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American Sweets : Fabulous Fakes

June 24, 1993|TODD WILBUR | Wilbur is a free-lance writer in Emmaus, Pa. He is the author of "Top-Secret Recipes: Creating Kitchen Clones of America's Favorite Brand-Name Foods" (Plume)

I love Mrs. Fields' chocolate chip cookies, so when I thought I had the authentic recipe for those gooey delights, I was anxious to whip up a batch of the best cookies on earth.

Whoever put the recipe to paper claimed it came straight from Mrs. Fields' kitchen, so I figured it had to be great. But it didn't take long--10 minutes at 375 degrees--to discover I'd been had. I was just one of many thousands of people who had been suckered into believing that a multimillion-dollar company had sold its most valuable secret formula.

So, having loads of free time on my hands, I decided to try to figure the recipe out myself. Shouldn't be too hard, I thought, probably just a couple of hours. Well, those hours turned into a year before I finally had a recipe that tasted just like the real thing.

During the next five years, I became obsessed with this challenge. Like eating potato chips--one just wasn't enough.

I moved on to McDonald's Big Mac, analyzing the stacking order, figuring out the special sauce and how to make the middle bun. Then Twinkies, Snickers, Cracker Jack, Kahlua, on and on until I eventually had around 50 recipes for brand-name products that tasted and looked just like their corporate counterpart.

What I really had was a book. That, and a dog grown fat off my fast-food failures.

The big difference between my recipes and the bogus chocolate chip cookies that got me started is that I've never claimed these are the actual secret formulas. I just set out to develop methods we can all use to make treats that taste like the originals and are made from ingredients we can buy in any supermarket. We do it so we have control over the ingredients, so we can keep out the preservatives--and because it is fun.

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In 1975, 18-year-old Debra Sivyer perfected the chocolate chip cookies she had been making since age 12. Little did she know then that her delicious cookies would soon launch her into a successful career with her own multimillion - dollar business. It happened two years later, when her new husband, financial consultant Randy Fields, noticed that his clients couldn't resist the batches of cookies his wife sent to work with him. With the help of Randy and a banker who lent her $50,000 because he loved her chocolate chip cookies so much, she opened her first cookie store, in Palo Alto, Calif., in 1977. There are now more than 600 stores worldwide.

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES 1 cup butter, softened 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1 1/2 cups brown sugar, packed 2 eggs 2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 2 1/2 cups flour 3/4 teaspoon salt 1 teaspoon baking powder 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 1/2 (12-ounce) packages semisweet chocolate chips

Cream together butter, sugars, eggs and vanilla in large mixing bowl until well blended.

Sift together flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda in separate bowl.

Add dry ingredients to butter mixture, mixing well. Stir in chocolate chips.

With fingers, form dough into golf-ball-sized portions and arrange 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 350 degrees until edges of cookies are light brown, about 9 minutes. Remove from baking sheets to wire racks after slightly cooled. Makes 30 cookies.

Note: It is important that you not exceed cooking time given above, even if cookies appear to be underbaked. When cookies are removed from oven, the sugar in them will stay hot and continue the cooking process. The finished product should be soft in the middle and crunchy around the edges.

Variations:

For variations of this cookie, substitute milk chocolate for semisweet chocolate and/or add 1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts or macadamia nuts before baking. Although you can substitute margarine for butter in this recipe, you will have best results from butter. Cookie will have richer taste and will be crisper around edges, like original.

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The Twinkie was invented in 1930 by the late James A. Dewar, then the Chicago-area regional manager of Continental Baking Co . , the parent corporation behind the Hostess trademark. At the time, Continental made "Little Short Cake Fingers" only during the six-week strawberry season, and Dewar realized that the aluminum pans in which the cakes were baked sat idle the rest of the year. He came up with the idea of injecting the little cakes with a creamy filling to make them a year-round product and decided to charge a nickel for a package of two.

But Dewar couldn't come up with a catchy name for the treat--that is, until he set out on a business trip to St. Louis. Along the road he saw a sign for Twinkle Toe Shoes, and the name Twinkies evolved. Sales took off, and Dewar reportedly ate two Twinkies every day for much of his life. He died in 1985.

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