I don’t really have a “thing.” Some people do: I have a friend whose things are pottery and running, and a friend whose things are hiking and taking care of her one-eyed cat, and a friend whose thing is tending to her surprisingly bountiful pandemic garden. The closest I think I come to having a “thing” is maintaining an internet presence so interested parties can know I’m still alive, occasionally writing, and also baking. This blog post exists where those two activities intersect.
I’ve always been a baker. In college I had a short-lived cooking blog, an extension of my Tumblr, where I examined the possibilities of baking in a shitty on-campus apartment kitchen using an oven that allegedly heated up and had a door that only fell off once in the year I lived there. It felt good to come home from class and bake brownies, or make an elaborate cake for a friend’s birthday. I don’t think I need to over-explain why baking is rhythmically soothing and materially satisfying, a hundred people have already done it. But it is definitely, for me, both of those things.
The pumpkin chocolate chip cookies I bake are one of those recipes for which I started keeping the ingredients on hand at all times, regardless of what time of year it is. I don’t know when they became a “thing.” You can find alternatives to my recipe, or you can try, like the New York Times Cooking section did last week. But their recipe wasn’t quite right — the ratio was off and they add cream cheese for some reason. When you Google “pumpkin chocolate chip cookies,” you get pages and pages of recipes — some of them look like the ones I make, but most don’t. None of the recipes are an exact dupe. There are versions made with oatmeal, or almond flour, or sugar substitutes.
But to my mind, there is only one correct recipe for these cookies. I’ve written about this before, but I feel like it’s important to note the pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe is not my recipe. It feels misleading to call the recipe mine, though I doubt anyone thinks I came up with it myself. I will say the recipe does come from Hershey, Pennsylvania.
What I do know about its origins is that I got the recipe from my high school best friend’s mom, Sandra, who is the OG pumpkin cookie baker. Whenever I’d go over to their house in high school, Sandra always was bouncing around. If she ever found herself in their kitchen, she would bake one of two things: brownies in individual silicone molds the shape of Hershey kisses (everyone in my hometown is nothing if not incredibly on-brand at all times), or pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. My mom then reposted the pumpkin chocolate chip cookie recipe to her Facebook, which is where I went to find it for years, until I took a screenshot, deleted my Facebook, and became my own pumpkin-chocolate-chip-cookie hypewoman.
At this point, I have sent the recipe for these cookies—which I have stored on the iPhone Notes app—to no fewer than 10 dozen people in the past six years. People make the cookies, they take a picture of the cookies, they post an Instagram Story about the cookies, they tag me, and then their friends ask for the recipe so they can make the cookies. Strangers on Twitter DM me to show me the cookies they baked with their kids. Everyone expresses a degree of amazement about the cookies, which I credit to the fact that they do not taste like a cookie. They taste like the top of a muffin, or a cake. You can eat one, but most people eat two, or six. I made them too often in fall 2016, 2017, and 2018 and I always brought them to Vanity Fair’s office, where they’d disappear in a few minutes.
To be clear, these cookies aren’t on the same level of virality as say, the Alison Roman anchovy shallot pasta, or the nauseating but internet-beloved rainbow bagel. Maybe several hundred people know about them—or at most, a thousand people. They will not appear in an Insider video anytime soon. But if you follow me and it’s the fall, you know about the pumpkin chocolate chip cookies. It’s almost impossible not to. As soon as we have one sweater-requiring day in the fall, people start to ask me for the recipe.
I’ve been fascinated by the cult-like following these cookies have achieved. I can’t emphasize this enough: they’re horrible to look at. You have to use one of the nice VSCO filters to make the cookies look halfway-appealing, even though any time I brought them to a gathering in the before times they’d be gone in minutes. The cookies are, on their face, unremarkable. They can be misshapen, depending on your batter situation and what degree of care you’re using to plop the cookies onto a baking sheet. They look underbaked. “Are these definitely done after 10 to 14 minutes???” people frantically text me. Yes, they’re probably supposed to look like that. I’m sorry. You’re just not getting a gorgeous Instagram-worthy photoshoot out of these cookies.
If the thing you want is a basic autumnal treat that is an aesthetically pleasing reminder that a new season is upon us, you could have a pumpkin spice latte, or a roasted butternut squash, or a Reese’s pumpkin. Something that looks okay and is a tasteful shade of orange or brown and also tastes fine.
But I’ve come to understand that the cookies are appealing to people in spite of their appearance because they’re easy to make; the only skill required is being able to open a can of pumpkin. Otherwise it mostly uses the stuff in your pantry if you do a limited amount of baking, and the recipe is forgiving enough that if you overbake the cookies for a few minutes, or make them vegan or gluten-free, they’d probably turn out okay.
I’ve been baking them a lot this year, even as far back as March. They’re comforting, and all things considered they’re not that bad for you. The pumpkin chocolate chip cookies are a low-effort dessert for uncertain times. They’re a perfect quarantine cookie. Also, they’re fucking delicious.
PUMPKIN CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (I use a can)
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon (you could also add pumpkin pie spice, or ground ginger, or nutmeg)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (softened)
1 to 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips (I use the whole bag)
Combine all ingredients in bowl except for chips. Once combined add the chocolate chips. Place on greased cookie sheets or parchment paper (I use a cookie scoop for portioning) and bake about 10–14 minutes, or maybe a minute or two longer if they still look kinda wet, at 350 degrees.
Makes about 2 to 2.5 dozen cookies.