Monday, April 30, 2012

The Fellowship of the Recipe

I've never met guerrilla cookie inventor Ted Odell, but I've heard he no longer thinks fondly of his creation. He's been quoted as saying the guerrilla-cookie recipe is evil and needs to be kept out of this world. That sounded crazy to me when I first heard it. But I came away from last night's Wisconsin Alumni Association's event, Madison's Main Course: Quintessential Cuisine, Past and Present, thinking of Gollum and Precious, and wondering whether Odell knows something I don't.

At this entertaining event, the Alumni Association served up treats remembered fondly by alumni, including Memorial Union's fudge-bottom pie; Babcock Hall ice cream; La Brioche bakery's Morning Buns; Paisan's Porta Bella salad; and the Plaza Tavern's burger with Plaza sauce. All were certifiably genuine. The guerrilla cookie was the only item surrounded by mystery and debate.

Carl Korz, Director of Dining Services for the Memorial Union, has been using his professional culinary skills and substantial campus connections to try to recreate the guerrilla. He brought two attempts to the event. They were good but not much closer to the original than other things we've tried--which actually is kind of close. Carl has made good progress with the taste. His professional skills allow him to be more confident with spices than I am. But the texture of both samples I tried was cakier and drier than the original guerrilla, which was very dense and moist.

In the genuine guerrilla spirit, Carl is sharing everything he knows. He has posted his recipe on the Wisconsin Alumni Association website. With his culinary training and experience, he was able to explain why I might have rejected soy flour, brewer's yeast or nutmeg as not tasting right, even though they might have been in the guerrilla cookie. Tastes interact, so if I didn't have the right other ingredients in those batches, they would have tasted wrong.

Like Gandalf bringing ancient wisdom, Martha Fish, Carl's aunt, is also willing to share. She's a UW alum who saved ephemera in her recipe box--including an actual insert from a bag of guerrilla cookies!!! Carl was handing out photocopies. I photoshopped it onto a picture of my cookies, below.

That label presents a few puzzles. Carl tracked down an unsuccessful patent application Odell submitted, which indicated that Odell lived in Oregon. This could explain why the label does not identify Madison as the location of the bakery.

The order of the ingredients, which is supposed to be by volume, is a problem. The cookies would have been inedible if they contained more brewer's yeast than sugar, eggs, or oil. So it's obvious the label tells us nothing about proportions.

Another puzzle is the absence of anything that would provide the white dots we all remember. It is not oatmeal pieces that we are now remembering as white dots; even  undergraduates know what oatmeal looks like.

While I was delighted as Carl shared his expertise, enthusiasm, and theories, I also felt an occasional twinge of sadness for him. Like former Mifflin Street Co-op baker Glen Chism before him, Carl has now been drawn into a fellowship questing for something he has never even seen. I'm grateful for that sort of professional dedication, but how frustrating must that be?

My other interesting conversation was with a fellow cookie-quester whom I'll call Frodo. (He doesn't want his real name publicized.) He believes he has succeeded in reverse-engineering the guerrilla cookie. Possessing that recipe is weighing very heavily on him. Several times during our conversation I felt I was in the presence of a man who, if he were to reveal his secret to the wrong person, would soon hear the thunder of Ring Wraiths drawing near.

Among other things, Frodo believes Odell's eventual social withdrawal was caused at least in part by being hounded by people trying to steal his recipe, and that Odell likely lied about the ingredients in order to protect his secret. Frodo doesn't want to risk being hounded or having to lie, but feels that his recipe is too precious to be shared in a way that would enable its use by someone who might not do the right thing. He is getting advice from friends and relatives, but hasn't yet figured out what to do with his discovery. It's a hard decision, and I hope he finds his comfort zone soon.

My only regret about the evening is that while I spent so much time talking with these two interesting people, I probably missed some good conversations with other people. If the guy who was so adamant about honey is reading this, I'm sorry we didn't have more time to talk!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Quercus Alba Ingredients List Found! (maybe)

Interest in the guerrilla cookie is heating up thanks to the UW Alumni Association. They came up with a great idea for this year’s Alumni Weekend (April 27-28): serving up fondly remembered campus foods at an event they are calling “Madison’s Main Course, Quintessential Cuisine Past and Present.”

Feedback from alumni uncovered a strong desire for guerrilla cookies, so Wendy Hathaway, WAA web editor was assigned to track down a recipe. Her research led her to this blog and to other sources. She emailed me while doing her research, mentioning that "we stumbled on a recipe for the infamous guerrilla cookie that was handed down through a local family," and that the staff at UW Union catering was working to recreate it.

