We’re in the middle of Girl Scout cookie season, and that means people around the country are reveling in the delights of Samoas, Tagalongs, Trefoils, Do-si-Dos and Thin Mints. Err, or maybe they’re eating Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Shortbread, Peanut Butter Sandwiches and Thin Mints.
Two hundred million boxes of Girl Scout cookies are sold every year, but which one ends up on your kitchen counter is determined by where you live in the U.S. As it turns out, there are two different bakers of Girl Scout cookies in America. Some regions get Little Brownie Bakers, who make Thin Mints, Samoas, Tagalongs, Do-si-dos, Trefoils, Lemon-Ups, Girl Scout S'mores and Toffee-tastic. Other regions are supplied by ABC Bakers, who make Thin Mints, Caramel deLites, Peanut Butter Patties, Peanut Butter Sandwich, Shortbread, Lemonades, Girl Scout S'mores, Toast-Yay! and Caramel Chocolate Chip.
It’s rare to be able to find both in one area to compare them. Luckily, our friends at Grubhub, who partnered with Girl Scouts in 2021 to deliver cookies during the coronavirus pandemic, sent us both versions of four Girl Scout cookies: Thin Mints (which share their name across both bakeries1), Samoas/Caramel deLites, Trefoils/Shortbread, and Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties.
Though the idea was to go into this taste test as a blind one, this former Girl Scout of eight years ran into a big problem when photographing the cookies. They didn’t just have different bakers, they looked completely different. I couldn’t blindly taste a Samoa vs. a Caramel deLite because I could instantly tell which one was the cookie I grew up with, which happened to be Little Brownie Bakers, the makers of Samoas, Tagalongs and Trefoils.
So, instead of focusing on which cookie was better blindly I instead tried to really taste and analyze the differences in detail in order to decipher which version is best for what kind of cookie fan. For the purposes of said taste test, I had a big glass of vanilla soy milk and plenty of water on hand to dip all of these goodies and cleanse my palate.
You may think a shortbread cookie is a shortbread cookie, but just looking at ABC Bakers’ Shortbread versus Little Brownie Bakers’ Trefoils proved otherwise. Appearance-wise, ABC Bakers’ Shortbread had no holes, thick lines on the Girl Scout logo and was a slightly thinner cookie than Little Brownies’, which had thinner lines in the logo and six holes in the cookie. The thinner lines are also a bit more raised, giving the Trefoils a bit more of a golden brown color.
ABC had a sweet, sugary and very vanilla taste with a nice crispy bite. Little Brownie Bakers' Trefoils show the other side of the shortbread coin, with a very buttery flavor and tiny notes of salt and vanilla. Trefoils were still crisp cookies, though they were slightly less so than the Shortbreads.
Growing up, I found Trefoils to be quite the dull cookie, but as a 29-year-old, I find myself enjoying its simplicity. Which is better? Well, that is hard to say, and will boil down to what you look for in a classic shortbread. If you like a golden, buttery flavor, the Trefoil is your girl; if you're a vanilla fan, seek out the Shortbread.
The first thing you notice when you take the Little Brownie Bakers Tagalongs out of the box is that a little bit of milk chocolate is going to get on your fingers. These cookies are soft on the outside thanks to the chocolate, but when you smell them, there's almost no cocoa. You get a whiff of pure peanut butter. That nuttiness follows through into a bite of the cookie, which tastes like Peanut Butter Captain Crunch with a big pocket of peanut butter in the middle — you know, for good measure.
Aesthetically, ABC Bakers' Peanut Butter Patties were a darker shade of brown, and they were smoother looking. While soft to the touch, chocolate didn't immediately translate to my hands. These cookies had more of a balance between the peanut butter and chocolate flavor. They smelled like a Reese's, but tasted like natural peanut butter with a bit of semisweet chocolate surrounding it. While Tagalongs had a pocket of peanut butter, the Peanut Butter Patties had a thin layer, evenly distributed across the cookie, leading to a consistent snacking experience. These cookies had a crunch, and I could taste a touch of vanilla in the wafer.
Tagalongs may be a bit more kid-friendly as they’re slightly sweeter and the pocket of peanut butter is a fun surprise. But, if you’re looking for a “mature” version of a chocolate and peanut butter cookie, the classic peanut flavor of the Peanut Butter Patty may be preferable.
Thin Mints are the one cookie that we tried that has the same name at both Little Brownie Bakers and ABC Bakers, but that's about where the similarities end. Little Brownie's Thin Mints were a smooth perfect circle, with six holes and a dark chocolate color. Meanwhile, ABC Bakers’ Thin Mints were, well, thinner, almost like a Ritz Cracker, and the cookie had ridges like a cracker too. It also had numerous holes and a slightly chalkier appearance.
Beyond appearances, Little Brownie Bakers’ Thin Mints were a sweet cookie with a more subtle note of chocolate and a very cooling mint flavor. The cookie itself was crisp and slightly crumbly, making for a very pleasant bite. The ABC Bakers version of this cookie threw me the most. First off, it smelled more strongly of mint. That slightly stronger mint scent carried through to the flavor, which was also less sweet and less chocolaty.
It'd be hard to turn down a Thin Mint in any form, and while ABC Bakers’ Thin Mint was off putting at first, I came around to it a bit. However, I preferred the richer chocolate flavor and cool mint of the Little Brownies Baker over ABC Bakers’ crunchy version.
Samoas vs. Caramel deLites had the biggest visual difference. Both feature caramel coating, toasted coconut and a chocolate drizzle, but the coconut and chocolate were significantly darker on the Samoas. The chocolate drizzle on the Samoas was in a wavy line, while Caramel deLites were straight lines and slightly thinner.
Growing up, Samoas were my favorite Girl Scout cookie. And Samoas, made by Little Brownie Bakers, hold up even though it's been 15-plus years since I sold these cookies myself. The primary flavor of a Samoa is dark chocolate, which coats the bottom in a nice, thin layer in addition to being drizzled on top. Second, you get a subtle, sweet coconut flavor and a little bit of a vanilla cookie. I had to really search for the caramel in this cookie, it got a little bit lost in the chocolate.
Meanwhile, the Caramel deLites were much heavier on the coconut flavor, followed by a kiss of caramel and a touch of a milkier chocolate. The cookie itself in the Caramel deLite similarly got lost like it did in the Samoa, but the entire cookie experience was a delight, and the slightly softer texture of the Caramel deLite was quite pleasing.
If you’re a fan of chocolate above all else and particularly are fond of dark chocolate, then the Samoa should be your go-to. If you enjoy a lighter chocolate flavor and are feeling more like coconut and prefer a little more cookie than stuff, then you’ll be a fan of Caramel deLites.
It’s not surprising that you can take the same concept for a cookie and even the same basic ingredients and come out with two different treats, which is what I discovered when tasting ABC Bakers vs. Little Brownie Bakers.
The flavors seemed to be a lot more intense (and sweet) in the Little Brownie Bakers cookies. These cookies had more chocolate, more peanut butter, more butter, more vanilla. And that’s certainly appealing for Girl Scout-aged kids, but adults may find the sweetness to be a bit too much (but this adult did not). ABC Bakers had subtle flavors and less stuff going on, and few cookies proved that more than the Caramel deLites.
With the exception of Tagalongs/Peanut Butter Patties, Little Brownie Bakers versions of these cookies were far superior. (Tagalongs were just too sweet for this gal!) Girl Scout cookies should be fun, and that comes with big flavors. I also appreciate the more joyful names that Little Brownie Bakers have. Shortbread = tired. Trefoils = wired. Luckily, no matter where you live, you’re going to have a good time eating Girl Scout cookies.