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Eat Like a Freshman: Guerilla Cookies

The recipe for this iconic treat is the stuff of campus legend.

Dense, hearty cookies are displayed on a baking sheet. Four cookies on the right side feature red and green candies.

If you were on campus between the late 1960s and the early 1990s, you may be familiar with Guerrilla cookies. The hearty, healthy cookie fed students at the University of Wisconsin–Madison thanks to Ted Odell ’67. 

Odell made these legendary cookies at the Quercus Alba bakery in downtown Madison and sold them on the shelves of Midwestern food co-ops. No one knows the exact recipe for this granola cookie, but many Guerrilla cookie connoisseurs have tried to re-create it. One of those connoisseurs, Dave Denison ’82, worked with Odell as the baker’s assistant.  

Denison has experimented with many variations to try to replicate the original recipe, but nothing has been deemed the Guerrilla cookie. “There was something [Odell] was doing that hasn’t been revealed!” Denison says. Here is his latest recipe for “Almost Guerrilla” cookies. 

Ingredients: 

1 stick of butter (creamed with 2 tbsp brown sugar) 

2 tbsp canola oil 

3 eggs, slightly beaten 

⅔ cup honey 

¼ cup molasses 

2 tsp vanilla 

⅔ cup thick rolled oats  

⅓ cup rolled wheat  

¼ cup millet  

⅔ cup shredded coconut 

⅓ cup chopped walnuts 

⅔ cup raisins 

1 cup whole wheat flour  

½ cup white flour 

⅓ cup buckwheat flour 

⅓ cup dry milk 

¼ cup nutritional yeast 

¼ cup wheat germ (or oat bran) 

1 tbsp baking powder 

½ tsp salt 

Use a mixer to combine the butter and brown sugar. Then add the wet ingredients and the eggs. Next, add the dry ingredients and mix. Drop large dollops (about 2 tablespoons) of dough onto parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Bake at 375 degrees for 16 minutes, until brown around edges and bottom.  

Comments: 

I didn’t have many (okay, most) of the ingredients that this recipe calls for, so making it was truly a group effort thanks to my parents and some of their neighbors who helped to source ingredients. That said, I still had to make a few substitutions. I used avocado oil instead of canola oil, substituted more rolled oats for the rolled wheat, doubled the amount of white flour instead of using buckwheat flour, and added more wheat germ instead of using nutritional yeast.   

Initially the dough was quite loose, which made me nervous. I almost added more flour, but I’m glad I didn’t! The dough solidified as it rested while the oven preheated. The cookies turned out to have a dense texture in the end. After tasting one from the first batch, I did take the liberty of adding M&M’s into the last batch — I can’t help it; I have a sweet tooth.  

Review: 

Call me a grouch, but I was the only one who tried this cookie and wasn’t a fan. It was fine, but it tasted more like granola in the form of a cookie. For someone who loves chocolate and sweets, this didn’t hit the spot. However, my parents and a few of their neighbors tried the cookies and they all enjoyed them. Jill Ellis ’76 said, “I liked the cookie a lot! Nice to eat one that’s relatively healthy for a change. I thought the raisins gave them a nice amount of sweetness.” 

If you’re in the mood for a hearty, healthy ball of soft granola, this recipe is for you! It does make me wonder how close this recipe is to the original. I don’t think the Guerrilla cookie was intended to be something super sweet, so in that respect, this seems like a great re-creation.   

For me, this recipe was more fun to bake than it was to eat, because I got to do it with my mom, and her neighbors are now looking forward to reading this review after helping with ingredients and trying the final product! For more insider info on Odell’s cookie-making operation, read Denison’s story, “A Baker’s Secrets,” in The Baffler. 

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