I love snacks. This is an uncontroversial position. Nutter Butters, cheese balls, Oreos, wasabi almonds, cinnamon bears—these are among life’s simple joys. A few months ago, I began to develop an interest in replicating commercial snacks in my home kitchen after my friends made a batch of exceptional Cheez-Its at our Great British Bake Off dinner party. How hard is it to recreate the addictive, lab-created flavors that keep us coming back for another fistful of Doritos, I wondered. And is it worthwhile to do so? With these questions in mind, I set out to manufacture three stalwart snacks: Oreos, graham crackers and Doritos.
Photo by Molly Jean Bennett
Why this product? Oreos are iconic. They’ve been around for more than a hundred years, finding their origin in the National Biscuit Company’s (now Nabisco) factory in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. To wax poetic, an Oreo is like a full moon between two new moons, a perfectly engineered disc of pleasure. I love dipping them in black coffee. The industrial neatness of Oreos makes them seem distant from any recognizable, naturally-occurring ingredients and I wanted to see if a home-baked version could come close.
Recipe: I used Molly Yeh’s recipe for tahini Oreos. And yes, I realize that the addition of tahini diverges from the classic, but it sounded like a kickass alteration. After all, Nabisco has a robust tradition of exploring different flavor combinations.
Outcome: These cookies might be the most delicious thing I have ever baked. They did pose some challenges: the butter-heavy dough was fragile and it covered my whole life in cocoa powder. But the resultant bittersweet biscuits alongside the sweet, halva-esque cream were worth it.
How does it compare to the original? While these cookies were much richer and more complex than the Nabisco variety, they had some surprising similarities, especially considering their divergent ingredients. Yeh’s recipe calls for butter, flour, sugar, cocoa powder—you know, normal baking stuff. A Nabisco Oreo is made with palm oil, high fructose corn syrup, soy lecithin, all that jazz. And yet, both cookies had that classic dark chocolate/sweet cream juxtaposition.
Would I make it again? Hell yes. Even though they’re a bit of work, these will likely become my go-to fancy cookies to bring to potlucks, book club meetings, post-apocalyptic demon christenings etc.
Photo by Molly Jean Bennett
Why this product? Some people find graham crackers boring, but I love them. Okay, they are a little boring, but there’s something comforting about their familiar flavor. I was curious to see how challenging it would be to recreate that.
Recipe: I tried this Smitten Kitchen recipe with a few slight modifications. Instead of making the topping, I added a half teaspoon of cinnamon to the dough. I also swapped in half a cup of amaranth flour to see if it might enhance the nutty, multigrain flavors of the cracker.
Outcome: The dough was very soft and sticky, making it challenging to work with even after chilling. I burned the first batch badly, but pulled the second out just in time to achieve a perfect golden brown. When I took my first bite I found the cracker pleasant but, well, not that interesting. I suppose one can only expect so much from a food designed to control sexual impulses.
How does it compare to the original? Pretty close! I didn’t achieve a wafer-thin cracker with that signature snap, but the flavor was quite similar to a store-bought graham cracker.
Would I make it again? Eh, probably not. These aren’t really exciting enough to warrant the effort. If I want to bake something with similar flavors, I’ll probably whip up a batch of snickerdoodles or gingersnaps.
Photo by Molly Jean Bennett
Why this product? Doritos are a silly food. I thought it would be fun to try to approximate something that so epitomizes ridiculous American junk food.
Recipe: I made this recipe from the Momables blog.
Outcome: These were easy to make (though not as easy as opening a bag of Doritos) and quite tasty. The parmesan, smoked paprika and chili powder topping was all about umami and spice—very nice indeed.
How does it compare to the original? Not close at all. I have little confidence that the technicolor orange dust that defines Doritos can be reproduced in the wild. Here’s my advice to future generations: when one desires a Dorito, one should just go ahead and buy a bag of Doritos.
Would I make it again? Maybe. If I had an intense craving for chips and happened to have these ingredients on hand I might make another batch, but it’s not something I anticipate doing anytime soon.
I’m not interested in making a moralistic assessment as to whether my tahini chocolate sandwich cookies are cleaner, better or somehow more real than a Nabisco Oreo. It’s also important to note that none of these recipes provide a cheaper alternative to the original commercial snacks. They include pricey ingredients—parmesan, tahini, cocoa powder—so unless you have a very well-stocked pantry and refrigerator, the groceries for these treats cost significantly more than a $3 package of Oreos.
While baking popular snacks at home is neither time nor cost effective, it did make me look more closely at the origins of snack food. These standardized flavors do come from somewhere. I won’t be cutting all convenience foods from my diet anytime soon, but I’ll definitely bake another batch of tahini Oreos next time I’m itching for something sweet. Almost anything can be improved by a few sticks of butter, after all.
Molly Jean Bennett is a writer and multimedia producer based in New York City. Her essays, poems, and strongly worded letters have appeared in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Atlas Obscura, VICE, and elsewhere.