Niles sisters see future in cookie batter business
isters Jamie Coulston and Joanna Pugh grew up on their mother’s famous sugar cookies.
As children, the pair would watch over their mother’s shoulder as she worked, filling the family kitchen with the smell of sugar and butter. They would observe the cookies rising in the oven, and once they were done, the sisters would barely wait until the cookies were cool to have a taste.
“Our mom would always make this same sugar cookie recipe. She would give it away to everyone,” Coulston said. “Christmas time was crazy. It was days in the kitchen baking. … It is something we love.”
Now as adults, the sisters are keeping their mother’s recipe and baking traditions alive — just without the oven.
Last year, Coulston, 30, and Pugh, 28, opened The Dough Parlor, a currently online based business that sells edible cookie dough in an array of flavors, from the classic chocolate chip cookie dough to monster cookie to a number of seasonal flavors. And, of course, one of their most popular mainstays is their mother’s sugar cookie recipe.
Coulston brought the idea of starting a cookie dough business to her sister after hearing about cookie dough bars that have been popping up online and in bigger cities like Chicago and New York City that have the sole purpose of serving raw cookie dough scooped as though it was ice cream.
“I’ve never really liked cake. Even for my birthdays growing up, my family would make me cookies instead of cake,” said Coulston, who had previously worked with Pugh on a cupcake business, Craven Cupcakes, based on their maiden name of Raven. “So, when I heard about this raw dough thing, I thought, ‘That is something I can get behind.’”
Raw cookie dough is typically unsafe to eat due to a risk of salmonella from raw eggs and E. coli from untreated flour, according to the Food and Drug Administration. However, in recent years, cookie dough shops like The Dough Parlor have been working to satisfy the urges of everyone who has trouble stopping themselves from licking the mixing spoon before putting a batch of cookies into the oven. The Dough Parlor’s cookie dough is eggless and uses heat treated flour, which makes it safe to consume raw.
“Some people are skeptical about it, but I always say, ‘how often do you want just to eat a spoonful of dough when you are baking?’” Pugh asks. “This makes it safe to eat.”
Unlike dough shops in bigger cities, The Dough Parlor operates out of Pugh’s kitchen, with customers ordering dough on the business’ Facebook page and picking it up at Pugh’s home. Due to the small-scale nature of their business, each batch of orders requires days of preparations in tweaking the recipes, preparing the kitchen and mixing ingredients.
“It’s not like we can just take a recipe and follow it,” Pugh said. “Because we take out the eggs and heat treat it, the dough is not as creamy, so we have to be creative and find that perfect balance to either add more butter or sugar or whatever to make something really delicious.”
Perhaps the most labor-intensive aspect of the work is heat treating the flour, which takes nearly a full day of prep work.
“There is a lot of love in that,” Pugh said. “When you bake flour, it becomes a hard sheet. So, we have to break it and grind it through a sifter. So, we always say that we massaged it with love.”
The biggest job the sisters have done so far was at the 2018 Niles Apple Festival. For that job, the sisters worked with 100 pounds of flour, which all had to be treated in small batches.
“We are just starting out, so we only use what we have, so each time we did like two cups at a time, which was a lot of work,” Coulston said with a laugh. “If we ever get our own shop, we are going to build a machine that does this for us.”
Despite the hard work, the sisters say it is worth it because it allows them to work together as sisters and best friends and to carry on their family’s baking traditions in their own ways.
Coming from a large extended family, cooking of all kinds was a tradition, but the sisters’ family especially loved to share sweets recipes. Pugh and Coulston have worked to incorporate some of those family recipes into their business, from their mother’s sugar cookie recipe to their Aunt Niser’s cookie recipe, which features oatmeal, peanut butter, butterscotch and chocolate chips.
“It’s really cool that we were able to take our mom’s recipe and rework it to make it a dough that can make people smile,” Pugh said. “We love to feed people. We love to make people happy through their bellies. [The Dough Parlor] is a way for us to do that and also do something that hasn’t been done here before.”
Going into the future, the sisters have high hopes for success, based on the response they have already had online and on their Facebook page. Ultimately, the sisters hope to one day open a storefront. However, their more immediate goal is to open a food truck for the business, where they can travel to different areas and festivals to sell their dough.
“We literally just started talking about this,” Pugh said. “We think this portable thing would be really cool because we could go anywhere, to any event — graduation parties, weddings, anything really.”
“Plus, the great thing about that is that then the whole city of Niles will know about us,” Coulston added.
Having grown up and spent their entire lives in Niles, Coulston and Pugh said they plan to keep their business in the area, hoping to bring some big city flavor to the small town.
“We love this setting,” Pugh said, her face lighting up as she talks about her home town. “We want to see the city grow and progress, and we want to be a part of that. We really want to bring some life to the downtown area. And with all the life that is coming in already, we think it is a good fit for us.”