I answered a few questions for her and asked for the recipe. She responded that she herself didn't have it but that she'd try her best to get it to me. I don't have it yet. I'm wondering if it's the Mary McDowell recipe that was used for the Mifflin Street Co-op attempted re-creation in 2004.

Then, on March 4, Hathaway wrote on the WAA website, “A recently discovered ingredients list (saved long ago from a package of guerrilla cookies made at Quercus Alba Bakery) has inspired a new attempt at guerrilla cookies — they'll be part of the spirit of community and connections at Alumni Weekend.”

She continued, "Our top-secret campus chef is still working on finalizing his recipe for the Alumni Weekend event.”

“As for that top-secret recipe we’re using for the big April event? You’ll have to get your ticket and stop by the Pyle Center to decide how close we came to solving the mystery of the guerrilla cookie.”

I emailed Hathaway suggesting that what would truly be in the “spirit of community and connections at the Alumni Weekend” would be sharing that ingredients list.

She replied, "I still haven't seen the ingredients list in person, we're working with a team of bakers to re-create them as best we can, and re-create enough for Alumni Weekend. Hopefully we'll have more to share after that event."

I'll wait until after Alumni weekend to pester Wendy and the WAA even more for the recipe and ingredients list. I'll be honest, though: Hathaway seems like a nice enough person, but the emphasis on secrecy is making me wonder if the claim to have an original ingredients list isn't just a ploy to increase attendance at the April event. Prove me wrong, Wendy!

As Lindy wrote on the blog that started all this back in 2007: “It is my firm belief that Recipes are for The People! (If I had it), I'd feel honor bound to liberate that recipe, and won't be pretending otherwise."

“I'm not actually kidding about this,” Lindy added. “I don't like the whole concept of hoarded secret recipes and firmly believe the sharing and preparing of real food is an important human link.”

I agree. So, Wendy and Top-secret Campus Chef: After you've gotten what mileage you can out of secrecy before the event, how about getting in the true guerrilla spirit by  liberating that ingredients list? Power to the People!


I'm going to attend the April 28 event, but I might be a bit jet-lagged. My husband and I will have recently returned from a WAA trip to South Africa and a stay-over with a college friend who now lives in Pretoria. I endorse those WAA trips even more enthusiastically than I endorse guerrilla cookies.

You can register for the "Quintessential Cuisine" event here. It's on Saturday evening, April 28, 6:00-8:00PM; $33 for WAA members and $36 for everyone else.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Wonderful cookbook!

I had never noticed the common ground covered by cooking and citizenship until I leafed through This is What Democracy Cooks Like, the new cookbook from WORT, a listener-sponsored community radio station at 89.9 FM in Madison. Yes, I'm blogging about it partly because I submitted a guerrilla cookie recipe from this blog, to which the editors gave two full pages and a fitting quote from Michael Ruhlman. But even if they hadn’t accepted my submission, I’d consider this a fabulous cookbook.

Recall your most rewarding cooking experience and I’ll bet it involved community. From raw materials brought to you by a multitude of farmers, butchers, truck drivers, and grocers, you created an end product that included friends and family sitting around a dinner table sharing flavors and aromas, being nourished by the same sustenance. Or consider that feeling of accomplishment when you share a good recipe. Makes the world a better place, it does.

Citizenship feels the same way. We build on foundations prepared by others, using whatever knowledge and skills we can bring to the task. The end product is a community that sustains ourselves and others.

In January 2011, the folks at WORT decided to create a fundraising cookbook. The cookbook committee had met only once when Governor Scott Walker began his assault on democracy. The cookbook editor wrote that "the project then went on the back burner as we played our parts in the struggle--marching, chanting, reporting, occupying, singing, tweeting, blogging, documenting, and disseminating information. When we finally got back on track...the title had changed to reflect the events of this year and the tenor of the cookbook had changed as well.

This Is What Democracy Cooks Like rises to the level of art in the success with which it captures the communitarian spirit in both cooking and in citizenship. You can cook with this book; read it for amusement; enjoy its graphics; and keep it as a souvenir of the historical moment when democracy started to come back to life in Wisconsin and, I hope, the United States.

The recipes, of course, reflect the community. Ethnic variety, a bit heavy on German and Scandinavian heritages (Schwarzbrot fur das Brot Maschine, page 35.) More than the typical proportion of vegetarian recipes (Clean-out-the-Refrigerator Vegetable Bake, page 205), but still enough sausage, beef, and bacon (Uncle Porky’s Chops, page 190.) Lots of whole grains and veggies, and nothing that needs a fancy pan you don’t have in your kitchen.

