Imitation is the Clearest Form of Flattery: Confetti Cookies

A few weeks ago I decided that I was going to make Christina Tosi's Confetti Cookies, which she describes as a combination of a snickerdoodle and Funfetti cake mix. I read through the recipe to make sure that I had all of the necessary ingredients on hand. I was a little confused when I saw that the recipe for the cookie batter, and the recipe for the birthday cake crumbs included in the cookies, both call for "clear vanilla extract."  Now of course clear vanilla extract is not real vanilla extract; it's impossible to make a clear liquid from real vanilla beans. Clear imitation vanilla is normally used in frostings or other applications where you want the color to remain pure white.

I take vanilla extract seriously and have never used imitation vanilla before. I go through about a half gallon of vanilla every year and I use only Penzey's or Nielsen-Massey Madagascar. So when I saw that the confetti cookies call for imitation vanilla, I immediately thought, "no freakin' way," and I planned to just use real vanilla instead. However, there was a cross reference in the recipe to a note in the ingredient section of the cookbook. That note explains, "We use clear McCormick vanilla extract for the Birthday Cake, Birthday Cake Crumb and Birthday Cake Frosting. It is vanilla in flavor, but not flavored by any actual vanilla beans. It's 'vanilla' in more of a guilty tub-of-frosting, box-cake way. The two are not interchangeable in recipes." If there's anything I've learned about Tosi's recipes, it's that you have to follow the directions exactly. If she says that real and artificial vanilla aren't interchangeable, I wasn't going to try it. So I delayed making these cookies until I had a chance to go out and buy some imitation clear vanilla.

To make the birthday cake crumb that goes into the cookies, you combine sugar, brown sugar, cake flour, baking powder, salt, rainbow sprinkles, grapeseed oil, and clear vanilla extract. The mixture forms clusters, which you toast in the oven.

To make the confetti cookie batter, you cream together butter, sugar, and glucose for 2-3 minutes, add eggs and clear vanilla and cream for another 7-8 minutes, and then incorporate the dry ingredients (flour, milk powder, cream of tartar, baking soda, salt, and rainbow sprinkles) and the birthday cake crumb. You scoop out the cookie dough and chill the cookies for at least an hour before baking.

These were cookies were beautiful, and they had the wonderful chewy texture of other Momofuku Milk Bar cookies, with nice crunchy bits of birthday cake crumb. The best way I can describe the flavor is to say they taste like a cross between raw cookie dough and kids' sugar cereal. They are quite sweet and there is definitely something slightly artificial about the taste. At first, I wasn't crazy about them, but after I tasted one, I found myself craving another one the following day. I haven't ever had a real Funfetti cake, but I can see how these cookies might be channeling the essence of box cake and tub frosting. I give these cookies a big thumbs up in the fun department!

Recipe: "Confetti Cookies," from Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi.  Recipe available here at