Baked Cookies+Creme Cheesecake—Prototype 6:
A lot of things have changed since Prototype 5. Among them were refinements for my plain cheesecakes, the 10th prototype of which would be a major influence in the latest cookies+creme prototype presented here.

Unfortunately, as I started looking into this one, I was confronted by a surprising absence of Nature's Promise Organic Chocolate Cookies with Vanilla Cream from the shelves of Stop & Shop. I tried at least a second store. Then I finally made a customer service inquiry, only to be given the bad news that this product had not shipped for a while, at least to the location where I asked. The clerk there suspected discontinuation on this cookie and chocolate chip varieties as well (which further disappointed me, because Nature's Promise Natural Chocolate Chip Cookies had been a chocolate "fix" for my brother Eric—of California—during his visits here in Massachusetts). I tried at least 3 additional Stop & Shops, but to no avail. Just when I thought I had a terrific sandwich cookie to work with, I did not even have a whole year to enjoy it! Now I was faced with a void. Trader Joe's and Newman's Own weren't as sweet as the Oreos. But I already had three other natural brands lined up as potential replacements.

Country Choice was the first candidate for this new round. Its taste seemed less salty compared to the Oreos, so I felt that Country Choice was not an ideal replacement. But if I had to choose between the "less sweet" taste of Trader Joe's/Newman's Own and the "less salty" taste of Country Choice, I would have gone with the latter. After all, the chocolate sandwich cookie, at least to me, certainly belonged more in the "sweet" category than in the "savory" one.

The next candidate here was Back To Nature. I ended up feeling a lot happier about this one. I was actually wavering between whether or not I could tell "BTN" and Oreo apart—I hoped not! I could not truly discern whether one was sweeter than the other. Neither could I differentiate on the saltiness. I strived to be "blind" about this comparison. But the Oreo brand was crunchier. BTN was softer. But this kind of "feel" didn't matter to me. I was only interested in the flavor for this test, not the firmness. But that difference made it very hard for me to guess blindly. I strived to chew both brands in ways that would hopefully stop my mouth from detecting the differences in firmness (in my quest to prevent identifying the brands this way).

If I could incorrectly guess the brand by flavor in enough test bites, that would hopefully lead to sufficient grounds to determine that I could not sufficiently differentiate the flavors between two brands. I managed perhaps only two wrong guesses. If it weren't for the difference in firmness, I probably would have gotten more incorrect guesses—which I sought! That was the goal. If I were, on the other hand, to keep on correctly identifying which brand I just tasted, that would fail to support my hopes for the inability to detect flavor differences.

Not long after this BTN-Oreo evaluation, I was moved to try a sample Country Choice cookie. I ended up concluding that this brand was indeed more distant than Back To Nature was, from the Oreo taste. That easily made Back To Nature my top running candidate to replace Nature's Promise.

I still had one more candidate to evaluate. This was "365", a private brand from Whole Foods Market. Like Back To Nature, 365 was hard for me to distinguish from Oreo. 365 seemed to have more crunch than BTN, but not as much as Oreo. Still, this helped me to more "blindly" compare the flavors. I was able to make three incorrect identification guesses here. But I still suspected some minor differing tinges with 365, although I likely detected these in BTN as well.

I became curious about what 365 and Back To Nature were like compared directly to each other, so I did a brief flavor test here. It was hard to tell the difference. I was able to obtain one incorrect identification guess, although this was a small test, involving only about one-third of the number of cookies that I used in each of the three "candidate" evaluations indicated above (i.e. Oreo vs. natural brand).

Again, I tasted Country Choice shortly after experiencing 365. Country Choice remained easily distinct, with which my mouth suspected an inferior taste. Sorry, Country Choice, I am afraid that I cannot "offer you the position" at this time. It was looking like a tie between Back To Nature and Whole Foods 365 at this point. I also tried a quick but visible comparison between the chocolate cookie outsides of these two latter brands. I failed to find any taste differences here.

It could very well end up that if I wanted to use a natural substitute for Oreo, either of these two brands would work reasonably well—in fact, hopefully well enough to rival the supposedly retired Nature's Promise, since I suspected that there might have, in fact, been a trivial tinge difference there as well, hopefully not too much smaller than that of Back To Nature or 365.

So over the course of probably a little more than one year, I have "pitted" six natural brands of chocolate creme sandwich cookies against Nabisco's Oreo, and I have found half of them to be more or less satisfactorily close in flavor to this popular (but not so natural) reference classic that has billed itself as "America's Favorite Cookie".

Nevertheless, I felt that I could have done more justice in the Oreo vs. Back To Nature evaluation if only the Oreos did not crunch like a Marshall stack. So what I did was chill some Oreo cookies, then steam them a little in hopes of building some condensation on them, allowing plenty of time for this moisture to sink a little into these cookies in order to somewhat soften them. It seemed to work, and in a downsized BTN-Oreo test, I accomplished an incorrect identification guess.