Contributors were asked to write a paragraph or two about each recipe. Here are a few:
My sister’s ex-boyfriend cooked this for my family when he visited from his home nation of Austria. Because I did not see them lasting, I asked him for the recipe right away. Turns out I was right and our family now has a delicious staple pasta dish. (Red, White, and Blue Pasta, page 161)
I have a mixing bowl and a muffin pan from my great grandma, who was a fabulous baker. Whenever I move into a new house, I christen the kitchen by making her recipe with her mixing bowl and pan. (Banana Muffins, page 41)
I developed this recipe using canned pumpkin, applesauce, onions, and Canadian bacon from the food pantry. I had to buy only a few things to make this wonderful soup. (Food Pantry Pumpkin Soup with Ham, page 108)
This lasagna won a small lasagna cook-off in 2008 on the near east side of Madison. It is, therefore, famous. (Spinach Lasagna, page 154)
I made up this pie out at the Creamery CafĂ© in Paoli. We had a bottle of brandy needing to be used. It’s become popular among our regulars. (Chocolate Brandy Pie, page 289)
In addition to the recipes and interesting culinary sidebars, the cookbook includes some straight history of the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising. “A Seat at the Table” tells the story of the uprising in four pages, and throughout the book are several dozen well-captioned photos of the best protest signs, the crowds inside and outside the Capitol, and other scenes, including the infamous Faux News palm trees.

It was put together with obvious care—the graphic design is outstanding and the marginal notes well-researched and amusing. The spiral binding keeps it laying perfectly flat and staying open to the right page; the sturdy paper will hold up to splashes and an occasional wet finger.

Have I made the sale? Order it; you’ll love it.

Monday, April 25, 2011

What we know so far

I'm feeling the need for a round-up of what we've learned through the experiments and from what people have said they remember.

Flour: Definitely whole wheat. Possibility of other kinds of flour, but John tried a 'five whole grain flour,' and did not like the taste. Definitely no rice or soy flour. Not spelt flour, which was not commercially available until around 2006.
Eggs: Definitely; and definitely in greater amounts than in the typical cookie.
Sweetening: Some molasses, but probably not in syrup form; more likely some kind of less-refined sugar. Iris and Claire both remember that Ted Odell changed the sweetener during the time he baked the cookie. Iris remembers brown sugar in the original ingredients list, with honey added later. Claire clearly remembers when Odell substituted barley malt syrup for some other sweetener in the early 1980s.
Milk: Definitely. Could have been either liquid or powder. Whey has not yet been ruled in or out.
Oil: No good conclusions so far; could have been any kind of vegetable oil or butter. Maybe flax seed oil. Canola oil wasn't developed until 1978.
Leavening (baking soda or powder): No.

Spices: Nothing in any significant amount. Maybe a little cinnamon. Definitely not nutmeg.
Raisins: Donna is adamant that there were no raisins; but when chopped up, they seem so right to the rest of us, for both taste and moisture. I agree with Donna, though, at least on the visual: even chopped up, the raisins just look wrong to me.
Nuts: Definitely. Walnuts, ground or finely chopped. Not almonds or peanuts.
Sesame seeds: Almost certainly.
Sunflower seeds: Probably.
Wheat germ: Probably.
Cracked wheat or bulghur: Probably.
Flax seeds: Deb commented with her specific memory that there was flax seed something. Oil? Meal? Whole seeds?
Oatmeal: Probably, but could have been barley. Barley flakes look like oatmeal, and I like what they did to the taste.
Brewer's Yeast: Not enough to affect the taste; I doubt it.
Millet: The grains look so right, but are just too hard. No.
Figs: The seeds look right, but the flavor is wrong. No.
Soy: No. Not oil, flour, or granules.
Corn meal: Definitely not.
Peanut butter: Definitely not.

Additional memories or suggestions? I cannot figure out how to make the comment box always visible, so click on the words that say how many comments have been made so far, below, to make a comment box appear.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Recipe 78: Barley instead of oats; mistreating the product

Barley   Sometime around last Thanksgiving, the local grocery chain stopped selling my favorite bread (La Brea Bakery’s Harvest Grain loaf), which made me study that ingredient list and ponder whether I could make the bread myself. It had a lot of barley (flour, flakes, and cracked), which started me wondering whether barley might help the taste of the evolving guerrilla recipe. So I substituted barley flakes for the rolled oats to see how it would taste.  I'm eagerly recommending this recipe. See what you think.

