Brown Butter Cookies: Sweet, salty and delicious
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Brown Butter Cookies: Sweet, salty and delicious
Photos and story by Judy House Menezes
Take three, Honey.
That’s the slogan of Brown Butter Cookie Company in Cayucos. Be forewarned, though: If you taste the cookies, you may not be able to stop at three. Round, cute as a big button, hand rolled and sweet and salty, the original brown butter sea salt cookie is a little slice of heaven on the Central Coast. In Cayucos, it’s famous.
Two sisters, Christa and Traci Hozie, started Brown Butter Cookie Company in January 2009. Christa handles marketing and customer service while Traci is the baker, technical person and chief financial officer. In just under six years, their business has become a regular stop for Valley visitors and other Central Coast travelers. Their cookies have been featured on the Today and Rachel Ray shows, in the New York Times, and in magazines including Gourmet, Good Housekeeping, Parenting and Sunset.
“Our cookies – people crave the flavor,” Traci said.
Christa said the company’s trademark combination of sweet and salty was “kind of unexpected.” The sisters had a deli down the street from their present location and offered the cookies as samples. The sandwiches were popular – past customers still rave about them – but the cookies were the hit. Customers would walk out the door and come right back in to buy them. In fact, they would sell out every day.
A year and a half later, the sisters started Brown Butter Cookie Company.
“It was just like a light bulb,” Christa said. “The cookie was trying to get out there. The little cookie led the way.”
In the beginning, both sisters rolled cookies. They hired staff in 2009 and in May of that year opened a small storefront dedicated just to the cookies. Almost from the beginning, the sisters knew they needed a bigger building for equipment and customers. They moved into their current, larger quarters in 2012.
The friendly atmosphere of the two-story red building with white trim on Ocean Avenue is no accident. The sisters wanted an open kitchen design so customers could walk into a place that is warm and happy and “a great family experience.” Customers can see cookies being rolled and packaged behind the counter and smell the butter browning and the cookies baking in the back. Free samples are offered. Granola, T-shirts and tote bags with the Brown Butter logo are also sold.
Fifty to 70 batches of fresh dough are made every morning. The recipe changes slightly every day because of moisture levels.
“It would be hard to mass produce this cookie,” Traci said. “It’s a delicate cookie.”
The recipe may vary slightly but workers take a consistently methodical approach to the creation of each batch. They start making the dough at 6 a.m. Usually five people at a time are browning butter, two pounds at a time, with about 100 pounds of butter browned each day.
Traci said browned butter – which gives the cookies their rich, nutty flavor – turns a deep reddish-brown color when made properly. Browning butter takes lots of stirring and no small amount of patience, she explained. The process is delicate – the butter can easily burn – and the optimum time is reached by sight and smell. Not everyone has the patience for it.
Sea salt is sprinkled on top the cookies after they are baked. Production is finished for the day around four in the afternoon.
The company makes seven flavors of cookies: original, cocoa, coconut lime, cocoa mint, citrus, espresso and almond. Additional flavors, such as spice and pumpkin pie, are available seasonally from October through December. A honey cookie is sold in the store and not available for shipping. The cookies have a four-week shelf life.
“Nothing sticks around our stores more than a day,” Christa said, because all the cookies are either sold or shipped.
The company’s two busiest times of the year are summer, when about 5,000 cookies a day are made, and the Christmas season, when the shop may make up to 10,000 cookies a day.
“It’s a pretty intense time for us,” Christa said of the holidays.
The cookies are shipped all over the United States, including Alaska and Hawaii. Corporate clients in New York order the cookies as gifts each year. (“That’s such an honor for us,” Christa said.) The company does not ship overseas, but the sisters know the cookies have been sent in care packages to soldiers and others abroad. One customer called from Germany to pay for a gift card so friends could stop by on their visit to the Central Coast.
Most of the business, 80 percent, is done in Cayucos, a town of 3,000 people with visitors from all over.
The sisters value all their customers but give special credit to those from Fresno, Visalia and Bakersfield.
“Those customers have seen us since the beginning,” Christa said. “They have seen us as two sisters growing together, a very magical exchange.”
Christa added that, because many of the families visit the store regularly, she and Traci get to watch their kids grow up, too.
Maureen Griswold is a Cayucos resident and Brown Butter Company regular.
“I think they are delicious,” Griswold said of the cookies. “I have a lot of people come visit me and I bring people here and they give [the cookies] as gifts.”
Griswold’s sister, Irene George from Pasadena, thought the store was “fun” and the cookie “wonderful. It’s better than you can make at home. It has the potential to be addictive,” she said.
And, yes, the two sisters still eat their own cookies.
“Always a little bit,” said Traci, whose favorite flavor is cocoa, which she has with a glass of red wine. “We put a lot of love and attention into each cookie. I feel really lucky. It’s an honor to have someone care so much for your product.”
Brown Butter Cookie Company’s main store is located at 98 N. Ocean Ave. in Cayucos. It is open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. The Paso Robles outlet, located at 801 12th St., is open daily from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Both stores are closed Thanksgiving and Christmas. To order by phone, call (805) 995-2076 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. More information about the company can be found at brownbuttercookies.com.
Judy House Menezes is a professor of journalism and adviser to the student newspaper at College of the Sequoias in Visalia.