Nikki’s Cookies and Confections has been satisfying the sweet teeth of Willy Street Co-op shoppers for nearly as long as they have been baking their award-winning treats. Nikki’s has introduced quite a few everyday and holiday favorites for cookie lovers over their 22-year history, but each cookie shares a common recipe for quality, using only natural ingredients and generous amounts of Wisconsin Grade AA butter.
Nikki Taylor returned to her hometown of Milwaukee in the mid-1980s after spending several years living and working abroad. At the time, the emerging fine food trend caught Nikki’s eye. She noticed a lack of quality American shortbreads. All the shortbreads she found here were being imported from Europe. None of them were made here or with Wisconsin butter. So she started experimenting with shortbread in her home kitchen in 1986. She began with a family recipe dating back to the 1600s in Blyborough, England. By 1986, she and business partner, Bill Danner, had rented their first bakery space in Mayville, Wisconsin. At the time, Nikki’s was the first cookie company to make and market preservative-free shortbread cookies in the U.S. using Wisconsin Grade AA butter. Not long after their debut, the popularity of this uncommonly good cookie forced an expansion move of their baking operations to accommodate their growing production needs. Today, the bakehouse in Milwaukee employs several dozen bakers. It is located just a few blocks from Nikki’s administrative offices inthe historic Bayview neighborhood.
Mixed in small batches of 150 pounds at most, Nikki’s bakehouse is equipped to make thousands to millions of cookies at a time. Wire cutters, not cookie cutters, help to create the intricate and fanciful shapes of their cookies. After being mixed in a temperature-controlled room to keep the butter cool, the dough is placed in a hopper that pushes it through 10 to 15 cookie-shaped channels before a wire sweeps across the openings and cuts the dough to form each individual cookie. Nikki explained that there is still some level of inconsistency in the high-tech, low-waste operation, though she says, “Our cookies are not all perfect. They are a little inconsistent because we don’t add any chemicals or preservatives. So they will differ just slightly.” Nikki’s offices will occasionally receive a call from home bakers who are so taken with the inspired designs of their cookies but are disappointed to learn that they’re unable to purchase one of the gingerbread, snowmen, nutcracker, maple leaf, butterfly, bunny or teapot cookie cutters (because their cutter weighs over 2,000 pounds and you’d need a forklift to put it in place).
Nikki reports that very little had to change from the original recipes in order to prepare their cookies for packaging and to avoid adding preservatives to extend their shelf life. In fact, she says, “Butter creates a natural preservative. The more butter you have, the longer the shelf life. We try to use a lot of butter in all of our cookies, because not only does it add flavor, it gives you a longer shelf life.” But to ensure a consistently good flavor, Nikki’s Cookies are also carefully packaged to prevent air from reaching the cookies. This results in a delicate and rich buttery taste experience in every box. The most significant changes made to the original recipes have been the addition of all natural flavors to create selections like the Key Lime and Meyer Lemon shortbread cookies, their second and third cookies to be introduced.
Nikki still uses her home kitchen in northern Wisconsin to create new varieties of cookies and confections then looks to fellow staff members to taste and make suggestions on each cookie before the recipe is finalized. Among them, Nikki’s mother Eleanor who works in the Nikki’s offices, contributed the original sugar cookie recipe that’s used for several of their cookies, including some of their holiday selection. The German shortbread recipe, another popular favorite, was handed down to Nikki from her paternal grandmother and is especially favored for its authentically spiced taste. One of their latest creations, Ladybugs, bridges the gap from cookie to confection as two chocolate wafers create a sandwich with a double-good layer of creamy buttermilk filling before being triple dipped in rich dark chocolate. The teapot cookies, flavored with a hint of lemon, have also become a favorite for their whimsical design and exceptional flavor. The cinnamon and sugar Butterfly cookie, maple syrup Maple Leaf cookie and gingerbread Nutcracker cookies, in their thoughtful and creative packaging, get a lot of attention from shoppers who are seeking a homemade taste treat or a delicious gift idea.
Remaining all-natural is a commitment Nikki’s Cookies makes for each of their cookies, and doing so often poses its own challenges. One cookie scheduled to be released in time for Halloween needed to include a white icing to draw attention to a part of the ghoulish goodness, but there were no natural white icings available and after trying to formulate one, Nikki has nearly surrendered to a white chocolate icing instead to meet the design requirements.
Most of the Nikki’s products are shipped direct to stores from their company as they prefer to keep a tighter watch on their shipments than using a distributor would allow. Handling the delicate product themselves also ensures that the cookies are packed and shipped with care and the company can monitor movement of a particular item in order to guarantee their consumers are getting the freshest product possible. “When we test at our lab, sometimes they’ll give us a two-year shelf life, but we would never give it a two-year shelf life,” Nikki says.
Nikki’s cookies are found in the cookie aisle, but the holiday items are only available during their individual season. For more information about Nikki’s Cookies and Confections they’re on the web at: nikkiscookies.com.