Have you heard the news? 2018 is here – and so is our first spot in Boston. We kicked off the year by opening our northernmost location yet, and that’s where you’ll find us today, nestled in Fenway and full of the bright-eyed excitement that comes with exploring a new community and partnering with local makers who share our same passion for creating flavors you just can’t help but crave.
Head 40 minutes north of our newest Fenway spot and you’ll find easier breathing in Essex, a relaxed Massachusetts town rich in shellfish, nautical charm, and New England sensibilities. Don’t let the soft drum of boats on the river fool you, though – big things are happening on the food scene here, and that’s why we were proud to find our Boston-area cookie partner hard at work – innovating and iterating as bakers do – in their kitchens on Scots Way.
Three years ago, business partners and forward-thinking bakers, Brooke Carroll and Elaine Peterson, bought Lark from a mother-daughter team, and they’ll be the first to tell you they had always loved the brand’s unapologetic ‘cookies for grownups’ niche.
“It’s an all-natural take – not a lot of ingredients, not a load of sweets – it’s about [finding ways to] use sweet and savory together.”
With accomplished business backgrounds and a love for baking, they got to work – earning the admiration of specialty markets and adventurous foodies throughout Massachusetts. If you haven’t yet tried their flavor-bending confections, you can find their Salted Oat Chocolate Chip Cookie at CAVA Fenway now. We happen to think it’s the perfect post-meal sweet, and we were happy to sit down with its creators to talk culinary innovation, quality chocolate, and the joys of building a partnership together.
We love your point of view. What do you think sets Lark apart?
Brooke: First, we’re a women-owned business – and we’re really proud of that. It’s not something we consciously think about, but we’re out here competing and proud that we’re able to encourage other women to do the same. We’re really committed to giving our team a great place to work. One of our newer employees made a comment recently about how happy everyone is here. It’s really hard and not always glamorous work, but people enjoy their jobs. A lot of people assume working for a cookie company must be all fun, because the vision is cute little chef hats and not hauling 50 pounds of butter and flour.Elaine: People work really hard here, and they’re really strong and committed and I’m impressed every day. I’m happy and proud that we’re part of that and that we’re giving them a good place to work.
Brooke: On the product side what sets us apart is that we’re trying to build a brand known for quality and attention to detail – that’s why we make our own cookies and don’t use co-packers, something that’s increasingly rare with bakers.
Our discussions always start with what the best ingredients are. It’s how we can make the most of every single product.
Then the third thing that sets us apart is that the products we put out are truly different. I do think that we fill a real, major void in the cookie industry – we’re kind of sweet and kind of savory. A lot of our stuff can be as easily put on a cheeseboard. They can go back and forth. It’s a unique feature. This probably won’t surprise you, but we’re so curious what the process for creating a new cookie looks like for you.
Elaine: It happens wherever we’re inspired – it’s looking at the salt on the rack or reading blogs and finding an interesting development. There’s a lot of embellishment, and we think on a lot of our recipes for a very long time. We’ll both go to our respective corners and figure out the taste. What’s been great so far is we’re both really honest with what we come forward with. I could be on my fiftieth version of a chocolate chip cookie and I can tell by Brooke’s face when she’s finally like, “yeah, [that’s it].”
Brooke: Sometimes we look at what we have in our lineup and what’s needed. We’re still a really young company, which is an exciting place to be. We have a lot of avenues to grow, but one thing I think we always want to stay true to is our use of all-natural ingredients and our commitment to being a brand that is appealing to consumers looking for that quality.
For instance, the chocolate that we use is a much higher quality chocolate than you would find in an everyday chocolate chip cookie. We love that.
You can taste it – the richness of the cookie is totally different – the mouth-feel is totally different.
How do your maintain your commitment to ingredients that elevate your product?
Brooke: It’s tough. Right now the price of vanilla has increased 1,000% percent because there was a natural disaster in Madagascar, and that’s where we get our vanilla from. You can get a gallon of marginal vanilla for like $60, but to get a gallon of good vanilla is about $500 right now. To continue to make the commitment, that’s just something we don’t compromise on. So being all-natural presents some challenges.
Elaine: I think consumers are becoming more and more sophisticated and they can tell the difference in quality. But also, there’s a lot of people who are dedicated to the all-natural, whole-foods type of thing. That’s clearly become a trend right now, and we’re comfortable in that zone.Tell us more about the cookie you baked up for CAVA.
Brooke: We took a cookie we have in our line called the Lady Bird and we converted it a little bit to remove the cranberries and add more chocolate chips. Then, we changed the size a little, which is different for us. [Our CAVA cookie] is a little bit bigger, but we think it will be great for someone who wants to indulge in a good cookie.
It’s on the crispier side; it’s baked for a little bit longer at a lower temperature, which means that you pull a bit of the moisture up, and it makes for a more crispy cookie, which works really well with the oats. I think one thing that we both love about Lark is that the ingredients are few. We use whole grain flour, whole grain oats, a dark chocolate chip, we use Cabot Butter right from Vermont. In this one in particular the ingredients are pretty straightforward, but the result is a delicious cookie. We’re really pleased that that one is going to be featured.What are you most excited about that you have coming up in 2018?
Elaine: We have a lot of product development in the pipeline. We’re working on a salted chocolate chip cookie which is complementary of [CAVA’s] flavor profile with Mediterranean olive and confectioners’ sugar. It’s a small cookie, and we feel like it needs some friends. We haven’t decided if this is called a cookie, a crisp, a round, or a square. We have some plans to build out a savory line that appeals more to the cheese section, so that’s exciting.
Brooke: It’s different from the crisps that we already have, and they’re fantastic. Elaine developed this one, it’s amazing, and it’s more of a tender feel, made with almond flour so it has a little bit of sweetness to it and a lot of the savory. They’re off the charts.
You’ve mentioned unexpected ingredients playing a part in your ideas. What’s the most unusual one you’ve used?
Brooke: We have the best Burnt Sugar and Fennel Shortbread. We get the burnt sugar from Tuck’s Candy, a local candy-maker that has truly been producing candy in Rockport, MA – right on the coast – for 100 years.
Elaine: It’s beautiful – like sheets of glass that the baker drops off.
Brooke: So we use that and it’s combined with fennel and the tiniest bit of cayenne, so it’s got a little bit of heat. Fennel is a divisive flavor – like cilantro. I love it, though, so we use some of the fennel seed in the cookie as well. It’s funny, we just made some recently, and they looked beautiful because you can see the fennel perfectly and you can see the little shard of the burnt sugar. Bringing those flavors together is special – truly special.When you cook at home, what do you like to cook?
Brooke: I don’t cook, but Elaine is a heck of a cook.
Elaine: I’ll go in streaks and I’ll try and perfect things. You know, for a while I was really on a bread kick and then I’ll moved onto pies. Sometimes I’ll go off and do omelettes forever. But, honestly, I’ve also really found fun in just being committed to trying to find the perfect version of the cookie.
What similarities do you see between CAVA and Lark? What makes you excited about this partnership?
Brooke: I definitely think flavor is a connection our company has with yours. Food that’s really flavorful and we say “deliciously different,” doesn’t have to be laden with a bunch of junk. You can use good, fresh ingredients to come up with some really amazing food.
I love the magic of food and how interesting it all can be – beyond the artistry, just the imagination or the creativity that goes into taking something, deconstructing it, exploring ways to make it even better, and putting it back together again.
Craving a Lark cookie yet? Try their latest at CAVA or find out where you can find more flavors here.