Spoiler alert: Store-bought cookies suck. I wish I could be more positive about this, but I just can't. They are full of so many chemicals and preservatives and weird "softening" agents that they don't resemble a real, home-baked chocolate chip cookie any more than a clay pigeon does.
I had forgotten just how much they suck until recently asked to do a store-bought cookie challenge for EOW, for those times -- and they are many -- when you need to stop and pick up something sweet on the run: last-minute snacks for an office meeting, for your kid's friends coming over after school, for your other kid's soccer game, for a friend's party, for a friend's break-up...what have you.
Just don't, for the love of Christ, pick up any store-bought chocolate chip cookies. You might think you're doing everyone a favor by bringing chocolate chip cookies. They will just end up resenting you as they slowly masticate one chalky "cookie" while trying to decide between swallowing the flavorless dust or excusing themselves to spit it into the sink.
But in the interest of science, the full results of the cookie taste-test are below. It wasn't a matter of determining the "best" cookie of the half-dozen that I sampled; it was a simple matter of choosing the lesser of six evils.
I bought six different brands of cookies from my local Randall's (a.k.a. Safeway). Each brand was between $3 and $4 for a package, so price doesn't really come into play here (with one notable exception below). You're buying cheap crap, and you get what you pay for.
Each cookie was judged on appearance, texture and taste on a scale of 1 to 5 -- 1 being "objectively awful" and 5 being "as close to home-baked as you'll get." (Spoiler alert, part two: No one got a 5.)
On to the results...
Keebler Chips Deluxe
Appearance: 3 They don't look homemade, but they look like cookies. With lots of chocolate chips.
Texture: 3 Far too crunchy for me, but some people prefer a little crunch in their cookie.
Taste: 2 Excessively bland, to the point where I almost thought I had a stroke before starting the competition; I could barely taste any chocolate, let alone any hint of butter or sugar.
Overall score: 8
Appearance: 2 I know they're supposed to be "bite-sized," but these just look like anemic runt cookies, with very few chocolate chips per cubic inch.
Texture: 2 These surpass "crunchy" and move precipitously close to "drywall" territory.
Taste: 2 Stale, with a weird barley aftertaste and hardly any chocolate.
Overall score: 6
Pepperidge Farm Soft Baked Montauk
Appearance: 4 These are actually quite lovely-looking cookies on the surface.
Texture: 1 OH GOD. The fake soft texture is so off-putting, it's all I can do to swallow my bite and I don't normally have "texture issues" with food. What do they put in these cookies to make them feel like this in my mouth? It's like the uncanny valley of cookies. To apply cookie analogies to the "uncanny valley" hypothesis of robotics, it's like this: When
human replicas chocolate chip cookies look and act almost, but not perfectly, like actual human beings chocolate chip cookies, it causes a response of revulsion among human observers/cookie-eaters. This is all the stranger to me considering how much I love Pepperidge Farm Milanos.
Taste: 0.5 These are by far the worst of the bunch. They taste excessively fake and overly sweet, with a weird chalky aftertaste that reminds me of astronaut ice cream. And considering that you only get a handful of cookies per package, you're paying a lot more for these disasters per ounce, even though the bag itself is $3.49.
Overall score: 5.5
Appearance: 3 Virtually indistinguishable from the Chips Deluxe cookies, as I'm sure the Nabisco brand of a Keebler product was meant to be. (P.S. I don't care which came first, so don't bother telling me in the comments section.)
Texture: 3 Again, a little too crunchy, but at least they don't taste like chalk.
Taste: 2.5 Just barely better than the Keebler version, due to a slighter emphasis on actual chocolate flavor.
Overall score: 8.5
Safeway-brand Treasure Chips
Appearance: 2 HEY YOU GUYS. These are the Sloth of store-bought chocolate chip cookies: slightly misshapen and lumpy and soft in all the wrong places. Also, I'm pretty sure Sloth would love these Treasure Chips as much as he loves treasure ships. AMIRITE?
Texture: 1 These suffer the same texture issues as the Pepperidge Farm cookies did: so soft they taste pillowy and fake and gummy at the end.
Taste: 1 Why does this cookie taste like prunes? Like prunes. And then an equally weird chemical aftertaste, like someone sprayed perfume in my mouth. Yet somehow they're not as bad as the Montauk abominations.
Overall score: 4
Randall's fresh-baked cookies
Appearance: 4 Cookies that actually look like homemade? Close enough. They're a little too perfect for homemade, but they're refreshing after a dismal parade of wall-eyed imitators.
Texture: 4 Cookies that actually feel like homemade? Once again, close enough.
Taste: 4 Y'ALL. I can actually taste butter, sugar, chocolate chips -- even some traces of a warm spice that tastes like cinnamon or nutmeg. These taste like normal cookies. Granted, they're from the in-house bakery so they'd better taste like normal cookies...but this is still astonishing.
Overall score: 12
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By a wide margin, the winner is the Randall's cookies that you purchase directly from the bakery. IMAGINE THAT. While they're absolutely not as good as homemade and still full of ingredients I wouldn't prefer adulterate my cookies (enriched bleached flour, margarine, palm oil, etc.), these are by far the best choice if you have to make a quick dash into the grocery store for emergency cookies. You also get 20 to a container for $3.99, making it a decent value as well.