Recipe 78
2 tablespoons wheat germ
¼ cup chopped walnuts
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
½ cup bulghur
½ cup raisins
4 medium or 3 large eggs
½ cup sunflower oil
¾ cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons whole-wheat flour
¼ cup milk
¾ cup barley flakes 

Turn the oven on to 350 degrees. Place the wheat germ on a cookie sheet and lightly toast it in the preheating oven just until it starts to turn color; then do the same with the walnuts and sesame seeds. Watch carefully—they turn rapidly from toasty brown to burnt, especially the wheat germ.

Set the toasted sesame seeds aside. Put the toasted walnuts and wheat germ in a food processor with the bulghur and the raisins, and process until the mixture is finely grained. Stir in the sesame seeds and set aside.

Beat the eggs, oil, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon, and salt together. Mix in the flour and then the milk. Stir in the raisin/grain/seed mixture and the barley flakes.  The dough should be fairly wet. Let the dough sit for at least 30 minutes to allow the grains to soak up some moisture.

Drop by heaping tablespoonsful onto a parchment-covered cookie sheet and bake for 11-12 minutes until the edges begin to brown. Cool on racks.
I flipped one cookie over to show the browned edge.
Closer, but still not quite.

Bulghur  Iris suggested using cracked wheat or bulghur. I think bulghur added just the right chewiness, so I used it in Recipe 78. The cookies I made from Iris's recipe over on the Lindy’s Toast blog,  are these: 
The cookies on the left are before I added extra milk.
Extra milk in the cookies on the right made them flatten out a bit.
She observed, and I agree, that maybe millet is too crunchy, so I left that out. Finally, for no reason other than to reduce the number of ingredients, I also decided to use dark brown sugar instead of both turbinado sugar and molasses.

Were the cookies’ toasty edges and the stickiness Odell’s mistakes? 
Everyone feels the need to give the cookie a crispy edge and a slight stickiness that would make the cookies cling together if stacked in a plastic bag. The assumption was that we could do that by adjusting the ingredients.

Well, consider this: Odell was an untrained baker, right?

And what are two common mistakes of amateur bakers?

First: they don’t let the baking sheets cool off before starting another batch. This causes the edges to melt and cook faster than the rest of the cookie. Voila, crispy edges. I tried that with this batch and didn't quite get the toasty edges we remember, but it’s closer. 

Second, amateur bakers don’t let the cookies cool entirely before wrapping them up---and they stick together. I did not let these cookies finish cooling before I stacked them in a plastic bag. When they cooled entirely and I took them back out of the bag, they stuck together exactly as the original guerrillas did!

I'm going to deliver cookies to taste-testers and ask them to comment here. Let's see what they think.

Meantime, any other comments or recipes are welcome--just click on the words below that tell how many comments have been made, and a comment box should appear below any comments that have already been made.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

How flat? How lumpy?

I've taken a few days' vacation from work to do lots of things around the house--get re-organized and re-centered--but I fit in a few more experiments with things like dates and more flavorful flours, like graham or buckwheat. Nothing worth giving to the taste-testers, but I did get some photos for prodding our memories.

The taste-testers' recollections about the shape of the guerrilla cookie seem to differ a bit. It was definitely flat enough to be stacked in tall, thin bags, but how flat?

One person I tried to recruit as a taste-tester told me that he was not sure that he remembered the guerrilla cookie. He said that he thought they were taller and "got narrower around the base." I think he meant something like this shape. I decided he was correct that he does not remember the guerrilla cookie.

But how flat were they? Peter thought that Batch 75 (photo in previous post) was too flat, that the original guerrilla was more 'dodu,' or puffy in the middle. John made Batch 75 and thought they pancaked too much. I, too, think that several batches have been too flat, but trying to get a little more depth in the center has also led me to wondering about the surface texture.

Certainly, the surface had a sheen--everyone agrees on that. But when I try to get the cookie to mound a bit more in the center, I often turn the surface lumpier than I think is right. Setting aside the question of whether they are too flat, take a look at the following photos. I think the surface of the first cookie is lumpier than the original guerrilla was. While the second cookie below is too flat, its surface is closer to the guerrilla cookie of my memory.

If anyone else wants to express an opinion, please comment!

