Monday, January 08, 2018

Panera: The Cookies

Update Review, January 2018

I've reviewed nearly all the Panera cookies before, but there was one more left to try.
Coconut Macaroon. $1.09.
"A coconut, chocolatey craving satisfied in two bites. A traditional small coconut macaroon with the bottom dipped in chocolate."

One day, I used Panera's Rapid Pickup option to make an order from my phone earlier in the day, with a pickup time set to when I'd be nearby and could just swing in to grab my bagel thin, intended to be used to make melts for dinner.  But when I arrived ... no bagel thins.  In fact, they were entirely sold out of bagels.  Doh.  It turns out that when you pre-order, it doesn't actually pull it from inventory.

To make up for this, Panera offered me any pastry item I wanted.  No pastry item was going to be a substitute for my dinner melts, so I used it as an opportunity to just try something new.  The one type of cookie we had never tried before: coconut macaroons.

The macaron was ... pretty much a standard macaroon.  Soft, shredded sweet coconut.  Nothing particularly notable about it.  The dark chocolate it was dipped in however was quite good, really dark, smooth, flavorful chocolate.  I was impressed with the chocolate.

The macaroons turn out to be one of the cheapest items sold at Panera ($1.09 at my store), and, one of the lowest calorie.  By a shocking amount.  A single macaroon is only 140 calories, compared to Panera standard fare of the 440 calorie lemon drop cookie (or even worse, the 800 calorie Kitchen Sink cookie!), the 720 calorie pecan rolls, 550 calorie cinnamon crunch scones, 580 calorie pumpkin muffins, 540 calorie bear claws, etc.

So, if you like coconut, and want a little sweet treat, this one is not a bad idea.

Original Review, March 2017

As I've said many times, I don't really like cookies.  But, Panera often adds freebies to my account in the form of pastries, and I've never liked most of the baked goods there (aka, the muffinsthe coffee cake and danishes, and most of the scones), so, I finally ventured out to try most of their cookies over the past year or so.

The cookie lineup changes every so often, but always features their signature Chocolate Chipper (available in a petite size as well), a classic shortbread, and some seasonal version of an iced and decorated shortbread.  Other than those, they seem to introduce new cookies a few times a year, trying to find some crowd pleasers.  I'd like to note, they don't ever have peanut butter cookies, which would be my top choices!

Anyway, for the most part, I expected to try the cookies, take some notes, and hand over to a cookie-loving friend.  I was pleasantly surprised that I genuinely liked a couple of them.
Oatmeal Raisin with Berries Cookie. $2.39.
"A chewy oatmeal raisin cookie with sweetened, dried cranberries and infused, dried strawberries and blueberries."

Every once in a while, I actually like oatmeal cookies, particularly soft ones, and particularly when they miraculously aren't oatmeal raisin.  I hate raisins, and I'm so grumpy they have taken over the oatmeal cookie market!  Why!

Anyway, this looked like a big, soft, butter cookie, with oatmeal, and NOT raisins!  Score.

The verdict?  It was ... fine.  It was actually quite soft, which I appreciated.  And it did have a decent distribution of bits of dried cranberries, strawberries, and blueberries, decidedly NOT raisins.  But it wasn't particularly buttery or interesting in any way.  I gladly handed it off, and wouldn't want another.
Raspberry Almond Thumbprint Cookie. $2.19.
"Almonds and a fruity hint of raspberry jam and powdered sugar. A perfect little treat. An almond butter cookie with a thumbprint of raspberry jam and dusted with powdered sugar."

I really liked this.  It was buttery and crumbly, with little bits of almond inside.  The powdered sugar added a nice touch of sweetness, and the raspberry jam in the center tasted fresh and wasn't too gooey or sweet.

A shockingly good cookie, and I'd gladly eat another.
Giant Cookie Box.
On one visit, there was a huge, I mean, huge, cookie on the shelf, unlabelled.  I asked what it was, and the worker told me it is the "kitchen sink" cookie.  It seemed to have everything in it, and sounded interesting, but it wasn't eligible for my freebie.  I didn't get it then, but I couldn't help but notice it every time I visited.  I had to finally get it, as ridiculous as it was.

It was too big for any of the normal pastry bags, so, he put it into a giant box.
Kitchen Sink Cookie. $4.39.
"A salty, chocolatey, caramel confection big enough to share. A large cookie with semi-sweet chocolate, milk chocolate, caramel pieces, pretzels & finished with flake salt."

They aren't kidding when they say this is "big enough to share".

I looked it up later online, and, I kid you not, it has 800 calories (and 43 grams of fat!).  In a cookie.  Yes, compare that to their "petite chocolate chippers" with 100 calories, or even the regular chocolate chipper with 380 calories, and you'll realize the scale I'm talking about here.  This is a monster.

And he wasn't kidding when he said it had everything in it.  While chocolate (both semi-sweet and milk) flakes were certainly the dominant visual item, the caramel actually dominated the flavor, super sweet, and plentiful, infused into nearly every bite.  The chocolate helped balance the sweet though, and the large flakes of salt on top complimented it nicely.

