Maybe the brown T-shirt imprinted with the eye-catching COOKIE…take a bite! logo that Tracy Mattson is wearing signifies super powers, something like the “S” emblazoned on Superman’s chest.
Inside the 400-square-foot commercial kitchen of Tracy’s boutique, artisan bakery in Santa Rosa, CA, the primal aroma and tempting presence of hundreds of baking and just-baked cookies pose a daunting challenge. How Tracy can work day after day in this land of plenty and vanquish any urge she might feel to overindulge in her handiwork is beyond me. I marvel at both her ability to resist the siren call of cookies and her singular focus as she bakes.
I, on the other hand, am completely overwhelmed at the sight and smell of such sweet bounty. It’s requiring all my will power not to be impolite and unprofessional by snatching and devouring even one cookie.
Going behind the scenes of Tracy’s Sonoma County bakery has been on my mind since buying goodies recently from her tent at Wednesday Night Market in downtown Santa Rosa. One of my favorite pleasures in Sonoma County is indulging in its gourmet, artisanal, farm-to-table food scene. COOKIE…take a bite! is an award-winning sweet spot in that celebrated culinary culture.
Banking on the timeless, universal, and year-round appeal of a freshly baked cookie, Tracy launched COOKIE…take a bite! in 2012, offering premium, handcrafted cookies made primarily from local and organic ingredients and baked fresh to order. Beforehand, she spent more than a decade as a professional pastry chef in fine dining restaurants on both the East and West Coasts.
Her company’s name and logo with the partially eaten cookie are catchy and memorable. Both urge you to do her bidding – eat my cookies. Since my first purchase, I’ve willingly and regularly complied. Purposely small-sized, they pack a wallop of flavor in those few bites.
In the kitchen, the work load is in high gear this Friday morning. Deadlines loom. On top of the usual demand from wholesale and retail outlets, catering events, cookie-of-the-month club members, pick-up orders at the bakery, and even movie theater concessions, Tracy Mattson and baker Josue “Coco” Alfaro are readying cookies to sell at this weekend’s performances by Transcendence Theatre Company at Broadway Under the Stars at Jack London State Historic Park in Glen Ellen.
Tracy takes nothing for granted. Despite baking 10,000-15,000 cookies a month, memory can prove faulty in the heat of the moment. She continually refers to her bible of recipes, double checking ingredients and methods line by line.
As Tracy adjusts racks of cooling cookies, Coco removes a stainless-steel bowl filled with peanut butter cookie dough from the refrigerator. Using a small, spring-loaded ice cream scoop, he apportions even mounds of the brownish dough on baking sheets. He methodically lays 30-40 of them in even rows, then transfers the trays to the hot oven. The duo works in sync and with dispatch, exuding a combination of ease and efficiency.
Even my unaccustomed presence in the kitchen fails to distract them from the job at hand.
Conversation and cookies with Tracy Mattson
The Roads Traveled: What was your eureka moment that brought you to cookies?
Tracy Mattson: I was working in environmental regulation at the Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C. I took recreational pastry classes at night for a creative outlet and instant gratification, and then I took professional classes.
Besides being little, what sets your cookies apart?
Cookies touch everyone in some way. They evoke a warm feeling, and bring a nostalgic, fond memory about what you and your grandma, mom, dad, brother, or sister did together in the kitchen.
When I opened COOKIE…take a bite!, I wanted to take my restaurant experience and elevate the cookie experience – the flavors and textures and make it an enjoyable experience for all occasions, and not just something to eat. I wanted to do my own thing, not some big sugar bomb, which is what a lot of cookies tend to be. They’re a more manageable size to enjoy, savor, and appreciate rather than gobble down. They’re approachable. I’ve built a niche offering a flavorful, elegant treat. Our packaging is like a little gift box for yourself or someone else.
What flavors do you make?
We have about 20 types. Some of our favorites are: our award-winning lemon moon with its not-too-sweet half-moon of icing; chocolate chip; Sonoma trekker with oatmeal, cashews, and cranberries; peanut butter; almond and cardamom roll; and orange vanilla sugar cookie.
We also make seasonal cookies. In summer, we do mint chocolate, and infuse butter with mint from my home garden. One uses Meyer lemon marmalade with lemons from my garden. We’ve made a margarita twist lime cookie with tequila icing.
I like a little flair in our combinations. For example, we’ll take a sugar cookie dough, and it flourishes from there, like adding lime and coconut.
To me, chocolate chip is the essence of cookie-hood, but it’s surprising how many bakeries make mediocre ones.
When I started with recipe testing, people advised me don’t do chocolate chip with the rollout. Everyone has a memory of what a chocolate chip cookie should be, and they’ll evaluate you on that rather than what you’re trying to do, so lemon moon is our signature cookie.
The name of your company is a mouthful, but it’s clever and it works.
I originally wanted to call it Cookie, but you can’t trademark that. I wanted to do something that evoked what you should do with it, which is eat it. We crowdfunded the design with a graphic design company.
Sonoma County is wine country. Do wine and cookies go together?
Absolutely. Our cookies have complexity, so they pair well with wine. On Valentine’s Day, we did a pairing with Three Sticks Winery. Chocolate cherry and triple chocolate threat go with pinot noir because you get cherry notes. Aztec hot chocolate has a little heat, and goes with cabernet sauvignon. Sonoma trekker works with light reds. For whites, try our zesty tea cookie with butter for a palette cleansing and spice. A citrus burst calls for chardonnay.
I’m working on a cookie to pair with beer. Maybe something with salty peanuts.
Do you check out bakeries when you travel?
I stage (pronounced the French way). It’s like being a fly on the wall. I’ve spent time in the kitchen of Café Diglas, a 100 plus-year-old bakery in Vienna, Austria, Le Bernardin in New York, and Joël Robuchon in Las Vegas. You learn little things, such as being super organized and restrained in presentation and flavors.
We can’t assume it’s just cookies and knock them out. For us, every cookie is special because we want everyone who’s getting them to have a special experience. We run fast. We’re all human, not super human, but we have steps in place and take mental time to be sure it’s all done right.
Well, that dashes my theory about preternatural abilities Tracy Mattson might possess. There’s no denying, though, that success for COOKIE…take a bite! is certainly sweet.
ZESTY TEA COOKIES, recipe from Tracy Mattson of COOKIE…take a bite!
- 8 ounces butter (2 sticks), room temperature
- 1¾ cup all-purpose flour
- ½ cup almond meal (grind almonds if using whole, blanched almonds)
- ¼ cup powdered sugar
- ¼ teaspoon vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1½ teaspoon ground pink peppercorns
- 1 lemon, zested
Cream butter and flavors/spices until smooth. Add almond meal then powdered sugar. Lastly, add flour. Roll dough together on the counter to make sure everything is incorporated. Wrap in plastic and chill. When the dough is cold, use a scoop to portion the cookies on parchment paper. Bake at 325° until the cookies are set and only a touch of color on edge. Roll in powdered sugar when cool.