Baking with Bob

Helping to make a batch of Bob Devin Jones’ legendary cookies.

click to enlarge BREAKING GOOD: The chef shows off one of his creations. - SHANNON KALAHAR
BREAKING GOOD: The chef shows off one of his creations.

“Oh shit.”

That’s what one customer reportedly said after her first bite of a Bob Devin Jones cookie.

“This old woman just flat out said it,” says Jones’ friend and business partner Reuben Pressman, who was tending the Bobs Cookies booth at St. Pete’s Saturday Morning Market at the time.

“There’s no greater compliment,” Bob says, smiling.

The artistic director of Studio@620, Bob Devin Jones has long been making his signature chocolate chip cookies for friends. It wasn’t till this fall that Reuben and Hunter Payne, the entrepreneurial duo better known as the Swings guys, came up with the notion of bringing them to the masses. The booth typically sells 2,000 cookies each Saturday, so many that they have to be baked in a commercial kitchen (Erica Allums’ Banyan Café in downtown St. Pete).

But on this particular Saturday morning, Bob has agreed to let me assist him in baking a smaller batch at his Old Southeast home.

I don’t eat breakfast or even take a sip of coffee before I go; I’m waiting for that first bite. I bring along a box of salted butter, which Bob takes from me with a smile but admits he uses unsalted in his recipe.

“But we do love salted butter on our wheat toast,” he says graciously.

His work station is a converted lab table salvaged from USF St. Petersburg. He lays out two ceramic bowls, one coral and one off-white with a big crack down the middle.

“The portions for every batch are a little different,” he says. “But there’s just one recipe.”

I do as he tells me, two scoops of this, one tablespoon of that. He examines the result.

“Add just a little more,” he says.

I dip the nose of the measuring spoon into the sea salt.

Bobs Cookies (no apostrophe) are available nearly every weekend at the market. Bob isn’t at the market today, though, because he has rehearsal — for a Florida Humanities Council traveling show inspired by the state's 500th anniversary. Bob is playing Francisco Menendez, a freed slave who served as a military leader for the Spanish in St. Augustine, heading the ex-slave community at Fort Mose.

Bob’s cookies are not gluten-free, fat-free, or nut-free. A trio of chocolate chips, walnuts and pecans goes into the mix.

“The pecans add a little sweetness against the walnuts,” Bob tells me. A mix of white and whole-wheat flour, and the molasses from the brown sugar, will give the cookies a toasty dark brown hue.

Before combining the dry and wet ingredients, Bob rustles through his collection of utensils and selects an old rubber spatula. He pulls out two beloved baking sheets, scarred with baked-in goodness.

“New baking sheets reflect too much light and burn the cookies,” he says. “These are better.”

Bob doesn’t like soft cookies.

“I like my cookies hard,” he says.

“And a little nutty,” I add.

I scoop spoonful after spoonful of the hearty batter onto the sheets, which Bob pops into the freezer for a moment before baking; the cold will firm up the dough, helping the cookies retain their shape.

Bob rotates the trays in the oven so the cookies bake evenly. A few minutes later, he carefully moves the finished products to a cooling rack. We wait a seemingly infinite amount of time (12 minutes). Then Reuben devours three cookies in quick succession, and I take my first bite.

All I can think is, “Oh shit.”

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