I was reading a forum recently and came across the topic of who has the best cookies in town. It wasn’t my town; it was Dallas, and a few people said the best cookies were the sugar cookies from Potbelly Sandwiches. Interesting. There’s a Potbelly store not too far from my house, but I’d never been in and of course, had never tried their sugar cookies. Guess what I bought that very afternoon?
Potbelly sells their cookies at the front register. They have sugar cookies, dream bars and oatmeal cookies, but since the sugar cookies had the most Internet raves, I bought one of those. It was about 4 inches in diameter, weighed a little over 4 oz, was wrapped in a cellophane bag, kind of flat but not too flat, and covered with red sprinkles. As for the taste, it tasted a bit like artificial butter flavoring, vanilla and almond and it kind of reminded me of the flavor of refrigerated Pillsbury or Nestle dough. The texture was interesting. When you pick the cookie up, you can feel it give a little — like it’s going to bend and break. It’s doughy in the middle (which is an attribute people seem to like) and really dense. I prefer a crispy cookie myself, but since this is one of those cookies with a cult following, I figured it would be worth trying to to make here at home.
Potbelly’s cookies didn’t come with an ingredient label, so to get started I used a cookie recipe with similar flavors — the Perfect Chewy Sugar Cookies from Fine Cooking. Using that recipe as a starting point, I made a half batch using a little butter flavored shortening in place of the small amount of shortening in the cookies. I also made the cookies very large, and made sure to under-bake them a little. The large cookies were good, but not quite like Potbelly’s. While the flavor was definitely close (I think Potbelly uses some sort of artificial butter flavoring or possibly butter flavored shortening), Potbelly’s were softer, slightly sweeter and a little darker. Plus, they didn’t crack as much and had a more uniform texture — less contrast between the “shell” and the interior. And Potbelly’s were still heavier. When I tried to bake a 4 oz blob of Perfect Sugar Cookie dough, it spread into a large, flat cookie. Potbelly’s cram a lot of dough into 4 inches.
So I made some adjustments. Many. And after several half batches and two days of feeling very unhealthy, I decided to look at some other base recipes. Why I didn’t think of this sooner, I can’t say, but the Otis Spunkmeyer clone seemed a better jumping off point. It had more fat (for the density), was browner (more brown sugar) and I noticed the recipe clone on the Internet used half butter and half butter-flavored shortening, which I already suspected was key since there was a hint of artificial butter flavoring in Potbelly’s. Here’s what the dough looked like before baking.
But I had to make changes to the Otis recipe as well. To make the cookies softer, I used cake flour. Because Potbelly’s cookies were darker, I incorporated some baking soda and cut down on baking powder.
The dough started out very soft, but after a 10 minute chill it was extremely easy to handle and easy to mold into little puck-like shapes above. I baked at 350 for 15 minutes and didn’t get the doughy effect (plus the cookies spread more), then tried 375 for 12 minutes and got just what I wanted. The cookies still spread a little more than Potbelly’s and I wouldn’t call them identical, but they’re very close.
I had good and bad feedback from the original recipe, but since posting this I’ve done more experimenting and have updated the recipe to make it more reliable and even better tasting. Instead of cake flour, I switched to bleached all-purpose. Bleached is usually a little softer than unbleached and doesn’t spread quite as much. I also reversed the amounts of brown and white sugar, incorporated some corn syrup, and used melted butter instead of softened butter to make the texture less cakey. And finally, instead of the almond extract I made a batch of these with McCormick Imitation Vanilla Butter & Nut Flavor, 2-Ounce Unit. I had to order it off Amazon because it’s not an extract my grocery store sells, but it was JUST what these cookies needed.
Give them a try and let me know what you think. They’re still not quite the same as Potbelly’s, but they’re really good as far as sugar cookies go. Also, be careful not to over-bake them. You might even want to bake one cookie at a time just to nail down the exact bake time in your oven. Mine were perfect when baked at 375 for about 12 minutes, then left to cool completely.