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Batch 75

The recipe for Batch 75 is:
¼ cup sunflower seeds
¼ cup walnuts
2 tbsp sesame seeds
1 cup rolled oats
½ cup raisins
¼ cup steel cut oats
½ cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp wheat germ
½ cup rice flour
¼ cup turbinado sugar
¼ cup dry milk
½ tsp salt
¼ tsp cinnamon
5 medium eggs
3 tbsp molasses
¼ cup + 1 tbsp honey
½ cup sunflower oil
1 tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and toast sunflower seeds and walnuts for 8-10 minutes, or just until fragrant and starting to turn color. Toast sesame seeds separately until just starting to turn color. Toast rolled oats until fragrant. Place the seeds and nuts in a food processor with the raisins and most of the rolled oats, and process until the raisins are all well-chopped.

Stir the chopped nut-and-seed mixture together with the rest of the rolled oats and the remaining dry ingredients.

In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients, stirring until well mixed, without introducing much air.

Stir the wet ingredients and dry ingredients together until completely blended. Drop in heaping tablespoonsful onto a greased cookie sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes, or until edges are browned.

To enhance the chewiness, this batch is even heavier on the egg and honey than previous batches; I eliminated the milk and reduced the sugar to compensate. For both chewiness and the 'little white dots' that I remember, I finally thought of steel-cut oats. I tried a bit of rice flour; I've been wondering if that might help the sheen a bit.

I won't comment on what I think of this recipe until the taste-testers have weighed in.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Batch 74

The recipe for Batch 74 was:
½ cup sunflower seeds
½ cup walnuts
1½ cup rolled oats
½ cup raisins
1 cup whole wheat flour
2 tbsp wheat germ
½ cup turbinado sugar
2 tbsp dry milk powder
1/8 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
2 eggs
¾ cup milk
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp honey
¾ cup sunflower oil
¼ tsp vanilla
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place sunflower seeds, walnuts, and ¾ cup oats on a cookie sheet and bake for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring once, until fragrant and just starting to change color.

Mix those dry ingredients together with raisins and chop in a food processor until finely grained. Mix together with the remaining oats, flour, sugar, milk powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients well, trying not to introduce too much air. Stir wet and dry mixtures together.

Let dough rest for about half an hour. Bake on buttered cookie sheet for 10 minutes, or just until the edges start to brown.

If you sampled cookies from batch 74, I'm interested in your opinion. Please leave your comments below! (If you sampled Batch 73, please check the previous post.)

Batch 73

The recipe for Batch 73 was:
3/4 cup sunflower seeds (4 oz)
3/4 cup walnuts (3 oz)
1 cup rolled oats (4 oz)
½ cup raisins (3.5 oz)
¾ cup whole wheat flour (3.75 oz)
½ cup turbinado sugar (3.75 oz)
2 tbsp dry milk powder
1/8 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp salt
1 ½ egg (I know that's odd, but when you're experimenting with proportions, you have to do some odd things.)
½ cup milk
2 tbsp molasses
2 tbsp honey
½ cup sunflower oil
½ tsp vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place sunflower seeds, walnuts, and oats on a cookie sheet and taost for 8-10 minutes at 350 degrees, stirring once, until fragrant and just starting to change color.

Mix those dry ingredients together with raisins and chop in a food processor but don't totally pulverize. Mix in flour, sugar, milk powder, cinnamon, and salt.

In a separate bowl, mix the wet ingredients well, trying not to introduce too much air. Stir wet and dry mixtures together.

Let dough rest four about half an hour. Bake on buttered cookie sheet for 10 minutes, or just until edges start to brown.

I won't say yet what I thought of this batch. If you sampled cookies from Batch 73, I'm interested in what you thought. Please leave your comments below. Thank you!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Reliable, consistent granola

I've finished a few more batches since my last post--none of them worth documenting. I am trying to get a cookie that is more like the original guerrilla AND get a reliable recipe that turns out the same every time.

The granola is still a problem for me. I made three batches with three different kinds of granolas and they turned out very different. There is just too much variety in ready-made granolas--different ingredients, different weights-per-volume, different moisture content.

To get more control over the granola, I made my own using this recipe:
3 ½ cups rolled oats
½ cup wheat germ
¼ cup unsalted sunflower seeds
¼ cup sesame seeds
½ cup chopped almonds
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup honey
¼ cup water
2 tbsp brown sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Stir together the oats, wheat germ, sunflower seeds and almonds. In a small saucepan, mix together the oil, honey, water, brown sugar, salt and vanilla and heat over low heat just until the sugar is dissolved. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry ingredients, and stir until evenly coated. Spread in a thin layer on a large baking sheet. Bake for for one hour, stirring once, until lightly toasted. Cool.
Using that granola made a dry cookie, and the almonds were, to me, noticeable and wrong. If I leave out the almonds next time I make the granola, the remaining ingredients are also all in the basic guerrilla recipe. So, making granola out of them before putting them in the cookie batter is pretty much the same thing as the toast-the-dry-ingredients step I suspected from the start.

