If you've ever had a really good buttermilk cookie, you can attest that it's almost impossible to stop at just one. The layers of flavor blend perfectly with the savory, salty and lightly soupy flavors, making it the pinnacle of old-fashioned Southern cooking.
Since 1977, the fast-food chain Bojangles has been serving authentic Southern staples - including buttermilk cookies - to the masses. With more than 700 restaurants primarily in the Southeast, it prides itself on being a completely microwave-free restaurant - a definite modern feat for the fast food era. While it serves delicious fried chicken and all the fixings, the cookies continue to draw attention.
In an era when many restaurants are looking to cut corners, this iconic product is made using Bojangles' time-tested 49-step recipe made from scratch. The result? A buttery cookie with a golden, crispy outside and a pillowy interior. Enjoy it as is, or with breakfast favorites like eggs and crispy bacon, it's the perfect quick bite to love.
Buttermilk cookies date back to simpler times in the 19th century, when many people were employed to work on farms. Out of absolute necessity, they found innovative ways to use whatever ingredients they left behind to fend for themselves.
"Biscuits are one of those inexpensive foods," explains Marshall Scarborough, Bojangles vice president of menu and culinary innovation. "They had a lot of excess lard from processing the hog, and they had to find a use for all those ingredients."
Over the years, recipes have evolved as they've been passed down from generation to generation. "I think in the South, cookies are a lot like Louisiana gumbo," Scarborough adds. "Everyone's okra soup is the best, and everyone's okra soup is slightly different."
Scarborough joined the company in 2020, bringing decades of knowledge of Southern cuisine to the table and a very personal connection to the company: He grew up in the South and ate Bojangles regularly. wanting to add a fresh, modern twist to his youthful favorites, Scarborough has been recruited to expand the chain to other markets, not including the company's humble beginnings. But in the end, it all comes back to the quality of the cookies.
Who is responsible for ensuring that every cookie meets Bojangles standards?
Each restaurant is staffed with certified Master Biscuit Bakers (MBBs) - a real job. Jealousy aside, it's a labor-intensive position that requires a lot of training. After countless hours of practice, hopeful MBBs will complete a test that challenges their skills and knowledge. Here, they must prove that they are not only proficient in the 49 steps of making Bojangles cookies, but also in the reasoning behind each step. The finals included a practical test where they had to prepare an entire batch of cookies in front of a crowd in five minutes or less. At the end of the baking process, all cookies were checked for quality.
Once such a title is earned, the newly established Master Biscuit Baker is tasked with ensuring that quality control is at its best at their restaurant location.
The 49-step process may sound daunting, but most of it is a common-sense technique that, while simple, is still vital to the cookies. "If you cut corners or skip a step, the finished product will suffer," Scarborough adds. "When you get the Bojangles cookie experience, it's as soft as a cake on the inside, and then you get a nice crispy shell on the outside. You get contrasting textures, with just a little bit of buttermilk flavor, and then a salty butter flavor coming out of the butter we brush on afterwards. It's all about contrasting these different flavors - salty, sour, savory."
While some techniques may be common, others require the utmost attention to detail. "The key to making good cookies is not overworking the dough," Scarborough explains. "That's when you take the air out of it and don't recover from it. Or, if you overwork it, you'll produce too much gluten (a protein that determines whether baked goods are dense and chewy or light and airy). "
Bojangles has boiled cookie-making down to an exact science, but as the company has grown, it continues to reassess and reevaluate the product. "We're still perfecting it," Scarborough tells Yahoo Life. "We're always looking for ways to do that because the recipes are easy and expanding them to more than 700 restaurants is really hard. We're always fine-tuning the programs and doing what we can to improve consistency from one location to another."
Looking to add a little Southern comfort to your own kitchen? Scarborough shares some tips that home cooks use when making their own cookies.
"No matter what type of fat you choose to use, I like to freeze the fat and then use a knife to cut it into smaller pieces and then refreeze those smaller pieces," he says. "I also like to keep the flour in the freezer and make sure the buttermilk is cold."
"There's a theme," Scarborough says. "You mix all these cold ingredients together and put them in a 400-degree oven - half physical reaction, half chemical reaction - and it causes the cookies to rise and turn into those fuzzy little pillows of awesome."
In a pinch and want to liven up store-bought canned cookies? No problem.
"I definitely recommend putting some kind of margarine on them before they go into the oven," Scarborough says. "The reason margarine is important is because butter will actually burn at a much higher temperature. Put some fresh butter on top right after you get out of the oven. If you want to go crazy, you can sprinkle a little sea salt on top best."