I also performed a even smaller test with 365. For some reason, I now picked up some kind of notable differing tinge with that brand. I could not recall a differing tinge nearly this significant with Back To Nature, except that I got a little suspicious earlier in that rematch about Oreo having a little more saltiness. But when I further tried looking out for a saltier taste in Oreo compared to Back To Nature, I did not succeed. Maybe my taste buds were still "warming up" earlier. I wasn't sure.

But it was that very faint tinge from 365 in this rematch round that would finally lead me to select Back To Nature as the winner, narrowly edging out Whole Foods Market's 365. But the sheer faintness of this runner up's tinge made it a very close competitor. This was close enough that if Back To Nature were to discontinue its chocolate sandwich cookies, I would highly likely be content to utilize 365, rather than seeking out additional natural brands. But I ended up choosing BTN for Prototype 6.

Furthermore, several weeks after making this prototype, I ended up performing inner-creme-only and outer-cookie-only comparison tests between Oreo and Back To Nature. I hardly made any big effort to perform incorrect-guessing attempts. I simply went back and forth, somewhat blindly, between the two brands and hoped that I could not detect any differences in tastes. I ended up failing to really notice any flavor distinctions. That was a bonus! Even Nature's Promise presented taste differences with Oreo upon my comparing the inner cremes alone and upon my comparing the chocolate cookie outsides alone (as explained in Prototype 5). If I could not even detect these "component" differences between Back To Nature and Oreo, that would certainly give Back To Nature a noteworthy advantage over Nature's Promise. This outcome thus greatly reduced my lament for Stop & Shop's discontinuance of its natural offering.

So in wrapping up this quest to fill the void left by Nature's Promise, I would be using Back To Nature in my cookies+creme cheesecakes. 365 would be my future backup, should the chocolate sandwich cookies from BTN come to an end.
2-to-1 Blend of Yogurt Cheese and Cottage Cheese:
Prepare ahead of time 1 pound of yogurt cheese, derived from one 32-ounce container of nonfat yogurt. If the resulting yogurt cheese falls below 16 ounces, add back enough of the whey (that was strained out from the yogurt) to make up the difference. To this yogurt cheese combine 8 ounces (1 cup) of whipped, lowfat cottage cheese.

2 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted
2 teaspoons cocoa powder
4 oz. (1/2 cup) 2-to-1 blend of yogurt cheese and cottage cheese (see above)
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1.1 oz. Bran Buds, ground up

2 tablespoons melted or softened butter
5/8 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 1/3 tablespoons arrowroot
1/4 teaspoon salt
20 oz. (2 1/2 cups) 2-to-1 blend of yogurt cheese and cottage cheese (see above)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs

Cookie Mixture:
1/4 cup skim milk
1/2 tablespoon granulated sugar
16 chocolate sandwich cookies (such as Back To Nature Classic Creme Cookies), broken preferably in halves (at least make a reasonable effort here)

Blend the milk and 1/2 tablespoon of sugar together. Place the cookies in a resealable ("Ziploc") sandwich or 1-quart bag, then add the milk-and-sugar mixture to it. Close the bag and shake it to distribute the wet mixture and moisten the cookies. Let this sit for about 1 or 2 minutes. Then add the contents to the batter before baking.

Bake the cheesecake in a tub at 300 degrees for 60 minutes (if using a 9 1/2" pan), cool (outside of oven and tub) for an hour, remove from pan and refrigerate (adding a border of chocolate chips on top of the cheesecake, while it is warm, is a suggested option).

Cookies+Creme Cheesecake—Prototype 6 (with Back To Nature Classic Creme Cookies)

The wording on the Back To Nature packaging was a pleasant sight, including "No Artificial Preservatives, Flavors, or Colors" and "All Natural Cookie with Dutched Cocoa". But I seemed to especially enjoy the clause "No High Fructose Corn Syrup" (I didn't need some kind of compromising sugar substitute, thankyouverymuch)!

On another matter, however, I was very surprised at how quickly the cookies became too mushy (although not as badly as in Prototype 5) even after an extremely short amount of time soaking in the bag with the milk-and-sugar mixture. Maybe I should have immediately unloaded these cookies into the batter, rather than let them sit in the bag (even if only for a minute). Why, then, did the unsoaked cookies back in Prototype 3 end up seeming too dry? It quickly dawned on me that the Newman-O's used at that time may have been fairly crunchy in their initial form, just like Oreo. Back To Nature, on the other had, had considerably less crunch to begin with. So this brand's relative softness may have rendered the soaking unnecessary in my pursuit of a moist enough outcome for chocolate sandwich cookies after baking (hence my plan for next time if using BTN).

I made this cheesecake to bring to my cousin Rachel's family in Vermont, letting her daughter Lily select this chocolate sandwich cookie flavor months ahead of time. This one didn't last long. She, along with her sister, Mya, and brother, Peter, anxiously dug into it, beginning on a Saturday afternoon, and this cheesecake was gone by the following Sunday evening (they couldn't even resist this dessert at breakfast time on Sunday!), and I myself did not get much of this to eat—but it was very tasty.

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