The first article I ever wrote for Serious Eats was about my deep and abiding love for Oreos, and homemade Oreos grace the cover of my cookbook. So it should be obvious by now that I'm pretty dang fond of this cookie, whether it's store-bought or homemade (I'm not here to cookie-shame).
For me, the allure of a from-scratch Oreo (or any copycat recipe, really) comes down to the satisfaction of making something by hand. I like baking. I like playing with real butter and sugar. I like how the dough feels in my hands, and the way my kitchen smells when there's a tray full of cookies in the oven. I love the way these cookies taste so comfortingly familiar after a good soak in a glass of milk.
For me, it's a fine way to spend an afternoon—not that homemade Oreos will take that long! They need less than an hour from start to finish, with very little in the way of special ingredients or equipment. In the end, it's a pretty simple chocolate shortbread combined with a clarified-butter filling (more on that in a bit); whether you dress it up with an embossed rolling pin is strictly a matter of personal taste.
The dough starts out with a combination of butter, sugar, and golden syrup (plus baking soda and salt), creamed up until fluffy and light. The golden syrup adds a subtle caramel note, and also provides enough moisture to bind the eggless dough together. This reduces the overall water content, limiting gluten formation so the cookies turn out crisp rather than tough, despite all the kneading and rolling and re-rolling they'll endure.
It's finished with a blend of high-fat Dutch-process cocoa powder and all-purpose flour—as with all the recipes in my cookbook, I strongly recommend red/white wheat flour blends, such as bleached Gold Medal flour, for a perfect balance of protein and starch.
Once the dough comes together in the mixer, knead it until smooth, then divide it in half. It should feel stiff and thick, but not crumbly. (This can happen when using the wrong types of flour, or if the ingredients are too cold and/or not creamed long enough.)
To keep the dough beautifully dark, it's dusted and rolled with cocoa powder. Don't be shy! The dough is more than capable of handling it, and there's no reason to deal with obnoxious sticking when excess cocoa can simply be brushed away.
Thanks to all that cocoa, it's easy to roll the dough until it's ultra thin—just an eighth of an inch thick. That's an important measurement, because not only will the wafers puff as they bake, they'll also be paired with a "creme" filling. Keeping the wafers thin ensures the finished sandwich cookie is delicate and crisp. Plus, when the dough is too thick, the yield will be lower as well.
If you're very experienced with handling cookie dough, a fun trick is to emboss the dough with a decorative pin. For first-timers, I recommend simply rolling the dough flat. It takes practice to comfortably roll a dough to an eighth of an inch, and embossed pins can be a little tricky to master, so it's not worth the frustration if you're new to rolling doughs. But for those who've been around the block a time or two before, it's a beautiful touch for homemade Oreos.
Whether the dough is plain or embossed, loosen it from the counter with an offset spatula, then cut the cookies into one-and-a-half-inch rounds. They'll spread a touch in the oven, but can be arranged fairly close together on a parchment-lined half sheet pan.
Don't worry if the wafers look reddish-brown at this stage; they'll darken to an inky black as they bake, thanks to the alkalinity of the dough. For that reason, normal visual cues, like "bake until golden brown," fly out the window, so it's better to trust your other senses: Bake the chocolate wafers until they're fragrant and firm to the touch, about 15 minutes at 350°F or 180°C (though the exact timing will vary depending on the specific thickness of the dough).
When the wafers have cooled, flip half of them over, then get started on the filling—when it's ready to go, you'll need to work fast. For most DIY Oreos, that filling is a simple mix of butter and powdered sugar, a style that's inevitably soft and squishy at room temperature. But that's just a reflection of how those ingredients interact, with the water content in butter working to melt a portion of the powdered sugar. That dilemma can be overcome by increasing the sheer volume of powdered sugar, but this also makes the filling hyper-sweet and too stiff to pipe.
Instead, an easy work-around is to melt the butter, then simmer to drive off all the water—sort of like a rough clarified butter, or a cheater's ghee. That way, it won't negatively affect the powdered sugar, which can actually taste pretty good if you buy the right kind.
The hot butter reduces the grit of the powdered sugar without melting it, and they whip together into a thick and creamy paste. While it's still mixing, fit a large pastry bag with a half-inch round tip. The filling is gonna be thick, and that whole "snip a corner off a zip-top bag" thing won't do.
Pipe a quarter-ounce blob of warm filling onto the bottoms of half the chocolate wafers (no need to be precise), then sandwich with the remaining wafers. You don't need to work at breakneck speed, but it's important to finish up sooner rather than later, as the filling will stiffen as it cools. Not a little, but a lot—as thick and stiff as the filling in a real Oreo, so it behaves the same way, down to that little stutter of resistance as the wafers twist apart.
It also means the filling will stay put even at room temperature, so you don't have to worry about it squishing out the sides....
....even after a good old-fashioned dunk. So preheat the oven, roll up your sleeves, and grab a gallon of milk. It's time to bake!