Similar to Potbelly Sugar Cookies
- 6.8 oz bleached AP flour 1 ½ cups
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter (57 grams
- 4 tablespoons regular or butter flavored shortening 48 grams
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons light corn syrup
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 large egg 46 grams**
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract or use McCormick Vanilla Butter & Nut Extract
- 1/4 teaspoon almond extract or use another 1/4 teaspoon of extra vanilla if using the Vanilla Butter & Nut Extract
- Thoroughly mix together the flour, baking powder and baking soda; set aside.
- Melt the butter in a microwave-safe mixing bowl. Add the shortening and stir until shortening starts to melt, then add both sugars and stir until smooth. Stir in the corn syrup, salt, egg, vanilla and almond extract.
- Add the flour mixture stirring just until it’s incorporated. Dough should be soft. Put bowl in the refrigerator for about 10 minutes to make it easier to handle.
- Divide dough into 4 balls (each one should weight around 4 oz). Using the bottom of a glass, press each ball in the center to make a round disk about 2 ½ inches side with an indentation in the center (see photo above). Put the round disks in the refrigerator, cover with some plastic wrap and chill thoroughly.
- To bake, preheat oven to 375 degrees F and line a heavy duty cookie sheet with parchment paper. Arrange dough pieces about 3 inches apart on cookie sheet and sprinkle centers with sprinkles.
- Bake for 12 minutes or until the cookies appear set and slightly brown around the edges. Remove the cookies from the oven and while they are still hot, tap the sides inward with a spatula so that they are closer to being perfectly circular.
- Let cool on cookie sheet for about 5 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool completely. Cookies should be lightly browned on the outside and slightly doughy on the inside.Let the cookies cool on the sheet for at least 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Makes 4 giant cookies
The Potbelly wrapper has the ingredients listed: Enriched flour, butter, sugar, brown sugar, whole eggs, sodium bicarbonate, salt, water, natural and artificial flavor. No baking powder, shortening, or corn syrup. Maybe pineapple or almond or vanilla or nut & butter extract, if that might be included in “natural and artificial flavor.” But I’m very sensitive to almond extract, and haven’t detect that flavor in actual Potbelly sugar cookies.
Yes! I liked the pineapple extract, but the flavoring that reminded me of Potbelly’s was actually McCormick’s Butter & Nut extract which can be found in some grocery stores and bought on-line. Also, the recipe that I now think is most like Potbelly’s is this one. It has a combination of cream cheese and oil which gives it an interesting texture.
Have you had a chance to try them with the pineapple extract, and if so did you like it? My husband is just crazy about Potbelly’s sugar cookies so I can hardly wait to try your recipe!
Oh my gracious! These are amazing. Better than Potbelly in my opinion! Thank you so much for posting and researching. Can’t wait to share with my family and son’s teachers:)
I also doubled my recipe and I thought that perhaps that could change the flavoring but I don’t know. They still tasted amazing.
I tried this recipe out a couple weeks ago.. I LOVED IT! It tastes so much like the PotBelly cookies.
I did not have Almond Extract when I made mine, but I thought it tasted just fine. I think to really get the taste of the creaminess of the cookie, you do have to flatten it out a good bit. I only fit 4 cookies on one normal sized cookie pan and it fit pretty well.
I will be making these for a LONG time!! (I’m actually getting my ingredients together now so they’ll be ready by the end of the day!)
First off, thanks for being so thoughtful in your critique. Not everyone is as nice! LOL. Mine weren’t dry, but there are so many variables that could contribute — weight of flour is the big one. If you didn’t weigh the flour with a scale, it’s possible you used more than I did. And you DID use cake flour, so that’s good, but I always test with Swan’s Down, so maybe you used Soft as Silk or Presto or Self Rising and got different results. Did you cut the sugar? Sugar helps maintain moisture and helps the cookies spread, so if you didn’t pack your brown sugar quite as much as I did, that could play into it.
What’s interesting is JayRay’s cookies spread too much! So here we have the same recipe where one person’s spread too much, while the other cookies didn’t spread at all. Looks like I need to run a test and be more specific with what brands I used, the weight of the brown sugar, etc. I have the ingredients so I’ll run another test today and see if I can figure out what’s going on. I haven’t made these in a while.
In the meantime, try the Fine Cooking sugar cookies I linked to. They’re really good!
