The Berger cookie is Baltimore's gift to the chocolate world Bergers cookies are a Baltimore staple. (Domenica Marchetti/American Food Roots/Sarah Briney)
The Berger cookie is Baltimore's gift to the chocolate world
Lexile

What the madeleine was to Proust, the Berger cookie is to Baltimoreans. When the French author's narrator dips his shell-shaped cookie into a cup of tea, he is flooded with 3,000 pages of childhood memories.
 
So it is with the Berger cookie. (The company is called Bergers. But to most Baltimoreans, when discussing the cookie, the "s" is silent.)
 
For nearly 200 years, this cake-bottomed cookie topped with a generous hand-dipped mound of dark fudge icing has sparked home-town memories for natives of Baltimore, Md. The town is nicknamed Charm City. For a very long time, the cookies were unknown outside the city.
 
"It was a great little business," says Charlie DeBaufre. He has worked at the company for much of his life. He became the owner in 1994. Customer demand and word of mouth led to increasing growth over the last 15 years.
 
"We had two trucks," DeBaufre says. "And then some of the major supermarkets said, 'We wouldn't mind selling your cookies.' "
 
People had aged and retired or moved outside Baltimore. But they still wanted their Berger cookies. Those who moved to Maryland's Eastern Shore didn't want to cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to get their cookies, says DeBaufre. So he sent his trucks across the bridge. Then they got requests from Northern Virginia, Pennsylvania and Frederick, Md. Now DeBaufre has seven trucks. He tried using brokers but, "They don't care like you care," he says. "I like having my own trucks and drivers. I like having more control over what's going into the store."
 
What's going into the stores is an "unusual product," DeBaufre says. "New Yorkers talk about their black and whites and it's not a bad cookie, but it's nothing like mine."
 
The cookie is made using nearly the same recipe Henry Berger developed when he opened a bakery in East Baltimore in 1835. There have been a few modifications, according to DeBaufre. For example, vegetable oil has replaced lard in the recipe, reducing the saturated fat content considerably.
 
"Some people say the cookie is just there to hold the chocolate," says DeBaufre. "They eat the chocolate and throw the cookie away." Bergers has even been asked to put together a Berger cookie wedding cake, which DeBaufre describes as a stack of cookies with a bride and groom on top.
 
Berger was a German immigrant. He was a baker by trade and his three sons followed him into the business. The cookies were sold from stalls in the city's public markets. Today, there still are Bergers' cookie stands in Baltimore's Lexington and Cross Street markets.
 
As they have been since the beginning, Berger cookies are hand dipped. Four employees dip them all - 36,000 cookies a day. DeBaufre says he's considered new equipment but has resisted.
 
"I have to keep the integrity of the cookie," he says. Yes, they have trouble keeping up with demand and often run out. But he doesn't do it just to make money, he says. "I take pride in what I do. When you tell me they're good cookies, I'm proud."
 
After World War I, George Russell, a young man who worked for the Bergers, bought the bakery. The DeBaufres - who had worked for the Russells - bought the business in 1969. In addition to expanding distribution outside Baltimore, Bergers cookies are shipped all over the country. DeBaufre says a woman from Baltimore who lives in California sent holiday tins of cookies to her clients -- 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures and movie producer Steven Spielberg. "She wanted them to have something they wouldn't have had before," says DeBaufre.
 
You can read more stories from the 50 States' best culinary traditions at AmericanFoodRoots.com.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
Why were the cookies unknown outside Baltimore for a long time?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (108)
  • gn-gai
    12/02/2016 - 08:18 a.m.

    For nearly 200 year the bottom cake topped with a generous hand dip mound dark fudge icing.I wonder how it taste like?










    • loganp1-jen
      12/13/2016 - 10:31 a.m.

      amazing

    • corah1-jen
      12/14/2016 - 10:16 a.m.

      probably really really good

      -cora lee

    • corah1-jen
      12/14/2016 - 10:18 a.m.

      It was unknown because it was a little buisuness.

  • hs-gai
    12/02/2016 - 12:27 p.m.

    I like this article, but i have a question. What is the recipe to this cookie because i would like to try the gerber cookie.

  • kl-gai
    12/02/2016 - 01:11 p.m.

    I like this article because it has two of my favorite thing chocolate and the reason why Berger cookies were made. Why did the man think about this idea of chocolate cookie burgers.

  • jacklynt-ste
    12/02/2016 - 01:15 p.m.

    These cookie things look really good! Anything with a bunch of chocolate would taste amazing. I would love to go get one of the cookies.

  • nathanm14-ste
    12/02/2016 - 01:39 p.m.

    It is cool to see something that was originally a Baltimore exclusive and now spreading. The history is also interesting, how it began in 1835 and has switched owners over the decades.

  • kimd-stu
    12/02/2016 - 01:47 p.m.

    I would love to eat one of thos but I don't know if could eat it all.

  • emilyport-cas
    12/02/2016 - 05:33 p.m.

    The cookies were unknown outside Baltimore for a long time because it was a small town business. At first, Berger cookies were sold only from stalls at the city's public markets. Only later the company got two trucks and started selling them in the supermarkets in other cities. Moreover, the cookies were and still are handmade. Even now there are only four people hand dipping 36,000 cookies a day. That is why Berger cookies were not very famous outside of Baltimore for many years.

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