Raw cookie dough is a no-no — unless it's safe-to-eat cookie dough sold by a new wave of businesses ranging from Seattle food truck Sugar + Spoon to a University Village store to Unbaked, an online cookie-dough business.
So much for the sweet nostalgia of childhood. We’ve learned by now that Santa didn’t really bring the Easy-Bake oven. He didn’t eat the cookies on Christmas Eve. Now, new for the modern era, we can’t even snitch bites of dough while making the cookies we pretend he eats.
The federal Centers for Disease Control earlier this month issued a seasonal warning against eating cookie dough. The Washington State Department of Health doubled down, tweeting “Raw cookie dough is never safe to eat.”
They aren’t being Grinches, as we all know. While warnings against raw cookie dough originally stemmed from fears of salmonella in raw eggs, raw flour is another growing concern. Nestle refrigerated cookie dough was recalled in 2009 after it was linked to an E. coli outbreak. (Flour was suspected, but never proven.) Another E. coli outbreak in 2016 led to an FDA warning against eating raw flour.
But wait. There may or may not be a Santa Claus, but there are new options for licking a spoonful of raw dough. Edible cookie dough — generally egg-free and made with heat-treated flour — has become a trend that’s more than a consolation prize.
“Just like with the egg, if the flour is cooked, there is no risk of getting sick, as any bacteria would be killed by the high baking temperatures,” wrote Olivia Hops earlier this year in “The Edible Cookie Dough Cookbook” (Harvard Common Press, $19.99). (Note: In an email exchange, The Washington State Department of Health reminded me that “No product is 100% risk-free.” They’d also like to remind everyone that “safe food always starts with hand washing.”)
Hops, who is based in California, opened an online business in 2015 (Unbaked: A Cookie Dough Bar) to ship edible dough nationwide, writing, “I mean, who didn’t steal a spoonful of dough while baking with Mom or lick the beaters after Grandma blended the perfect amounts of spices for her famous oatmeal cookies?”
Similarly, in Seattle, “We always say we want it to taste like you’re taking a spoonful out of the mixing bowl from your mom,” said Ivana Orlovic, who last year co-founded what’s now the Sugar + Spoon food truck for an undergraduate business class at the University of Washington. The assignment: Start a business, pay back the initial costs invested by UW mentors, turn a profit to plow back into the program.
“No pressure, right?”
A food-lover and trend-watcher, Orlovic thought the dough was “something cool and new that Seattle doesn’t have.” Different groups in her class each developed separate business plans. Cookie dough seemed a good fit for her group; they drafted sorority sisters and fraternity brothers to sample dough. Mixing up as many as 10 test batches for chapter meetings, “We would have them all taste-test it and rank it and write their notes.”
Their campus pop-up shops sold out.
“We had a lot of nights where we were making cookie dough throughout the night. … We could not make enough. We could have sold double.”
Meanwhile, three new cookie-dough stores opened along the West Coast. “That’s how I knew we were onto something. By the time we were done, there was one in almost every single major city,” Orlovic said.
By graduation, Orlovic already had her real-estate license, and business partner William Hubbell was separately studying for his. But they kept getting messages from cookie-dough fans asking, “When are you guys going to be on campus next? … I think we knew if we didn’t do it now we’d kind of regret it forever.”
They wrote more business plans and launched the truck. It can be found most days outside Seattle’s Westlake Center selling cups and cones piled with flavors like Party Animal — a sugar-cookie base with sprinkles and Mother’s carnival cookies mixed in — and Dough-reos, loaded with Oreos.
“You can tell college kids made it,” Orlovic said.
And yes, they got an A.
KIDS WERE ALSO INVOLVED in Laura Vida’s edible cookie dough, though from a different perspective. Vida, owner of FrogLegs Culinary Academy in Kirkland, wanted to add a retail section for treats that were “unique and delicious” when she began planning her second branch at Seattle’s University Village.
Her son and niece had gone on an eighth-grade trip to New York City and Washington, D.C., and one of their favorite memories was a cookie-dough shop. For a business aimed at kids, it sounded worth investigating. She teamed up with culinarian Tiffany Lewis to develop recipes.
Heat-treated flour, Vida soon discovered, was not a common commodity. “You have to buy a truckload, I think, in order to make it feasible.” They learned to make their own, as Sugar + Spoon also currently does, though Orlovic said they’re near the capacity to start purchasing it. (Seattle food-safety attorney Bill Marler, who has represented E. coli victims, calls heat-treated flour the wave of the future. He said some major manufacturers of slice-and-bake cookies use it — though that’s not advertised, to avoid encouraging people to eat their dough raw.)
Vida traveled to New York to sample the dough she’d heard about there. “Of course it was delicious,” she said, but sweeter than she liked.
“We did a lot of mixtures of butter and cream and cream cheese and “how do we get that texture” and “how do we eliminate the graininess,” Vida said.
“We went through many tastings, which was of course so hard to do. I’m just kidding. It was really fun.”
They now make dough flavors like chocolate chip and birthday cake at Mrs. FrogLegs Treat Mercantile, which opened in June in University Village, with seasonal specials like pumpkin pie and candy-cane crunch in addition to fully baked cookies. (It also offers cooking classes and drop-in cake decorating.)
“People want what they remember. We had to find the right formula to get the mouth feel, the flavor and all that without the eggs and with heat-treated flour.”
The end result is popular with a mix of customers and age groups. On my family’s taste test, we found the FrogLegs cookie dough indistinguishable from homemade, as advertised, though the optional toppings took getting used to. (Is cookie dough with whipped cream and caramel sauce really cookie dough?)
Vida has also been surprised by how many older customers don’t realize it’s meant for eating right from the cup.
“They think you take it home and bake with it.”
FrogLegs Culinary Academy, 2643 N.E. University Village St. (University Village), Seattle; 501 Market St., Kirkland (edible dough is also sold in Kirkland, though it’s made at University Village); froglegskca.com
Margo’s Sweet Shop also sells edible cookie dough at 7330 164th Ave. N.E. (Redmond Town Center), Redmond; margossweetshop.com
Sugar + Spoon food truck, schedule and locations online at sugarspoondough.com/events
Unbaked: A Cookie Dough Bar, mail-order only, unbakedbar.com