Lessons I learned in other batches:
  • Although I think wheat germ was, by itself, an ingredient in the original guerrilla, simply adding it to John's recipe makes it too dry, and adding milk and egg to overcome that just makes the taste bland.
  • I tried figs and satisfied my curiosity: I'm using raisins from now on.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Notes -- second run at John's recipe

This was John’s recipe, the best starting point for my next attempt:
Madison Guerilla Cookies take 1

1 cup Seeds or Nuts
2 cups plain granola, no fruit
1 cup whole grain rolled oats
1 cup raisins
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup dry milk powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1 egg
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup molasses
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp salted butter
1 cup sunflower, canola, or rice bran oil

Mix all dry ingredients including raisins in food processor but don't totally pulverize.
Mix well all wet ingredients in stand mixer with paddle blade. Start with egg and end with the oil. Add dry ingredients to stand mixer with wet ingredients. Mix well and let stand for a few minutes to 36 hours. (The granola and oats need some time to soften a bit)
When ready to bake, place about two tablespoons for each cookie on cookie sheets and flatten slightly. Bake for about 10 minutes (overdone gets too hard in a hurry after cooling)
Step 1: I made John's recipe with only one significant modification that might have affected shape or texture: no baking soda. I was careful to mix the dough in a way that did not incorporate air.

The chopped walnuts worked just fine for the visual little white dots.

Frustration: the first time I made John's recipe, it produced the pancake shape I'm aiming for. This time I followed the same recipe, I get taller, rounder cookies:

(They weren't overdone; that's just the lighting.) I'm blaming the granola. The first time I made John's recipe, I used granola that had big chunks, and the second time I used a granola that was more uniformly finer grained. Two cups of the first kind probably contained less fiber and bulk. I wish our custom was to write recipes using weight rather than volume. I can't help but think it'd be more reliable. Fannie Farmer, you know I love you, but I wish you'd had a scale.

I'm sticking to my suspicion that the original guerrilla cookie recipe did not rely on commercial or ready-made granola.

I made more alterations that would affect the taste. I toasted the oats, walnuts, and sunflower seeds, and doubled the cinnamon and I added a full teaspoon of salt. On top of the sweetness in the basic recipe, those additions made a cookie that is (I know this is silly) too flavorful. Call me obsessed, but I still want to recreate the original guerrilla as closely as we can, and then we can declare victory and choose whether to make a close-to-original guerrilla cookie or something sweeter and spicier.

Step 2: So, I started playing around with the remaining dough. I added one more egg (hoping for the sheen and chewiness), a splash of milk (to flatten it out) and some wheat germ (to cut the sweetness with more earthy, grainy flavor.)

Step 3: I added even more milk and egg:

All of those cookies were fine. Just fine. We could stop now and have a cookie that is closer to the guerrilla than anything I've put in my mouth for 25 years. But this has come too far: I still want to see if I can recreate a cookie that makes me say, "Yes! This is the guerrilla cookie of my youth!"I want to figure out how to make it without prepared granola; I still want to get them just a little stickier (these don't cling together when stacked); a little less sweetness, more grain flavor, more chewiness, and that slightly, occasionally crunchy edge. I also want to carry a few around in a backpack for eight hours and see what happens.

And I'm still curious about what figs would do to the taste.

Margie's recipe lesson: Try more eggs

Here is a recipe that Donna posted on Lindy’s blog, saying that it came from her friend, Margie.

1 ½ cups oats
some nutritional yeast (I used 1 tbsp—too much)
1/8 -1/4 teas. cloves & nutmeg (I used 1/8 tsp each)
½ cup whole wheat flour
½-1 cup sugar * (I used ¾ cup)
½ tsp cinnamon
½ cup soybean flour
2 eggs
salt to taste
1/4 cup non fat dry milk
½ cup veg. oil
¼ up raisins

ground walnuts (I added 1/4 cup)

sunflower seeds (I added 1/4 cup)

* May substitute honey, but use a lot less liquid to get a thick batter.

Bake @ 350 for approx. 15 minutes

The excessive amount of brewer’s yeast I used gave these cookies a downright medicinal taste, but that was my fault. I'm learning. Also, as I’d concluded before, neither nutmeg nor soy flour are right for the original guerrilla.

