Last month something very new came to one of the oldest parts of Dublin City. Jenny Synnott and Elaine Cohalan of the Dublin Cookie Company realised their dream when they opened the doors of Ireland’s first cookie shop opened in heart of historical Dublin, the Liberties. Now, for the first time since they launched their business in 2014 they have a permanent home to sell their crumbly creations; classic American style cookies made with the finest quality Irish ingredients, enriched with the spirit of Dublin.
Days before the official launch, I got a sneak preview of the Dublin Cookie Company shop while it was still very much a construction site. I stepped over timber planks and power tools to reach the other side of the counter, where Jenny was in the open plan kitchen rolling out a batch of vintage cheddar and rosemary cookies, a special for the Whiskey and Cookie Pairing event that evening in Teeling Whiskey Distillery, their new neighbours. I spoke to the couple, often over the intermittent growls of an electric saw, about how they met, their new shop, and their global cookie ambitions.
Jenny, from Massachusetts, and Elaine, from Cork, both grew up in homes where home baking was the norm; be it cookies, or brown bread and scones. But when they met on the rugby pitch in 2008 neither would have guessed it would become their livelihood. “Well, ‘met’ as in she full on tackled me. I was winded!” Jenny says of her memorable first night at training. Elaine certainly made an impression on Jenny and soon their friendship turned into much more and soon the couple were looking for ways to spend more time together.
Exploring another business idea Jenny took part in the Innovation Academy at UCD, though by the end of the course Jenny admits “it was just all about cookies all of a sudden.” “This is where I see it came from, we both always wanted to work for ourselves. While Jenny was in the Innovation Academy she got the tools to figure out how to start a business. We looked for a gap in the market and quickly decided that cookies were the way to go,” Elaine says.
Combining Jenny’s passion for cookies and Elaine’s passion for business, they baked their first batch at home in Smithfield in March 2014, and selling their cookies everywhere tiny community markets to huge festivals they began to attract crowds. Elaine says that adding an Irish touch to an American classic is what has set them apart;
“Ireland has some of the best ingredients in the world. We sent some cookie dough back to America with Jenny’s family at Christmas, and despite having grown up with the same recipe they were wowed. It’s just gone to another level of quality. That’s where we see our niche; it is that authentic, chewy American cookie but with Irish butter, eggs, flour.”
Jenny agrees; “we still use the recipes I grew up with, the classic Oatmeal Raisin, and Chocolate Chip. But it’s been fun to try different things. Once you swap in Irish butter it tastes completely different, it goes to a whole new level of good!”
Their cookie creativity has resulted in a signature range that includes White Chocolate & Cranberry, Sea Salted Caramel & Toasted Pecan, as well as cookie sandwiches in Carrot Cake and Banoffee flavours. They also release a ‘Cookie of the Month’ with flavours like Peanut Butter & Chocolate Chip, Rhubarb and Custard and the Irish Cookie Sandwich; dark chocolate stout cookies filled with an Irish cream buttercream.
The various events they attend has also inspired some quirky concoctions, says Jenny;
“Our best seller ever was at the Big Grill Festival; Candied Bacon & Chocolate Chip. Everyone was sort of in a meat frame of mind and we couldn’t bake them fast enough.”
Though there have been some flavour fails too, such as the Apricot & Camembert cookie, which Jenny admits “never made it past the kitchen”. “My very favourite one that we ever did, was also the worst seller of any cookie of the month we have ever done. It was a strawberry shortbread; shortbread cookie with mascarpone and strawberries in the middle. I couldn’t get enough of them but no one else wanted them. It was a sad month,” laughs Jenny.
“Last year we went to every market possible. It helped us establish who our customer was and what markets work for us,” says Elaine. “What we found was that people who go to beer festivals appreciate craft, have a discerning taste and are interested in something different, something new, and that they are one of our target markets.”
Teaming up with Irish artisan brewers and distillers they have created booze inspired flavours such as; Double Chocolate & Red Ale, Candied Apple Cider, Bourbon, Ginger & Lime cookie, with a bourbon glaze, crystallised ginger and lime zest.
Flavour innovation is not limited to cookies, in their new shop they will sell a range of flavoured milks; Strawberry and Chocolate Milk, Hazelnut & Cacao Milk and Almond Milk. “Every asks are we doing sandwiches and salads, and I say no, they don’t go with cookies,” Jenny says, “so we are doing really good coffee and really good tea, and really interesting milks. Milks and nut milks just make sense with cookies.” “We are going to try and figure out how to make a cookie flavoured milk. Momofuku in New York do a cereal flavored milk, and people queue all day for it,” she adds.
While Jenny is chief baker, Elaine is ‘the brains’ of the business, or as Jenny puts it, “I worry about today and Elaine worries about tomorrow, that is how we separate our responsibilities.” They are both adamant about one thing however, when it comes to cookies; the fresher the better. “It seemed ludicrous to Jenny that you couldn’t go to the supermarket and get cookie dough here,” Elaine says. With the help of the SuperValu Food Academy they developed jars of Cookie Dough, making fresh cookies as easy as scoop, bake, eat. The dough is available in 20 SuperValu stores across Dublin, for now. “We have proven that it is a good product so the next step is working with a design house to revamp it, take it to the next level,” Elaine says.
Jenny and Elaine agree that opening a shop was “the dream from day one”. “The customers will get to appreciate how handcrafted our cookies are. They won’t just have to look at them and think they look homemade, they will come in and smell them being baked, and see the process,” Elaine says. What excites Jenny the most about the new venture is “being here in the kitchen and immediately bringing something out to the counter, get people to test it and get that feedback right away. Getting inspiration from people coming in too, and being able to create on the fly.” As well as from the shop their cookies are available to buy from Dublin Cookie Company website, as well as in a select few shops, cafés and bakeries in Dublin.
The couple is currently working 80 to 100 hours a week, but this isn’t putting them off dreaming even bigger. “We want to bring this amazing, fresh, Irish-American cookie around the world. Whether it’s in dough form or in cookie shop form,” says Elaine. Jenny agrees,
“we have plans for the company that go beyond Dublin, but bringing that Irish-ness that is so unique to Dublin with us, that ‘we survived hell and back recession’ Dublin and the creativity that came out of that.”
“L.A, New York, all of it, why not!” Elaine adds.
With a new shop, an online and catering business, as well as a schedule of events and markets, Elaine and Jenny have an exciting year ahead. Though there is one event significantly more exciting than the others, according to Elaine. “We got engaged this year in January and will be getting married in October. We are trying decide between savoury cookies to pair with prosecco during the reception, a cookie table with lots of sweet and savoury cookies to self-serve or mini personalised cookie wedding cakes or cookie favours. So hard to decide! We may even do all four.”
Erica grew up with a baker and confectioner for a father, and a mother with an instinct and love for good food. It is little wonder then that, after a brief dalliance with law, she completed a Masters degree in Food Business at UCC. With a consuming passion for all things food, nutrition and wellness, working with TheTaste is a perfect fit for Erica; allowing her to learn and experience every aspect of the food world meeting its characters and influencers along the way.