batches, weigh every cookie and brownie before it is baked, answer the phone, enter an order, check the address before shipping, prepare the package, cut the ribbon, place the package in the box, top it off with the gift card and a host of other small touches, that when combined with outstanding ingredients, equal the Anna’s Gourmet Goodies experience.
“Okay” you say, “but what about sharing details behind the cookie or brownie recipe”? We’re going to have to hold back on that one for now. After all, that is a part of the magic.