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Food & Recipes

I Quit My Job to Pursue My Childhood Dream of Opening a Bakery, and I’m So Glad I Did


When Courtney Cowan was a little girl, she followed her mom around the kitchen of their Indiana home, sneaking bits of cookie dough whenever she had the chance. And as her mother baked, Cowan began to fall in love — quickly becoming fixated on the delicious aromas and the special way ingredients mixed together to create something so spectacular.

At just 13 years old, she came up with her own cookie recipe. Each year she perfected her recipe, tweaking it a smidge each time, only to find that her friends, family, and eventually her co-workers, mistook her recipe for “real” bakery cookies.

“After several instances of people mistaking them [the cookies] for ‘bakery’ cookies, I realized I might have created something special,” Cowan said. “In 2005, I began developing a variety of flavors and started an online business while still working as a TV post producer. I loved that with each cookie delivery I made, someone’s day got a little bit brighter, and my end goal quickly became to open a brick-and-mortar.”

As Cowan began to realize how fulfilling her hobby had become, she decided to make her dream a reality. And so, that’s how Milk Jar Cookies was born.

Milk Jar Cookies Shop

(Photo Credit: Courtney Cowan)

“I wanted a shop where I could host people and provide a friendly place to enjoy a cookie and a glass of milk,” she continued. “I went back and forth for about seven years, and there were times I resented each endeavor and struggled to figure out which path to take. In July 2012, I had back surgery and found myself at a fork in the road. I decided to utilize my eight-week recovery time to write a business plan and start laying the groundwork for a storefront. I was so enraptured and excited by the process that there was no looking back, and in April of 2013, I opened the doors of Milk Jar Cookies!”

Milk Jar Cookies_Cookies

(Photo Credit: Courtney Cowan)

How do you come up with new cookie flavors and ideas?

Cowan: “I get inspiration from daily life, sometimes from things that don’t even have anything to do with cookies or baking. A recent example is that I invented three new flavors for all of us at the shop to eat that were inspired by the show Stranger Things, which was so fun for me. I also like the challenge of turning other treats into cookies, ie; banana split, pumpkin pie, peach cobbler, and Key lime pie.”

Do you test your flavors on your husband, family, and friends?

Cowan: “Absolutely! And since we’ve been open, I also let my employees in on the taste testing, which is really fun.”

What’s your favorite flavor or cookie mix you’ve made thus far?

Cowan: “Oh man, that’s like asking me to pick a favorite child! My favorite changes all the time, but if I had to pick one cookie to eat for the rest of my life, I would have to go with Chocolate Chip. It’s the perfect cookie, and I can’t get enough of it. As far as my favorite recipe development so far, the Banana Split cookie was a really fun one to work on!”

Milk Jar Cookies_Three_Cookies

(Photo Credit: Courtney Cowan)

If you could tell us one baking secret, what would it be?

Cowan: “Precision is key! Baking is a very exact science, and every gram matters. Be sure to take your time, read the recipe thoroughly, and make sure you have everything you need before you get started. And, have fun!”

Do you have any tricks for making big batches this holiday season?

Cowan: “Math! Converting your recipe into grams as opposed to teaspoons, cups, etc. helps immensely when scaling a recipe. Grab a food scale and weigh out the ingredients for a single batch. Once you decide how many batches you need to make, just multiply the measurements by that number to create your larger recipe. And be precise — every gram matters!

Do you have any clever substitutes you use?

Cowan: “It’s not necessarily clever, but substituting one-fourth a cup of applesauce for an egg works beautifully. I would recommend using unsweetened applesauce, as to not affect the rest of the recipe.”

You look amazing! How do you stay so fit when you’re making cookies all day?

Cowan: “Thank you! Truth be told, I never stop moving, and the very nature of owning or working in a bakery is extremely labor-intensive. Between lifting 50-pound bags of flour, hand-rolling every cookie, and running back and forth all the time, I joke that we’ve developed the next workout craze: Body by Milk Jar.”

Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know?

Cowan: “Life’s short. Eat cookies.”

Want to try Cowan’s cookies for yourself? Milk Jar Cookies, located on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles, CA, ships nationwide. If you’d like to take a shot at baking Cowan’s perfected recipe, Milk Jar Cookie mix is available for purchase at Williams Sonoma.

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