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Dining Out

Ex-numbers cruncher scores with cookies, some crunchy

Maura Duggan  has seen her nut-free cookie business expand from her Roslindale kitchen in 2004 to a 15,000-square-foot facility in Walpole. She uses all-natural ingredients, including the food coloring.

Photos by Jessica Bartlett for The Boston Globe

Maura Duggan has seen her nut-free cookie business expand from her Roslindale kitchen in 2004 to a 15,000-square-foot facility in Walpole. She uses all-natural ingredients, including the food coloring.

Fancypants Baking Co. started in a kitchen. Not a baker’s kitchen, not a restaurant kitchen, not even a house kitchen. The nationally known, all-natural, nut-free cookie bakery began in a small kitchen in a Roslindale apartment.

Maura Duggan was bored with her day job in statistical analysis. She said she conjured up the idea of a cookie business while daydreaming of a better life.

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“I honestly started thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to bake cookies?’ I liked to bake, but I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to have a business?’ ” she said.

A petite woman with dark hair, Duggan now laughs at the back story. She skipped relevant training — her degrees are in neuroscience and education — and moved right on to taste testing. In her off-hours, she made shortbread from scratch. Justin Housman, who is now her husband, made the cookie cutters by hand. Duggan taught herself how to decorate, from snowmen to school buses to summer sports equipment.

“I had never held a pastry bag before,” she said with a shy smile and a shrug.

Success didn’t take long. In February 2004, Duggan received a license to bake decorated cookies out of her kitchen. By May, the Roche Bros. supermarket chain had signed on to carry the product. Duggan said she immediately quit her day job. Housman followed suit in 2005. The pair have been baking, decorating, and delivering cookies ever since.

It is hard to believe the bakery has such humble beginnings. Since May, the company has been operating out of a 15,000-square-foot facility in Walpole, a squeaky-clean cookie-manufacturing plant that smells of baked butter and sugar.

The company has moved twice since starting in Roslindale, and has added employees. By 2013 there were six. This year, the head count is 22.

Duggan’s cookie offerings have also expanded. “Crunch Cookies” have joined the original decorated shortbread cookie. Fifteen flavors, served in packages of 12, include Chocolate Chip ($6), Double Chocolate Chip ($6), Brown Sugar Oatmeal ($6), and Vanilla Sugar ($6).

But throughout all the growth and change, one thing has remained the same — all of Fancypants’ products are all-natural and nut-free.

Fancypants Baking Co. started with decorated cookies, baked in a Roslindale apartment. Today, the decorated cookies are still one of the company's best sellers.

Jessica Bartlett for The Boston Globe

Fancypants Baking Co. started with decorated cookies, baked in a Roslindale apartment. Today, the decorated cookies are still one of the company's best sellers.

“We had friends with children with severe nut allergies, and their kids could eat our cookies,” Duggan said. “That was really neat, for them. They educated us on how challenging it is to find a fresh baked product that is nut-free.”

Nut-free awareness has since blossomed into a near-religious following. Once people find the cookies — which are available online and at Whole Foods Market, Roche Bros., and nearly 1,000 stores in 30 states — they are customers for life, Duggan said.

The Crunch Cookies, true to their name, had a slightly hardened exterior that gave way to flaky flavor.

Chocolate chip was classically good, with pockets of rich chocolate any cookie lover can appreciate. Double chocolate — a chocolate cookie with chocolate chips — wasn’t sinful, but satisfied the chocolate itch.

Vanilla Sugar tasted more like butter than vanilla, but the result was no less satisfying. Lemon Ginger, the kind of cookie you’d expect paired with tea, also veered slightly from its name. The cookie had higher hints of lemon than any smack of ginger, but was delectable in its own right.

Orange Burst was also unexpected. The name conjured images of orange soda, bursting with artificial fruit flavor. Instead, I was met with a mild-mannered sugar cookie, hints of orange zest peeking out from the butter’s mellow notes.

Brown sugar oatmeal retained its oatmeal texture without losing the crunch. S’mores tasted like marshmallow, had the crunch like a graham cracker, and oozed chocolate from chips spread evenly throughout. Each cookie was different, each a delicious end to any meal.

I’ve never been a fan of decorated cookies: they are usually too bland, too hard, and too frosted. But these are worth buying, at $4 apiece. The baked outer shell gave way to a crumbly, moist center. It tasted traditional, like butter and vanilla.

The frosting — hardened after two to three days of decorating and drying time, was thin enough to add to the cookie’s crunch. Duggan said the all-natural food coloring can be finicky, but the designs were gorgeous and original.

The busy parents of two young boys, Duggan and Housman show no signs of slowing down. They will soon release a crystallized sugar cookie – named Sparkle Cookies – to the masses. The cookie-cutter creations, like the Crunch Cookie flavors, are ever expanding.

The door isn’t closed on other baked goods, Duggan said, but Fancypants is sticking with cookies for now.

You’ll hear no complaints from me.

Jessica Bartlett can be reached at jessica.may.bartlett@gmail.com.
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