It was a crispy cookie, but mostly in a caramelized way from the toffee bits, rather than a cooked too long way.  I don't normally like crispy cookies, but it worked here, since it was so caramelized.

I didn't find any bits of pretzel in mine, which was a bit disappointing.  Perhaps they were chopped finely and I just didn't notice?  Another ingredient would be nice, but, I don't think was actually necessary given everything else in it, so I didn't mind too much.

The cost of $4.39 sounds a bit insane, for a cookie, at a place like Panera.  This isn't a fancy bakery, this is Panera, selling a nearly $5 cookie.  It is twice the price of any other cookie they sell, because, well, it is more than twice the size.  There is a reason it isn't eligible for the free pastry award!

I'm glad I tried it, but I probably wouldn't get another, just because, well, still a cookie.
Jack-O-Lantern Cookie.  $2.49.
"Freshly baked, pumpkin-shaped shortbread cookie decorated with icing to look like a jack-o-lantern."

I have a memory of really liking Panera shortbreads years ago.  And what is better than a shortbread?  A decorated shortbread!  Panera seems to always have a seasonal shortbread, I recall seeing Easter Eggs around Easter, tulips and daises in the Spring, flip flops in the summer, mittens in the winter, etc.

The astute reader will realize that this is called a Jack-O-Lantern cookie, and the website shows a cookie with a face on it.  Mine had no such face.  I guess the decorators were lazy that day?  All cookies in the store were faceless.  Pumpkin, yes, Jack-O-Lantern, no.

I wasn't very good.  The icing layer was too thick and just sweet, the cookie itself was crumbly, too soft, sugary, and didn't really seem that buttery, the defining characteristic of a shortbread.  And ... this was the shocking part, it was 450 calories!  In a SINGLE COOKIE!  Besides their plain shortbread (only 380), all the other cookies are also over 400 calories.  I know Panera certainly isn't a healthy place, but it is a bit hard to believe that a cookie can rack up those stats.  Definitely not worth it.

$2.49 price for a large cookie I guess was fine, and they are only 99 cents if you get a meal.
Chocolate Chipper Cookie. $2.19.
"A traditional favorite, freshly baked and made with semisweet chocolate chips."

I got this for Ojan, who does actually like cookies.  It looked like exactly the sort of cookie I wouldn't like.  On the rare cases where I like a cookie, it is soft and gooey.  This looked hard and crispy.  Not my style.

Of course though, I tried a bite.  It was actually loaded up with tiny chocolate chips, far more than it looked like.  The bottom view would have revealed just how loaded it was.  The chips were tiny though, so, you didn't really get a deep chocolate flavor.

And it was indeed crispy, and quite thin.  Highly unremarkable.  It also tasted very unhealthy, but not in a good buttery way.  Believe me, I'm all for a decadent dessert, the more butter and cream the better, but this just tasted ... unhealthy.  Highly processed.  I don't know how else to better describe it.

I was curious, so I looked it up when I got home, and saw that this cookie, the single, thin, not actually large cookie, was 440 calories.  I don't really understand.  I wouldn't get this again, obviously.
Candy Cookie. $2.49.
"Freshly baked sugar cookie topped with colorful milk chocolate candies."

Another giant, hard, crispy cookie, another Ojan request.  And ... yup, a hard, crisp cookie, not particularly good, just a plain cookie.  He described it as "halfway between a shortbread and a sugar cookie".  The little tiny milk chocolate candies were basically just small M&Ms in spring colors, very milky milk chocolate.  Ojan liked the candy bits, but wasn't really into the cookie itself.  I didn't like anything about it.

[ No Photo ]
Gluten-Conscious Triple Chocolate Cookie with Walnuts. $2.69.

"A freshly baked flourless chocolate cookie with a soft, brownie-like texture, made with chocolate chunks, white chocolate chunks and walnuts."

This seems like a crazy choice for me.  I don't like cookies.  I'm not a chocolate lover.  And gluten-free baked goods are rarely impressive.  But, literally every time I visited Panera, I couldn't look past these.  They looked so good.

So finally, I got one.  And failed to photo.  Sigh.

It was a deep, dark chocolate cookie, with generous size chunks of both white and milk chocolate and walnuts.  The texture was soft, as they described, kinda brownie-like, except it was a cookie, and still had a crisp exterior.  A bit hard to explain really.  I liked that.

The flavor was also good, chocolately, fudgy.  I loved the sweetness from the big white chocolate chunks (I know, I know, but I like white chocolate!) and the crunch from the walnuts.

It is described as "gluten-conscious" which I think is because it is not baked in a gluten-free environment.  It does not contain wheat flour, nor, any flour.  I'm still a bit confused by that part honestly.  The first ingredient is ... powdered sugar?  I'm still not entirely sure how it holds together, but, it works out just fine.

For a cookie, this was really quite enjoyable and I'd get it again.
Panera Bread Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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