Thanks for doing all this testing. I am an extreme novice when it comes to baking but I have a huge soft spot for the PB sugar cookie. So after putting it off for a bit I finally tried this recipe. I too chilled the whole cookie sheet during the three hour chilling and my cake flour may have been a bit under . The cookies came out and didn’t spread at all, instead I don’t think I pressed them out far enough as the entire cookie ended up being about twice as thick as the typical PB cookie, which is not too much of a problem for me personally. The color on both the underside and the edges was perfect.
The real problem I experienced, though, is that the cookie turned out to be incredibly dry. I sat down with a cup of milk and drank the whole thing after 3 bites. The flavor seems to be there or very very close but the lack of doughy moisture killed it unfortunately. Do you have any idea what would cause that? Perhaps I didn’t mix the ingredients properly?
Thanks for your help and for the site, it looks great.
Well thanks for being diligent! Maybe it does have something to do with altitude. I wish I knew more about baking at different altitudes, but it’s a subject that completely foreign to me at this point in time.
I tried again today and this time didn’t get enough spread . . . I did up the flour content, lowered the baking powder to 1/4 tsp and increased the oven temperature. So the happy medium is somewhere in between I guess. I do live at 2000 ft. so that could have something to do with it also. Anyway, thanks again.
I’ll make a batch today and see if I can isolate the problem.
Interesting about the chilled cookie sheet! I may try baking two of the cookies on a cold cookie sheet just to see what happens.
What brand of cake flour do you use? I use either Swan’s Down or my grocery store’s house brand. I think both of them are bleached, and sometimes cookies made with bleached flour don’t spread as much as unbleached. So if you chance you are using cookies made with unbleached cake flour (KA makes it), that might have something to do with it.
Also, you might want to weigh your brown sugar just for kicks. Sometimes the volume amounts very due to moisture and brands. I think I use Imperial, but will check today.
Thank you for the troubleshooting tips. I’ll try again and chill the dough longer, I did put the whole cookie sheet in the refrigerator to chill the dough – maybe that had something to do with it. I did use the called for shortening and light brown sugar. I’ll weight my flour next time (instead of using a cup) and use a different baking powder. I am very impressed with the actual cookie flavor – it is just as good if not better than PB. Thanks again!
Hmm, let’s troubleshoot.
–Did you happen to substitute use butter instead of shortening? Omitting the shortening and using butter in its place could cause spreading.
— Did you use dark brown sugar instead of light?
— Is it possible you used a very, very light hand with the flour and got under 6.25 ounces?
–Is your baking powder out of date?
— Did you chill the rounds of dough? Sometimes you can skip that step, but with this recipe it’s important.
Let me know if any of these apply. Sometimes it’s other things like brands of flour, oven temp or cookie sheets, but this recipe is pretty straightforward and seems to work.
The taste of the cookie is fairly close to the real thing. I’m not sure how you got your cookies to stay so thick, I followed the recipe/instructions closely and got major spreading.
I LOVE potbelly’s sugar cookies! It takes everything in me to not buy them every time!! Thanks for the recipe:)
Wow, thanks for that hot tip! Now I’m going to try to find some pineapple extract.
Potbelly Sugar Cookies DO NOT have Almond Extract in them. Potbelly’s secret ingredient that makes them so unique is Pineapple Extract. Use 1/4 teaspoon of Pineapple Extract instead of Almond Extract.
I LOVE Potbelly’s sugar cookies. Thanks for the recipe! I unfortunely left Chicago and live in Kansas. I tried this recipe and they are great! I split the recipe in 8ths and thought the first batch at 12 min. came out perfect but the second at 12 came a little overdone. Next time, I will cut the second time to 10 min. I also make my own amaretto. I think I will substitute that next time!
Could you do the same experiment with the oatmeal chocolate chip cookie from Potbelly’s?
Karen, thanks for the tip on the Paradise Bakery recipe. I think I may have tried that recipe or put it in my collection at one point, but I don’t remember making it.
About Potbelly, you aren’t the only one who’s found them underwhelming. I think they appeal to people who like cookie dough or just really dough, heavy, cookies. I’m going to try the Paradise recipe. Thanks again.
