Best chocolate chip cookie dough? We rank the house brands

If you were good for Lent (hey, even if you don't practice Lent), then you deserve a cookie for your selfless weeks of sacrifice. Eh: You deserve a cookie anyway. If heaven doesn't have cookies, what fun is that?

So there it is: Thou shalt have a bit of a reward. Mid-term exams were no doubt tough, too, and anyone who knows anything about college knows that chocolate chip cookies represent one of the Four Major Collegiate Food Groups (beer, pizza, and ramen noodles of course being the other three. Duh.)

But wouldn't it be especially sweet to buy a batch of cookie dough from the store that was every bit as delicious as Nestle Toll House, except cheaper? As a smart college student on a budget, you no doubt know how much you can save by baking your own. And if not, well, allow us to show you.

Store Brand Scorecard bought four batches of break-and-bake chocolate chip cookie dough -- including Toll House and three private label equivalents -- to see which cookies were champs and which ones just crumbled. In the interest of fairness, samples from each batch were baked together in the center of a cookie sheet. Even though we all know raw cookie dough is totally delicious, for the sake of your health, don't eat it.

Brand Name: Nestle Toll House
Cost: $2.16 at Wal-Mart. A Chicago-area grocery store listed the shelf price as $4.29 but was selling Toll House at a discounted price of $3.69.
Size: 16.5 ounces (24 cookies)
Nutritional Facts: (For two cookies) 180 calories (80 from fat), 9 grams of fat (13% recommended daily value), 15 milligrams of cholesterol (5% of recommended daily value), 150 milligrams of sodium (6% of recommended daily value)
Taste: Exactly what you'd expect from a basic, baked chocolate chip cookie -- rich but not dense, good assortment of succulent chips. Nice.

The Big Box Store: Walmart
Store Brand Name: Great Value
Cost: $1.98
Size: 16.5 ounces (24 cookies)
Nutritional Facts: (For two cookies) 180 calories (70 from fat), 8 grams of fat (12% recommended daily value), less than five milligrams of cholesterol (1% of recommended daily value), 160 milligrams of sodium (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: This batch is just as good as Toll House, even with some shaved off fat and much less cholesterol (although the sodium level is a tad higher).

The Grocery Store: Dominick's (a subsidiary of Safeway Inc., no. 50 on the Fortune 500 list last year. In addition to its namesake grocery chain and Dominick's, Safeway also owns Vons, Tom Thumb and other stores.
Store Brand Name: Safeway
Cost: $2.89 (on sale for $2.50 at time of purchase)
Size: 16 ounces (24 cookies)
Nutritional Facts: (For two cookies) 170 calories (70 from fat), 8 grams of fat (12% recommended daily value), less than five milligrams of cholesterol (1% of recommended daily value), 160 milligrams of sodium (7% recommended daily value)
Taste: The ingredients and nutritional stats are exactly identical to Great Value, and the taste is pretty comparable as well, making Safeway a close replica of Toll House. I thought the chips in Great Value and Toll House were more plentiful though, and Safeway's serving size is a bit smaller.

The Mini-Market: Aldi
Store Brand Name: Buehler's
Cost: $1.89
Size: 16 ounces (24 cookies)
Nutritional Facts: (For two cookies) 180 calories (80 from fat), 9 grams of fat (13% recommended daily value), 15 milligrams of cholesterol (5% recommended daily value), 150 milligrams of sodium (6% recommended daily value)
Taste: Not bad per se, but my least favorite. The cookie was the smallest and thinnest in the bunch, and there weren't enough chocolate chips in my book.

Greatest Value: If you're a real stickler about price, Aldi's Buehler's brand is the cheapest, but it's also the least satisfying. Value score on a scale of 0 to 10: 6.

Toll House is a fine brand of cookies, but for standard chocolate chip, it's not any better than Great Value and Safeway. And at the same time, it has more fat, more than three times the cholesterol, and it costs more too. Although, surprise twist, Toll House at Walmart actually costs less than the store brand at Dominick's. Value score: 7.

Safeway also makes an adequate cookie, but it's pretty pricey for a store brand, even though you'll save money compared with buying Toll House at a Safeway store. Value score: 7.

That leaves Great Value the winner of this challenge. Walmart's chocolate chip cookie dough at least lives up to the brand name, being one of the cheapest tested (less than 10 cents more than Aldi) and equal in quality to Toll House. Value score: 9.

Piet Levy's Store Brand Scorecard tests a major-label food product and three private-label equivalents to see which brand offers the best value for the price. It appears every other Tuesday. Send suggestions to Piet at moneycollege@walletpop.com.

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