Table for One

Why Do We Eat Raw Cookie Dough?

This week, Table for One columnist Eric Kim explores our generation's nostalgic obsession with licking the bowl.

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November 22, 2019
Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Table for One is a column by Senior Editor Eric Kim, who loves cooking for himself—and only himself—and seeks to celebrate the beauty of solitude in its many forms.


When Kristen Tomlan started her edible cookie dough company, , in 2014, she was mailing orders out of her Brooklyn apartment. Fast forward to five years later, in 2019: Now she has a thriving e-commerce business, one of the trendiest brick-and-mortar stores in the Village, and a brand new cookbook filled with over 100 cookie dough recipes that are "safe to eat" (meaning the eggs are pasteurized and any grains, such as flour, are heat-treated).

Her business idea was inspired by a trip she took with her girlfriends, and a tub of ready-to-bake cookie dough she bought at a local bakery on the road. "The purpose was to take the dough to go and make fresh, bakery-quality cookies at home," she writes in her book's introduction, "but I had a different idea." Kristen and her friends ended up eating the entire tub before making it to their destination.

"That's when the idea hit me: If we all loved cookie dough so much, why did we have to hide it?" she asked herself. "Why wasn't there a place where you could sit and enjoy it? Why hadn't anyone made it totally safe to eat?"

Years ago, if you had told me that someday people would be lining up outside a shop dedicated solely to unbaked cookie dough, I'd think you were pulling my leg. Maybe that's because I just didn't grow up eating it. I didn't even know you could eat it, until I slept over at a friend's house one night and watched him break off raw chunks from the yellow Toll House sleeve while we were supposed to be baking them. At first I was, admittedly, trepidatious—until he handed me a piece. "Just try it."

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“Love of cookie dough has been around for many, many years, and became pretty common 20-30 years ago when grocery stores started selling cutable dough logs.”
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I took a bite and was hooked.

It's a common impulse, I think, wanting to eat a bit of the dough before it's baked into a cookie. Like licking the bowl after baking brownies or cake. It makes sense, too: There's something oddly comforting and satisfying about biting into a soft, grainy pillow of raw dough, then enjoying the warm, chewy cookie later. It's a two-in-one win.

Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Tomlan knew there was a market not just for her product, but for this shared nostalgic experience. Turns out, according to Google, people search for the term "edible cookie dough" 90,500 times a month.

My own fondness for unbaked chocolate chip batter abounded when I discovered cookie dough ice cream (my favorite Ben & Jerry's flavor). Which is why I thought: What if I developed a recipe that let you have just the little balls inside the ice cream, and not have to dig around the carton wishing there were more of them? Of course, as with all single-serving recipes—especially desserts—it had to be just the right amount. Not too much, and not too sweet. Most importantly: It had to be safe to eat (keyword: edible).

What most people don't realize is that it's not so much the egg that's an issue as it is the raw flour. "Uncooked flour can carry food-borne bacteria that could potentially make you sick," food writer and cookie expert Jesse Szewczyk told me over the phone. "And as long as you use eggs that are fresh, from a reliable source, and properly stored, you don't need to worry too much about them."

Photo by Julia Gartland. Food Stylist: Kate Buckens. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine.

Despite the vote of confidence, I found while developing this recipe that my dough didn't even need eggs (butter, sugar, and flour bind together well enough on their own). Anyway, eggs provide structure and tenderness for when a cookie bakes, and since there's no baking here, I left them out. I was glad for this because when eggs are out of the question, desserts are significantly easier to scale down.

There was, however, still the question of the flour—which, in 2016, the FDA and CDC discovered was the culprit of an E. coli outbreak. Ten million pounds of flour were recalled that year. Unfortunately flour is, according to Tomlan, "a known carrier of the Shiga toxin–producing E. coli."

This is why my recipe calls for heat-treated flour, which simply means bringing regular all-purpose flour to 165°F (E. coli dies at 160°F), double-checked with an instant-read thermometer. I like to heat-treat my flour on a plate in the microwave, which only takes about 30 to 60 seconds, but you could also bake it on a sheet pan at 350°F for 10 minutes.

If we all loved cookie dough so much, why did we have to hide it? Why wasn't there a place where you could sit and enjoy it? Why hadn't anyone made it totally safe to eat?
Kristen Tomlan

Then, in a small bowl, I cream together the usual suspects: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and salt. The flour and chocolate chips get stirred in and, as I often have a bag of Ruffles lying around, I thought it'd be a nice contrast in texture and flavor to add crushed potato chips, as well. Finally, I roll the cookie dough into little balls—reminiscent of the ones you'd find in ice cream—and pop them into my mouth, one by one. (Glass of red wine optional.)

With this recipe, you can make a single portion of edible cookie dough without worrying about the raw egg, and enjoy it right then and there (or whenever the craving hits). No line to wait in, either.

P.S. Is there anything you'd like to see Eric write about in this column? Send your Table for One tips to [email protected], or tell him yourself on Twitter.
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Eric Kim is a Senior Editor at Food52, where his solo dining column, Table for One, runs Friday mornings. Formerly the Digital Manager at Food Network, he writes about food, travel, and culture and lives in a tiny shoebox in Manhattan with his dog, Quentin "Q" Compson. His favorite writers are William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and Ernest Hemingway, but his hero is Nigella Lawson. You can follow him on Twitter @ericjoonho.

4 Comments

CameronM5 November 27, 2019
Also, forgot to add, I love your shirt in the story! 😍
 
CameronM5 November 27, 2019
I wish I had this recipe when I was pregnant. 🥺
 
M November 25, 2019
Love of cookie dough has been around for many, many years, and became pretty common 20-30 years ago when grocery stores started selling cutable dough logs.
 
Aja A. November 24, 2019
Yumm. I love raw cookie dough!