There are a couple of universal truths about cookies: You can’t eat just one, and they’re best consumed while still warm from the oven. Beyond that, those round, little wafers are blank slates with possibilities far exceeding chocolate chips. Think cookies that are crispy with crumbled potato chips, spiced with cardamom or infused with salty pretzels. Bakers across Washington are using all those ingredients and more, and the results are so pleasing, you’ll never order a plain sugar cookie again.
The thick, chewy ginger molasses at Captain Cookie and the Milkman tastes like everything that’s good about the holiday season. Co-owner Kirk Francis is slightly more descriptive: When customers ask what it tastes like, he says ginger and . . . molasses. He’s been making the cookie since he was 10 and refuses to tinker with it or add potentially distracting ingredients, because it’s meant to be a classic. Each cookie is rolled in sugar before it’s baked, lending a touch of crunch to the crackled top. Pair it with one of the bakery’s bottles of local milk, and you’ll be transported back to your fuzziest childhood winter memory. $1.25. 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 2800 10th St. NE; check captaincookiedc.com for food truck locations.
Take the average cookie, put it on steroids and maybe you’ll end up with something almost-sort of like Milk Bar’s compost cookie. By this point, founder Christina Tosi’s inventiveness is well-known; the bakery values ingenuity. The famous compost cookie is packed with pretzels, potato chips, coffee grounds, oats, graham cracker crust, butterscotch chips and chocolate chips. Seriously. The result is exactly the salty-sweet nirvana you’d imagine from having all your favorite snacks fused in one place. $2.75. 1090 I St. NW; 49 District Sq. SW; and 1525 15th St. NW.
Lining up at Baked & Wired for an oversized cupcake is the predictable thing to do. Veer to the left of that front-and-center display, and you’ll find a dozen jars of freshly baked cookies. The centerpiece is the monster cookie, a colorful blend of peanut butter, oats, chocolate chips, M&Ms and walnuts. Operations director Tessa Velazquez says customers often react by wondering: Is it a peanut butter cookie full of oats, candy and crunch? Or an oatmeal cookie that happens to have peanut butter? However you define it, most will agree it achieves that perfect balance of crunchy and chewy. Oh, and there’s no flour. You won’t miss it. $2.05. 1052 Thomas Jefferson St. NW.
There’s some controversy surrounding whether Centrolina’s Italian rainbow cookie, is in fact, a cookie. To be precise, it’s a cookie-cake hybrid, executive pastry chef Caitlin Dysart says. The concoction, which resembles the Italian flag, consists of three layers of almond cake (one red, one white, one green) that are layered with housemade raspberry jam, then coated with dark chocolate on the top and bottom. Preparing each batch is a two-day process, and the effort is evident through its nuanced taste: The rich marzipan of the cake is balanced by the tart jam, and the snap of the chocolate coating contrasts with the dessert’s soft texture. Pair the caky cookie with an espresso, and you won’t care what it’s called or how it’s classified — just that it’s on your plate. $1.25. 974 Palmer Alley NW.
This round, slightly plump wafer studded with morsels of dark chocolate may look like any other chocolate chip cookie, but it’s a revelation. For its taste, yes — it’s spiced with just the right amount of cardamom — but also because the Middle Eastern-inspired vegan eatery uses no milk, butter or eggs, instead preparing the cookies, which are 100-percent plant-based, with coconut oil and almond milk. The recipe is more like making a complicated cake than a simple cookie, founder Ran Nussbacher says, which sounds about right given that it certainly doesn’t taste simple. $2. 655 K St. NW; 395 Morse St. NE.