Here’s what I learned from this experiment, though. The cookie dough was too dry for the guerrilla—it made tall, round cookies instead of flat pancake cookies. In earlier tries when the batter was too stiff, I've always added more oil or milk to flatten the cookie out, but this time I added 2 tbsp honey and an extra egg. This gave me the stickiness, the chewiness, a bit of the browned edges, and more of the sheen that I’ve been looking for. All of these things were attributes that, I think, would bring John's recipe one step closer to the original. Next, I'm going to make John's recipe with more egg.

Again, I got little holes in the surface of the baked cookies, which don't look right. I'm going to try to avoid incorporating any air into the batter from now on.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Links to other good guerrilla cookie discussions

Lindy's Toast blog This discussion contains several recipes, and lots of comments.

First Isthmus Daily Page Forum topic The second post in this topic links to two previous Forum discussions that touched on guerrilla cookies.

Second Isthmus Daily Page Forum topic

Odell's letter to the Cap Times was in 2004 (May 10 or Oct. 5) This link does not work, but I suppose I could look it up in the hard copy.

Paul Soglin's memories of the Mifflin Street Coop.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Guerrilla cookie background

Information about the Quercus Alba/Ted Odell guerrilla cookie, which was sold in Madison from the late 1960s until the mid-1980s can be found in several blogs and newspaper/magazine articles. Some of these are linked below. I’ve compiled the information here in the hopes that knowledgeable readers will come forth to correct or add information, recollections, and observations.

I’m also hoping that anyone associated with the cookie’s production, such as anyone who worked in the bakery, supplied the bakery, or inspected the bakery, might share anything they remember. Most of all (please, dear god), I’m hoping someone saved a copy of the label with the ingredients list and will share it here.

In a Doonesbury cartoon from the early 1970s, Zonker observed, “Even revolutionaries like chocolate chip cookies.” If Doonesbury's creator Garry Trudeau had attended college in Madison instead of New Haven, that line would have been about guerrilla cookies.

Guerrilla cookies were a dietary staple among UW-Madison campus denizens from the late 1960s through the early 1980s. Campus-area co-ops and grocery stores sold the flat, lumpy cookies by the dozen, stacked like rice cakes in tubular bags. Some remember a white paper label tucked inside each bag with a blue-ink line drawing of some sort of a bucolic scene, perhaps a cow and a sunrise. In food co-ops and in the student unions, the cookies were sold individually.

There was nothing warlike about the guerrilla cookie. Nevertheless, the name suited: It was easy to imagine this tightly packed, portable nutrition as sustenance for a life on the run.

The guerrilla cookie did not become a Madison legend simply because it traveled well in a backpack. Packed with grains, nuts, and seeds, one or two made a decent meal, particularly when paired with a container of yogurt or an apple. The dense cookie’s abundant moisture gave it a slight sheen and caused the cookies to cling together in the package. With edges that sometimes got a bit crispy, the cookie provided tender resistance upon first bite and meaty substance to chew on.

The guerrilla cookie was produced in the small Quercus Alba bakery, which may have been for a time in the kitchen of the Brooks Street YMCA and was later in the downstairs rear part of 301 South Bedford Street. The baker was Ted Odell, who is reported to be still living in Wisconsin. On one blog, Snoqueen, a reader who owned a neon shop above the bakery, commented that Odell “was a little hard to talk to and most people knew to leave him alone.”

History has not been kind to Odell, likely because he has not been kind to anyone seeking the recipe. Odell has maintained a stubborn stance that he and only he possesses the recipe and that he will never divulge it. Odell once wrote to the UW alumnae magazine, On Wisconsin:
As their true and only creator (popular journalism to the contrary notwithstanding), I testify under oath: they came into existence and were made in the service of certain principles. To release them into the public domain advantages those who exploit them contrary to principles. (Consumerism is an example of what these principles are not).
More recently, Glen Chism, a Wisconsin baker, has contacted Odell. Chism reported,
We will never get a Guerrilla Cookie recipe from Mr. Odell. My attempts at communicating with him have resulted in a series of bizarre letters, complete with interesting pieces of sheet music and sort of disturbing drawings. As for the cookie, ...he was willing to share that he stopped selling the cookie because it had become a symbol of what is most wrong with our world.
Chism wrote that Odell considers the cookie “a bad thing that should not be produced in the world,” and that Odell said that there are no physical copies of the recipe and it will die with him.

