Meet Jess Murgittroyd, a Vegan Cookie Master

The self-taught pastry chef perfected a recipe for plant-based chocolate chip cookies, available through her Whippany-based wholesale bakery, Root 9.

Jess Murgittroyd baking her vegan chocolate chip cookies at Root 9 Baking Company. Photo courtesy of Justin Kompier

Some small business owners end up there more by accident than ambition. Not Jess Murgittroyd. Self-taught pastry chef, Bergen County native, and founder of both Green City Pops and, as of two years ago, Root 9 Baking Company, Murgittroyd wanted to be an entrepreneur since she was little. Not only did she teach herself pastry, but when she went vegan two years ago, she basically re-taught herself everything, except this time without eggs, butter and dairy. Her goal: to make a “veganized” version of the classic chocolate chip cookie. Murgittroyd insists you can’t tell the difference between her vegan cookie and the non-vegan version.

We caught up the pastry chef to talk about why (and how) vegan cookies, what’s next for a vegan baking business in our semi-health-obsessed era, and when we should expect to see her cookies on retail shelves.

Table Hopping: You’re a self-taught pastry chef, but how did you get into vegan cookies?
JM: I had been vegetarian for about four years. I went vegan two years ago. Being a pastry chef, I just couldn’t find any good vegan cookies! I love chocolate chip cookies, obviously, so I decided to veganize a lot of my recipes.

TH: What did that look like?
JM: It’s actually like re-learning pastry. It’s challenging. Having the fundamentals, just knowing how to bake traditionally definitely helped me a ton with vegan baking. I would literally just think about egg replacers, what could I use, what would be a good binder. You have to think outside the box. For instance, I created a butter recipe. It’s a base of coconut oil. I emulsify it and it creams and whips just like butter would.

TH: And egg substitutes? We just covered aquafaba—or chickpea brine—in cocktails. How does it work in cookies?
JM: Essentially, we’re replacing protein of the egg with the protein of the chickpea. Aquafaba acts as a binder. It really holds all our ingredients together. And it doesn’t taste like anything.

TH: That’s probably a big question for non-vegans. Your cookies look like the classic version, but do ingredient substitutions change the flavor?
JM: You can’t taste it whatsoever. Really, I like to have people taste the cookies; after the fact, I tell them they’re vegan and minds are blown. You’d never know these cookies are plant-based. They taste like their butter counterparts.

TH: Do you use any local ingredients?
JM: We’re actually using a locally-milled flower. Well, we use a combination of King Arthur flour—they’re Vermont-based—and Farmers Ground Flour. They’re in New York State.

Vegan chocolate chip cookies from Root 9 in Whippany. Photo courtesy of Justin Kompier

TH: Currently you do Chocolate Chip, Double Chocolate, Birthday Cake, and Classic Oatmeal cookies. Any plans on new flavors?
JM: We’re actually always in R&D. Soon, we’re launching our own line of bars: brownies, blondies. We actually just launched our “Brookie”—half brownie, half cookie. Eventually we want to get a little crazy with flavors—have some fun, funky flavors, do a “Kitchen Sink” cookie with potato chips and stuff. Really get crazy. We actually have equipment to make stuffed cookies as well, so eventually we can do a Caramel-stuffed or an Apple Pie-stuffed Oatmeal Cookie.

TH: There’s lots of specialized, even vegan, baked goods out there these days. Why chocolate chip cookies?
JM: No one’s really doing this on a food-service level. For instance, you can’t find Impossible Burgers in stores. It’s only available to purchase through restaurants and big distribution centers. We saw nobody was doing vegan cookie dough on that level. And the cookies that I have tasted that are vegan, for me—well, I’m very picky about my chocolate chip cookies. I just kind of said to myself “I can make this better.” That’s how Root 9 came to be.

TH: But you’re not a retail store, correct?
JM: We have the online store, but we’re basically a wholesale bakery. We bake in Whippany. We have distribution through US Foods. Our cookies are available to purchase wholesale in the whole northeast region.

TH: Do you have any plans to go retail? Right now there’s no packaged “Root 9” cookie available in stores.
JM: We’re not really focusing right now on retail. In about a year-and-a-half to two years, we want to do a retail launch, break into the supermarket game, but right now, we’re focusing on our food-service side of things—bulk packaging, ready-to-bake cookie dough. We send it out and the customer bakes them on site. Or they can keep them in the freezer and bake off as they need them. The customer’s always getting a fresh-baked cookie, and there’s no waste involved. It’s a win-win.

TH: What kind of places are you selling to?
JM: Any restaurant, bakery, coffee shop, hotel, colleges, universities, even health care systems. Hospitals systems are getting so many more requests for plant-based. They love the fact that we’re dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free. Eventually, when we go retail, we’ll have individually-wrapped cookies and bars. We’ll also have our cookie dough for sale in the refrigerated section… By 2021, we hope to be national. On the West Coast.

Root 9 doesn’t do retail yet, but they are still doing pop-ups—“we limit it to maybe under 10 a year”—and the next is July 13 at the NJ Veg Fest in Atlantic City.

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