By Mariel Monteleone
Who doesn’t love an Oreo? It stakes its claim as ‘Milk’s Favorite Cookie’, as if to purposely annoy the Almighty Chocolate Chip. I know people who don’t like ice cream or cake, or even refuse a cookie after 20 minutes out of the oven.
But I have never met anybody who doesn’t like an Oreo.
I will pass at most other mass-produced cookies, but the siren song of the Oreo calls to me like no other.
This past Christmas, I received Thomas Keller’s latest cookbook, “Bouchon Bakery.” It is a beautiful book, filled with recipes of all skill levels. You can make cookies, or you can make your own puff pastry.
And then, there it was. Staring at me from page 39. The TKO. Yep, that would stand for the Thomas Keller Oreo. Deep, dark chocolate wafers with scalloped edges, sandwiching a glossy white center.
From that Christmas day, my fate was sealed. I had to make that cookie.
I found a good amount of other bloggers who documented their attempt to make the TKO. Results spanned from ‘not impressed’ to ‘OMG I’ll never buy Oreos again!!’.
So, what gives? There are countless variables, uncontrollable to us, that will affect how a recipe turns out. Humidity, oven calibration, and precise measuring, to name a few.
The questions arose…What could I control? And would it affect the outcome?
I decided to use the same brands of ingredients (the recipe and ingredients, by the way, can be found here — somewhat complicated, but so worth it!): E. Guittard Black Cocoa and Valrhona Ivorie 35%. The black cocoa powder would give the cookie its signature Oreo hue, and is a detail I found many had omitted. I’m sure using standard reddish-brown dutch-process powder is fine…but with this cookie the look is an important factor. Not only did the book provide what ingredients they used, but also where the humble reader could buy said ingredients. L’Epicerie, located in Red Hook, Brooklyn, was that place. It’s a warehouse that offers professional quality products in home chef quantities, so you’re not stuck with more than you really need.
As for all necessary gear, I had a stand mixer, digital scale, and rolling pin. I was shocked to find that a set of the fluted cutters used in the book cost over sixty dollars. Sixty dollars! I could not justify spending that much and was able to find a cheaper alternative at Williams-Sonoma. (You could very well use whatever shaped cutters you have around the house, but I was trying to maintain some shred of resemblance to the original.)
With all ingredients and accessories acquired, on a rainy Tuesday, I began.
The filling, made of white chocolate, butter, and heavy cream, had to be made first, as it needed time to cool and thicken.
It seemed too thin at first, making me nervous. But since it’s essentially a white chocolate ganache I hoped it would come around after a few hours in the fridge.
Now it was time to prep the cookie dough. Let me tell you, this black cocoa powder, it’s amazing. It’s so velvety, I’m obsessed. I am already looking for an excuse to use it again. To my trusty stand mixer I added butter, salt, sugar and the flour/baking soda/cocoa mix. At first the mixture took on an ashy gray color, but as the butter worked its way in it began to morph into that deep dark Oreo brown-black.
I pressed the dough together and covered it in plastic wrap for a nice little nap in the fridge. A few renegade crumbles stayed on the board- a perfect opportunity for a taste (no eggs = completely safe!). Thank God I had wrapped up the dough or else the only thing you would be seeing was a photo of me sitting on the floor with a ring of cookie crumbs around my mouth.
The next day, I took the dough out of the fridge. Since it was still fairly thick and cold, it took a lot of elbow grease to get things moving, and even then my dough kept cracking.
I was nervous, was there something I did wrong? After the initial panic (and also seeing that my parchment paper was seriously undersized), I decided it was best to work in smaller batches, with the rest on standby in the fridge. Now things were much easier and I could get started with my fluted cutter! Score one for me!
After being rolled out to the appropriate thickness, I pressed my fluted cutter into the dough, transferred the pieces to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and into the oven.
Leftover scraps were smashed back together and briefly chilled before rolling out again. This process was repeated until all the dough was used up. For an afternoon, my small apartment was an Oreo factory.
Once the cookies had cooled, it was time for the last phase of TKO completion – assembly. When I took my white chocolate filling out of the fridge, it had not firmed up as much as I had hoped. I had read about others who had a similar problem with the filling, but a few seconds with a hand mixer and you’re good to go. I put the filling into a plastic bag and cut a small opening in one corner. Hello, pastry bag! I piped the filling as best I could onto the cookies.
And then sandwiched them together. So cute!
Then I took a bite. HOLY CHOCOLATE. The cookies were crisp and a deeply intense chocolate flavor, with just the right amount of salt to balance. They were everything I had wished for it to taste like. SO GOOD. The filling was a subtle, creamy, sweet vanilla, slightly overpowered by the chocolate. It still squeezed out the sides, but after some time in the fridge, it was pretty darn near perfect.
So is it better than an Oreo?
Being better than a mass-produced cookie loved by billions that’s been around for over 100 years? That’s a tall order. Can you feel better that it’s homemade and you know everything you’re eating? Yes. Will it sit on your counter for a week and not go stale? No.
The TKO is like Oreo’s rich French relative. Familiar, yet refined. It was a lot of work but I will make these again, and maybe play around with the filling. Overall, a worthwhile and delicious experience. Now…who wants to help me eat them all?
Mariel is a freelancer in television and writes on her blog when she isn’t here. She lives in Astoria, Queens, and enjoys people-watching from her balcony. Find her over at https://misadventuresahoy.wordpress.com/.