GARDNER—Meet your friendly neighborhood cookie lady.
Annelese Bartlett has been making gourmet cookies from home for about a year, but she never planned on becoming a baker.
In fact, she almost found herself competing for a rather dubious title after her friends and family encouraged her to display her lack of culinary talent to a nationwide television audience by submitting her name to the producers of the Food Network’s “Worst Cook in America” show .
“I got a call from the casting people asking to formally interview me and meet with their casting directors,” she said. “I had a sit-down interview, but it never panned out, mainly because I got a job and had gotten pregnant, so I couldn’t have gone anyway. But it was really funny because it just shows how bad my cooking is.”
She’s a baker but not a chef
But, as Bartlett pointed out, cooking and baking are very different. While preparing a meal can often mean being creative with a variety of savory flavors, the art of baking requires paying strict attention to step-by-step instructions, she said.
“With baking, it’s like someone is holding your hand through the whole process, which was much more doable for me,” she said. “My brain needs a guide.”
Bartlett, who has lived in Gardner for about two years, was inspired to try her hand at baking cookies after she found herself in a friendly rivalry with her sister, Tara, who was known for making the best cookies in the family. Bartlett began trying out recipes for gourmet cookies and offering the finished product to her family and friends of her.
“I would post my cookies on social media, so people could see what they looked like, and my friends and co-workers would say, ‘We will pay you, don’t just give them to us,’ and that’s when it clicked with me that maybe people would pay for these — and they certainly do,” said Bartlett, who works at Fitness Concepts in Gardner. “It’s been easy for me, and it’s been really, really fun.”
Cookie of the Month Club
After creating a popular ‘Cookie of the Month’ club online for customers, she soon found herself baking cookies every day just to keep up with the demand, Bartlett explained. And after talking it over with her husband, Michael, she decided to offer her cookies to a larger audience. She set up a booth at the weekly Sterling Street Market this summer. Her cookies from her were an immediate success.
“I was blown away — we sold out of almost every cookie before the event was even over,” she said. Among the flavors offered at the market were salted caramel cheesecake, key lime pie, chocolate Oreo peanut butter chip, and classic chocolate chip. Bartlett posts on the Sterling Street Market Facebook page when she will be setting up.
“I love seeing people take their first bite and then seeing their faces, because I’ve seen people take a bite of my cooked food and it wasn’t the reaction I ever wanted,” she said, laughing. “So, seeing people take a bite out of something I’ve made and thinking it’s good has been a great experience.”
Bartlett named her new business the Berry Patch Cookie Co. (the name is a reference to a line from a TV survival show she and her husband enjoy), and said she’s looking into finding more outlets to showcase her goods.
“I would love to set up at more fairs and whatnot,” she said, adding she had also been researching ways she could possibly ship her cookies to customers. “But right now I’m kind of focusing on being able to shake hands with the people who are supporting me.”
Juggling business and motherhood
Bartlett said she was grateful for her friends, family members and customers who have been encouraging her to grow her business. She said she managed to find time in her schedule to bake by mostly hitting the kitchen at night after her two daughters, Piper and Margot, were in bed.
“It’s like a full day of ‘momming’ and then a full night of cooking — it’s pretty busy but it’s fun,” she said.
What’s the difference between an ordinary cookie and a gourmet cookie? Bartlett said a gourmet cookie contains so many different elements that it’s almost an unfair comparison. She cites her salted caramel cheesecake cookie as an example.
“The base tastes like the graham cracker crust, but that’s not where it ends,” she said. “And then you have this really nice cheesecake frosting, but that’s not where it ends. You have caramel on the top, and then you sprinkle it with sea salt. There are so many moving parts, it’s like a whole different experience.”
Bartlett can be found on Instagram at @theberrypatchcookieco.