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.