Cookies can go just about anywhere you care to take a meal. Neater than a cupcake and easier than pie, they require little more than a bag or box for transport. No knives, forks, plates, or fuss. Which make them the ideal encore to a picnic in the park, or at the beach, concert, or lake. And with the variety available, the kind of cookie you take is limited only by your imagination. May all your summer endings be as sweet.
1. Blackmarket Bakery
This rogue business-park bakery has only a small Jolly Roger-like sign to indicate its presence. The payoff? A pirates’ stash of edible treasures. Whimsical shortbread space aliens with otherworldly frosted eyes please kids such as Morgan, above, who holds one of the bakery’s Blackstrap Betties, a molasses-based chew studded with dried apricots. Mumbai Mambo Bars layered with coconut, curry spices, dried mango, and passion fruit should please the most demanding foodies. 17941 Sky Park Circle, Irvine, 949-852-4609, blackmarketbakery.com.
The peanut butter cookies at this smart vegan eatery in Old Town Tustin seem to have it all. The oversized sweets are so decadently satisfying it’s hard to believe they contain none of the usual baking suspects: no eggs, butter, or other animal-based products. Fat fingers of biscotti—including a fine double-chocolate almond and not-too-sweet green tea-pistachio, above—are almost too pretty to eat. Not as crunchy as the classic version of the twice-baked Italian treat, they’re tender enough to eat dry, or dip perfectly into hot espresso. 91 E. Main St., Tustin, 714-371-0976, freesoulcaffe.com.
3. Rockwell’s Cafe and Bakery
Trays of large rustic cookies fill the glass cases wedged between the bar and dining area of this established café and bakery. Sugar cookies encrusted in rainbow nonpareils deliver a nice hit of butter and the perfect crunch. Chocolate thumbprints spotted with sprinkles cradle shots of chocolate frosting. Large coconut macaroons are properly moist and chewy, while snickerdoodles come delicately spiced. 17853 Santiago Blvd., Villa Park, 714-921-0622, rockwellsbakery.com.
4. Tomgirl Baking Co.
Cakes may dominate the space, but you’ll return for the smaller delights by Wonyee Tom. Perfectly shaped shortbread sugar cookies are rich and buttery, sprinkled with colorful sugars and dolloped with icing. Snickerdoodles, those classic cinnamon-and-sugar treats, are the size of saucers and heady with cinnamon. And if you want a campfire treat, try the marshmallow-topped s’more cookies. 9048 Adams Ave., Huntington Beach, 714-965-1695, tomgirlbaking.com.
5. Pacific Whey Café
The cookies at this small chain of bakery restaurants always have been standouts. Try the Chocolate Walnut Brownie chews and cinnamon-crusted snickerdoodles. And each winter, the glammed-up sugar cookies make an artful ending to any holiday meal. 2622 San Miguel Drive, Newport Beach, 949-644-0303; 7962 E. Coast Highway, Newport Coast, 949-715-2200; 3333 Bear St., Costa Mesa, 714-641-9911, pacificwhey.com.
6. Lucca Café & Market
Brownies, those classic bar cookies, were packed into lunchboxes for the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Indeed, the decadent chocolate bars sold at this Mediterranean eatery and deli are ideal for a meal alfresco. Dense, rich, and loaded with nuts and chocolate, each slice is suitable for sharing. Perfect for nibbling as you finish the last sips of cabernet sauvignon while the sun sets on your picnic. 6507 Quail Hill Parkway, Irvine, 949-725-1773, luccacafe.com.
7. Katella Deli-Bakery-Restaurant
Jerry Seinfeld saw the secret to world harmony in black-and-white cookies. At Katella Deli’s long-standing bakery they’re so gooey that they come individually packaged in clear plastic. The wrap keeps the uncommonly good frostings—chocolate and pure white—pristine, and the cookie itself soft and cakelike. As Jerry said: Look to the cookie. 4470 Katella, Los Alamitos, 562-594-8611, katellabakery.com.
8. Plums Café
Even after two decades, the cookies made here still shine. Among the best are a cranberry-studded spice, and Aunt Jan’s Chocolate Chip Hazelnut. More kid-friendly ingredients such as Skippy Peanut Butter make the peanut butter cookies redolent, and the moist and chewy oatmeal raisin has a warm mix of spices. 369 E. 17th St., Costa Mesa, 949-722-7586, plumscafe.com.
9. Assal Pastry
This Persian bakery is a jewel box of flakey fare. Feast your eyes on tables laden with trays of packaged pastries. Small and beautifully shaped cookies made with ingredients such as almond and cardamom, chickpeas, and rice are secured in stiff plastic wrap. Perfect for a picnic with your lover reading the Rubaiyat, so change that last line: “A jug of wine—a tray of cookies—and thou …” 14130 Culver Drive, Irvine, 949-733-3262.
photograph by Priscilla Iezzi
This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Orange Coast magazine.