On 17th Street in Billings, tucked between two main thoroughfares is a small family run bakery, Caramel Cookie Waffles. For 22 years, the Boogmans Jan and his wife Judy have pressed, baked, and filled countless cookies. Two thin waffle-indented golden brown wafers, the diameter of a fist, sandwich a layer of caramel. From first bite to last, the cookie delicately crumbles only to be immediately enveloped with thick rich sauce. It then melts in the mouth and the memory with gentle flavors of cinnamon, cloves, and vanilla.
The making of the Caramel Cookie Waffle begins the night before. Sugar, butter, and corn syrup boil in a 16-gallon pot. The next morning at 5 a.m., butter and eggs are swished around in an industrial mixer. After the addition of flour, sugar, and spices Jan mixes the dough “just enough.”
Equipment is pushed in and out of place to accommodate every task. The mixer is cleaned and moved to make room for the dough extruder, a machine much like a pasta maker. A repeating rhythmic clack, whack, grind, and squeak resound in the room from the extruder when it comes on. Jan feeds dough he divided up earlier into mounds the size of his head into the machine while Jan collects what Judy calls “dough pillows”, flat round dough pieces that drop out, onto metal trays.
As Jan flicks on a small conveyor belt located next to the cookie oven, he calls out “One minute and we will be going”. Michelle and Jonathan ready themselves by pots of warm caramel. Jan stands in front of the oven with an opening at his chest level, and as wide as outstretched arms. Inside are eight iron griddles on a round track perched over fingers of blue flames. Jan places four “dough pillows” on an iron that automatically moves clockwise, and as it does, the iron closes, cooks, flips over, and cooks some more to open up with golden browned wafers that he lifts off with a spatula.
The cookies go on the conveyor belt, and as they travel down, are trimmed with a round mold and sliced through the middle by a thin wire. Michelle, Jonathan and Alisa pick up the cookie, split it open, spread caramel on and sandwich the cookie back together. No gloves are used, as tactile skills are required in distributing caramel perfectly onto the cookies. 4,000 cookies later and at 9:00 a.m., the Caramel Cookie Waffle making is complete.
Jan professes, “Working hard is relative” as the Boogmans put in 90-hour weeks in six days. But his main goal is customer satisfaction, believing “You are as good as the last meal you serve”, and good meals they are, for lines at lunchtime go out the door. Customers have become family as the bakery is a gathering place for many. All this began with a single Caramel Cookie Waffle and years of hard work.
Thank you to Big Sky Journal, where the original version of this story appeared in the Winter 2014 issue.