I just found your site and absolutely love it!!!! I was intrigued by the “cult” following of the Pot Belly sugar cookie and you trying to duplicate it. So I sent my husband for sandwiches and of course the “infamous” sugar cookie!
I have eaten and baked a lot of sugar cookies during my lifetime and have to say,” I DON’T GET IT!” I did not dislike the cookie but it definitely was not spectacular!!! If you want to MAKE/TRY an EXCEPTIONAL SUGAR COOKIE, Paradise Bakery is the one!!! This cookie melts in your mouth, they are crumbly with a semi-crisp outside and soft in the inside. These are the most incredible cookies ever!!!!!
The Original PARADISE BAKERY RECIPE was printed in the Arizona Republic newspaper in 2001. The recipe I use can be found at
http://www.food.com. Search for “World Famous Paradise Bakery Sugar Cookies.” Read the reviews for this recipe; I guarantee you will not be disappointed with this recipe!!!
I was near a Potbelly sandwich shop at lunchtime yesterday and remembered your experiment so I purchased one of their sugar cookies for dessert. I liked the edges, but didn’t love the softer centers.
You’re really a trooper for doing the extensive testing to come up with clones like this!
This comment is about the potbelly sugar cookies you posted a while back…I was there today and remembered to try the cookie. Now they have the ingredients on the back of the wrapper. Mine was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I do think they could have used a pinch of salt to add some depth of flavor. It seems they use more white than brown sugar and just plain old butter. It still like crispy sugar cookies the best.
Bless you, Anna! To me, Potbelly cookies are sugar cookie perfection and the possibility of making them at home is exciting! Thanks for doing the R&D on this one!!
It’s great that you are taking the time to really test, experiment, and create new recipes! I know from experience that it is really hard to come up with a version of an existing recipe–but it is always so gratifying when you succeed. And once you learn the key secrets, you never forget them. Keep up the good work!
Actually, I think Potbelly’s oatmeal chocolate chip cookies are TO DIE FOR. You can get a giant one that’s perfectly crisp on the edges and soft in the middle or a bag of bite-size ones.
The be all, end all though, is the Oreo smoothie. YUM!
Yeah, I’m kind of a Potbelly’s fanatic.
Hannah at FleurDeLicious
I’ve never tried Potbelly’s sugar cookies, but Otis Spunkmeyer brings back memories of middle school. They used to sell them at our gym concession stand, and I would buy them after difficult volleyball practices. YUM. Thanks for testing so diligently and sharing!
I applaud the extensive research on this, a lot of time and tasting was expended on your part! I love sugar cookies, all kinds, but I can see why that soft texture appeals to many. For my bday on Wednesday I treated myself to a sugar cookie (two) from a local bakery. One of my friends and I feel that this bakery has the old fashioned recipe down pat! I never tire of trying new sugar cookie recipes at home, wish I was your neighbor so I could have helped in the testing!
[email protected] Caramel Cookie
A Potbelly’s just opened opened near my house. Now I’m going to have to try their cookies :).
Jenny W (The Housewife Project)
I never knew about using cake flour to make cookies softer. Thanks for the tip!
I recently just had my first potbelly cookie and loved it!! Mine did have an ingredient list and I looked to see if there was anything unusual. Just butter, brown sugar, vanilla, flour…nothing unusual, maybe milk? Anyways thanks for the recipe, excited to try it!!!
I love sugar cookies with almond extract! These look yummy! My husband loves to go to Potbelly and I’ve seen those cookies, but never tried one. I will next time!
These look fantastic. And I love the fact that you made so many test batches, I’m quite envious :). How many cookies did you enjoy eating before you felt like you “had” to eat them :)?
Try the Cooks Illustrated one from a couple of months ago that has a tiny bit of cream cheese. The texture of it sounds like it *might* be what you’re describing.
I love the name! 😉
Debbi Does Dinner Healthy
I love when you do many half batches and test out a cookie. That means it’s really good! I’ve never had Potbellys but these I want to try! Thanks!
natalie (the sweets life)
great recipe trials there! i love potbelly’s shakes but i’ve never had their cookies! i’ll have to try your version though 🙂