As a self-proclaimed cookie connoisseur, I am always on the lookout for the perfect cookie. One bite of local Napa extraordinaire Annie (the) Baker’s SugaRainbow and another of her Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chunk (my personal favorites) and I felt my quest was over.
Annie grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. At a young age, Annie was inspired by the teachings of her grandmother, and the not-so-successful attempts at baking by her mother. Annie explained, “My whole life I have always been trying to make the perfect cookies. I eat the dough and don’t want the cookie, so what is happening? Why do I not want the baked product? I used to sit there and make a bowl of cookie dough when my mom was at work. I would eat the whole thing and she would come home, see eggs and Nestle wrappers in the trash, look around the kitchen and go, ‘Where are the cookies?’ My mother likes to take credit [for my success], because our whole life she burned the cookies, I mean she BURNED them. I finally said, ‘Mom, you’re done – you are not allowed in the kitchen anymore.’” At the age of 8, she officially took over baking duties from her mother, and set out on a journey to perfect the most delicious sweet treat; little did she know that cookies would eventually become her claim to fame.
Fresh out of college, Annie worked as an accountant in Chicago for 10 years. She was working 70 to 80 hour weeks and used baking as her “yoga”; a way to wind down. Come Monday morning when she would unload all of her baked goods in the office, co-workers would flock and clear them out in a matter of minutes. This was one of the many factors that made Annie finally decide to pursue her true passion. She moved West to attend the Culinary Institute of America Greystone in St. Helena.
Following culinary school, and 5 and a half years as the Pastry Chef at Mustard’s Grill in Napa, Annie spent 6 months as a “mad scientist” trying to perfect her cookie recipe. The goal: to get a cookie dough cookie that was not cakey or dry, but baked enough to meet the food safety standards that were drilled into her head while at the CIA. After months of experimentation in doubling ingredients, then halving ingredients, starting all over again, writing pages upon pages of notes, and the help of many of her Pastry Chef friends in the Valley, she was in business.
Despite her success, this hard-working woman continues to be extremely hands-on in every aspect of her business and always wants this to be the case. Three days a week she is in her commercial kitchen at 5:30am blaring Rick Astley, busting out cookies like a champion before heading out in the afternoon for deliveries up and down the Valley, then spending her evenings working on paperwork and scheduling. The rest of her work week is spent at local Napa and American Canyon Farmer’s Markets, where you can count on finding Annie’s smiling face under her Pittsburgh Steelers tent, chatting with locals and dispelling their theories that freezing the dough or underbaking is her secret. She laughed as she said, “Everybody says that to me, ‘Oh, you just underbake them…’ and I always respond to them, ‘Would i have spent 6 months of my life doing research just to underbake them?’” While freezing and aging her dough (“like a fine wine”) are both part of her process, the rest remains a mystery. To this day the only person that knows Annie’s secret is Annie – not even her husband can tell you her methods!
All I know is, when it comes to cookie perfection, Annie (the) Baker has it nailed.
Favorite cookie of Annie’s? “Hands down it’s the peanut butter. Hands down. I don’t even have to think twice about it. Peeeaaanut Butter. And it’s Peanut Butter Extreme! because it has little baby peanut butter cups in it.” Her top sellers are Semisweet Chocolate Chunk, Toffee Milk Chocolate Chip, Peanut Butter Extreme and SugaRainbow if you are either a male or 12 and under! She laughs as she exclaims “Men love that cookie, I don’t know what it is!”
Locally Annie’s cookies can be purchased Napa Farmer’s Markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and at American Canyon Farmer’s Market on Sundays. They are also available at her many wholesale accounts throughout the valley, including some of our Chef’s Catalog favorites: Cameo Cinema, Ritual Coffee in Oxbow, Sunshine Market, Oakville Grocery and Dean and Deluca. Nationally, purchases can be made and shipped directly to you via her website www.anniethebaker.com.