The first high-profile attempt to recreate the guerrilla was undertaken in 2000, when Nature's Bakery on Williamson Street in Madison held a contest. This contest produced the Guerrilla 2000 cookie (G2K), which is still sold by the bakery. The cookie is more homage than imitation, and the bakery does not claim that there is any direct connection. The homage cookie contains several ingredients that recall the nuts-and-seeds chewiness of the original: unsulfured coconut, walnuts, and sunflower seeds. However, it is taller than the original and lacks the moistness. Finally, it contains peanut butter and chocolate chips, which were not in the original.

The second well-known attempt to recreate the guerrilla cookie came about in 2003 or 2004. A former UW student, Mary McDowell, provided a recipe to Chism, who was at that time with the Mifflin Street Co-op, saying that she wanted to help with the co-op’s financial difficulties by enabling them to re-introduce the guerrilla cookie. McDowell said that her recipe was close to the recipe that she had shared with Ted Odell shortly before he began production.

The account that McDowell provided at this time introduced the idea that one important ingredient might have been Tigers Milk beverage powder. She told George Hesselberg of the Wisconsin State Journal that she “cut a recipe from the back of a Tiger's Milk box and modified it.” She said she then gave the recipe to Odell, who made further alterations, including the addition of cracked wheat, before he started selling his cookies. Tiger’s Milk beverage powder is no longer manufactured, and the Schiff Company has declined others' requests for an ingredients list. (I’ve contacted them and have not yet heard back.)

Hesselberg published the list of the ingredients in MacDowell’s recipe, which did not include Tiger’s Milk. Some ingredients could easily have been in the original: rolled oats, turbinado sugar, dry milk, wheat bran, almonds, sunflower seeds, cracked wheat, brewer's yeast, molasses, and cinnamon. However, other ingredients in her recipe are unlikely. No one who knew the original cookie has mentioned soy nuts, soy grits, or almond butter among the ingredients they remember. Consensus is that the original did not contain peanut butter, and finally, canola oil did not exist in the late 1960s. Hesselberg's article quoted two women who had tasted the MacDowell recipe. They said they could taste peanut butter and described the cookie as ‘slightly dry,’ neither of which describes the original guerrilla cookie.

Some recall that Odell adjusted the recipe over time. One former staff member of a local grocery, Claire, commented:
From 1980 until 1985, I worked at Whole Earth on East Johnson Street and we sold the cookies, both individually and in bags. There was a great uproar when he changed the recipe: he substituted malt syrup for either the sugar or the honey. Many of us swore we'd never eat the cookies again because the taste was so altered. But we ate them anyway.
In 2008, knowing none of this yet, I went on the Internet looking for a guerrilla-cookie recipe. I found a kindred spirit in Lindy, of the Lindy’s Toast blog, who in February 2007 had written:
It is my firm belief that Recipes are for The People! (If Odell gave it to me,) I'd feel honor bound to liberate that recipe, and won't be pretending otherwise. I don't like the whole concept of hoarded secret recipes, and firmly believe that the sharing and preparing of real food is an important human link. 
I agree. Begging or waiting passively for someone to turn over a recipe that may or may not be the real thing seems to me to be unnecessarily helpless and not at all in the guerrilla spirit. A few people with decent foodie memories and a bit of experience in the kitchen can, I am sure, recreate a recipe that is close enough to the original. So I joined in the discussion there, and when my attempted recreations got good enough to share, I started this blog.

The tag line on the blog comes from a charming worker at Willy Street Coop who was helping me find ingredients. He was too young even to have heard of the cookie, so I described it to him and acknowledged we would never know for certain how close we come with these re-creation efforts. He replied, "Well, then, you'll just need to call your re-creation the 'Large Primate Cookie."

I laughed and said, "That'd work, except the original was a guerrilla cookie--like Che Guevara, revolutionary, that kind of thing. Healthy, portable, good for shoving into a backpack and staying on the go."

"Oh, I get it--because you never know when you will need to grab your cookies and run into the jungle."

Trying out John's recipe

This weekend, I baked a batch of John's 'Take 1' recipe, his recipe and photo here. The cookies I baked were just as stackable as the original guerrilla cookie, if a little thinner.

The first batch I baked, after letting the dough rest for only about a half an hour, had little holes on the surface. I think the cookie would have done better if the binding dough baked up a little more cake-like.

I refrigerated the dough overnight and got slightly better texture (stack on the right, below--a little overbaked.) I added a few tablespoons of oat flour to the remaining dough and got the cookie stacked on the left, below. The extra flour achieved a more cake-like cookie and cut some of the extra sweetness, but ruined the nice flat profile.