Heidi's Darn Good Cookies

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Writer's note: This story was written on November 17th, 2017, and since Heidi's Darn Good Cookies has expanded into two locations, and will be opening a third kitchen and store front in Saginaw very soon. 

Walking into their kitchen, it smells like Heidi and Mark Niernberg of Heidi's Darn Good Cookies are about to do some serious baking.⠀

Moving from counter to counter like clockwork, they're grabbing spatulas, pans, bowls, mixers and...Oreos.⠀

"I know it's sacrilege, but I just love 'em!" Heidi says.⠀

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She's preparing the ingredients for frosting, and her husband, Mark, is going into battle with giant tubs of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter to make the dough. I weave between them trying to set up my camera gear, doing my best to not trip them up as they get ready for the day.⠀

When I stop by a business to hear their story, one of my goals is to not get in the way. I want to be the fly on the wall - observing, asking questions, and taking pictures while owners and employees go about their usual work. Typically we'll talk for about twenty minutes, I'll take some pictures, and I'll be done under an hour.⠀

But I'm going to admit that I failed miserably on this one. ⠀

Once we started, we laughed and talked our way for 72 minutes and 55 seconds on my field recorder and another hour after that of taking pictures, all the while chatting about their history and the art of making a darn good cookie.⠀

"The Monster," Heidi says. "The Monster cookie was the very first cookie I sold, and that was because I had a bunch of leftover stuff. A handful of chocolate chips, and a handful of nuts, and this and that and threw it all together and made a batch of cookies. A friend of mine was like, 'Those cookies are great, I want to buy those!' She just wanted to give them away as gifts. And that's pretty much what it was like for fifteen years - sporadic, random.⠀

That was up until last April or May, and I came home from work. I was frustrated. Mark said, 'I don't want to hear about it. You can do cookies.'⠀

So we posted on Facebook, 'We're going to sell cookies.'⠀

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"So many orders came in, the house became a bakery. We were baking constantly. There were cookies everywhere. You would wake up and have to be careful of the tables because they'd have dozens and dozens of cookies on top. 
And were like, ‘....we might have something here.'

"Three months after we started the business, TV5 had a contest for the best cookies in Mid-Michigan.⠀

Someone had entered us while we were on our honeymoon in the UP...and we won. Here we were, baking them out of our house, part-time, winning this contest. That was huge for us, " Heidi says.⠀

And just like that, every day people would show up at our house, looking to buy cookies.⠀

But I still hadn't quit my job. I was working 40 hours a week, and I would come home and bake all my orders through the night. I'd be getting four or five hours of sleep trying to complete all the orders.⠀

So I had figured it out in my head - in order for me to be able to quit my job, we have to sell 20 dozen cookies a week."

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"Then we were approached by City Market and they asked if we were interested in applying for a space, and that was something that we had never even thought about. We applied and were accepted.⠀

So one day, Mark was at the Market and calls me and says, 'You have to come and see this.'⠀

I go there, and when the doors opened, it was like the ocean. People flowed through the market and they all lined up in front of the cookie shop. The line went from the booth all the way out the door and around the block outside...just for my cookies.⠀

And I started crying."⠀

In their first day, they sold out of cookies in 40 minute. ⠀

On the second day, they reached their sales goal...for the month.⠀

"It was crazy," Mark says. "Every day for six weeks it was like that. It got to the point where we were baking for 17 hours to make 60 dozen cookies...and they'd be gone in 45 minutes. And we'd go back home and do it all over again.⠀

We had a tin out on the display with cookies that broke while we were setting up, and when we'd sell out it was like watching people eat their last meal. People went crazy over these broken cookies. I had a guy take the crumbs that were left and mash them together and make small little cookie mixture thing."⠀

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Heidi says, "That kind of success forced me to jump into this full-time. It was the only way this was going to work."

So let's cut to the chase - how do you go about making a Heidi's Darn Good Cookie so...darn good?⠀

"Honestly, I don't know!" Heidi laughs. "It's butter, sugar, and flour. It's not magic. I've been baking cookies for 30 years, so I think at this point it's just instinct."⠀

I'm not deterred. I push for answers.⠀

"People will want to know the secret!" I say.⠀

"The most important thing for me is quality control. I want every cookie to be beautiful and perfect. And that's harder you than you think.⠀

For example, you have to be able to adjust things based on your butter temperature. If you come in to bake, and if the weather is warm, it's easy for the cookies to turn out softer than you want them. Winter is perfect for cookies because the humidity and temperature are great for baking. There is a science to this."⠀

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Mark looks up from his mixing bowl and says,"Every one of these is done by hand, no mixers. When I mix it by hand, I know when to stop - like right now, that's it for the dough. With a mixer, you can miss a lot. If you over mix the dough, it matters. There's a science to it, but it's also an art."⠀

"And pride," Heidi says. "If you eat that cookie, it's going to be the best darn cookie you've ever eaten.⠀

For example, that first week at the Market we had so much success, we panicked and went out and bought four ovens and a deep freezer because everyone was telling us that we'd have to freeze our cookies and resell them."

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"And you just can't freeze these cookies and resell them. They're not the same cookie. They freeze very well, and it's not like we couldn't sell them, but they're just not the same cookies. And so we have a brand new deep freezer in the basement, unused because after one batch we realized that wouldn't give us a cookie we would sell to people."⠀

Heidi said she gets asked all the time about what makes people so crazy about the cookies she makes.⠀

"I don't know. Nobody's been more surprised at our success than we are, we never expected this. It's just a cookie!"⠀

But not just any cookie...a darn good one. ⠀

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Here's a full gallery of images from Heidi's Darn Good Cookies: