YWCA Cookies

Watch your backs, Girl Scouts. This was way ahead of your time, Mrs. Fields.

Apparently, the YWCA ladies can bake a pretty mean cookie.

1919 YWCA Poster

It all started when I had a hankering for some chocolate chip cookies. I found a 1977 article buried in the back of the Washington Post that began thus:

It is highly unlikely that the Downtown YWCA’s recipe for chocolate-chip cookies will ever be revealed. But that doesn’t stop people from asking. Or from trying to reproduce it.

The popularity of the cookies has fended off competition from Famous Amos and the Famous Amos knock-off called The Famous.

But a cooking teacher in Arlington took up the chocolate-chip cookie challenge two years ago when the Y re-buffed her request for the recipe.

This teacher, a Mrs. Carol Finkelstein, spent two years trying to recreate this famous recipe — at one point, the article says, she even considered taking the YWCA cookie to be analyzed by a lab.

But if this cookie is so legendary, why haven’t I heard of it? Famous Amos, sure. Toll House, of course. The Neiman Marcus urban legend, yes. But I’ve certainly never been to a YWCA or a YMCA and discovered cookies so good they prompted a two-year quest for the recipe.

I was so perplexed I e-mailed the PR coordinator for the YWCA in Washington, D.C. Apparently, my ignorance was so profoundly idiotic that it didn’t warrant a response. So I stepped up my online investigation.

The National Capital Area YWCA recently held a YWCA cookie bake-off, in the spirit of those great original cookies. Again, though, this article assumes I already know the wonder of the cookies! The article goes on to explain that thousands of these cookies were sold from one YWCA in ONE DAY. Barbara Bush and Sandra Day O’Connor are apparently big fans.

But this is the only non-newspaper place where I can find mention of the “famous” treat. Frankly, the Post and the New York Times seem borderline obsessed with them. This Post article provides a pretty good history of the cookie, which was baked by the same four women from 1951 to 1981.

I think a large part of my intense curiosity surrounding these cookies is the fact that I am so perplexed that something treated as common knowledge in several articles was so totally foreign to me. Reporters constantly struggle to walk the line between making sure their readers have all the background information they need without making the article sound like they’re talking down to readers.

For example, I feel as though people in my generation chuckle a bit when local news stations do specials on Internet predators or the newest, hip thing for kids. I wonder if my great-aunt would be laughing similarly at me and my twitterpations over a freaking famous cookie. (P.S. My spellcheck recognized “twitterpations, but not twitterpate)

And what will happen in the future, when people forget that “tots” is a reference from Napoleon Dynamite and Brittany and Paris are no longer household names? When I first thought about this, I figured it wouldn’t be a problem people could go to Wikipedia or the Urban Dictionary to track down dated references. But if the YWCA cookie is so completely erased from most circles of pop culture, isn’t it inevitable that this will happen to some degree even in our time?

And as for the recipe? I spent too much time researching this weekend and not enough time baking. Check back in a day or so!

AJC for Jamie G.

I have a new food reporting obsession. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution‘s recipe finder.

On many sites, I’ve had a difficult time searching through recipe archives. My queries for “chicken” wind up netting either zero hits or 23946732875. Even ProQuest fails me at times.

So it was a welcome change to discover the AJC’s food page. I admit, I was skeptical of the newspaper’s site at first — the home page was so crammed with advertisements that I thought I hit one of those error pages, where you misspell a word in the URL, so scam artists design a site that looks similar but is just all links and ads.

The food site itself is divided into several categories that seemed pretty intuitive to me:
• What are you bringing? (recipes suitable to bring to a potluck or work function, they seem to serve more people than an average recipe without being restaurant-sized batches)
• Sunday Dinner (more involved meals designed “for when you have more time”
• Fit to Eat (healthy, obviously)
• 5:30 Dinner Challenge (30-minute meals)

Bottom line: AJC: UR DOIN IT RIGHT.

The Journal-Constitution is also doing it right because they’ve hired the talented Jamie Gumbrecht from the Lexington Herald-Leader, where she worked as a pop culture reporter. And although it’s silly that she’s moving away from Seattle instead of closer, I can’t help but be happy for her.
Jamie and Shannon
Jamie and me in 2003.

Just for Jamie, I stepped out of my comfort zone again this week with another cooking-but-it’s-sort-of-baking recipe. I attempted broccoli corn bread, and then in a flash of inspiration (and because the site was so freaking easy to navigate), I also tried the peanut butter and jelly cupcakes.

A note to food page designers: I loved being able to rate the recipes, as well as see how many people rated them. Toby was highly skeptical of the corn bread, but I pointed out that 16 people gave it 4 stars.

However, it would have been helpful to know when the recipe was posted and how long the recipes stay posted on the site. I assumed that because 16 people had a chance to try the corn bread, it wasn’t just posted super-recently, but as our Detroit News adventure taught me, I don’t expect it to stay online terribly long.

This meal was served with my mom’s fantastic chili recipe, which is not from a newspaper, but is delicious nonetheless. And I should mention that *I* made this entire meal, so you know it’s simple.

Broccoli Corn Bread

2 (8 1/2-ounce) boxes Jiffy Corn Muffin Mix
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, melted
4 eggs, beaten
1 cup cottage cheese
1 cup finely chopped onion (1 medium)
1 (10-ounce) box frozen chopped broccoli, thawed, excess water squeezed out

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Lightly grease a 9-inch-by-13-inch baking pan.

2. In a mixing bowl, combine corn muffin mix, butter, eggs, cottage cheese, onion and broccoli.

3. Spread in baking pan and bake until cake tester comes out clean and edges are lightly browned, about 35 to 40 minutes.

Chili and Corn Bread

Notes and Modifications
• Don’t be afraid to overcook this one a bit. It’s extremely moist, so it’s nice to have a crunchier crust.
• Toby’s cousin Alex joined us for dinner. Alex likes corn bread!!

And for dessert, Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

1 cup creamy peanut butter
1 1/2 cups warm milk (or water)
1 box yellow cake mix
3 eggs
2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup strawberry jam

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 24 muffin cups with paper liners.

2. In a large bowl, combine the peanut butter and warm milk or water with an electric mixer until well-blended. Add the cake mix, eggs and vegetable oil. Beat 2 minutes, until smooth.

3. Spoon the batter into the lined cups. Drop a teaspoon of jam on top and in the middle of the batter in each cup. Press down on the jam slightly with the back of the teaspoon.

4. Bake 20-25 minutes, until the centers are firm. (Do not underbake.) Cool in pan for at least 5 minutes before removing

Nutrition information per cupcake: 199 calories (percent of calories from fat, 44), 5 grams protein, 24 grams carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 10 grams fat (2 grams saturated), 25 milligrams cholesterol, 209 milligrams sodium.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Cupcakes

Notes and modifications
• Let’s be frank. (And slightly not safe for work.) If you put too much batter in the cupcake cup, the batter doesn’t completely surround the jelly and you wind up with cupcakes that look a bit like this. I mention this on a practical note, in case you don’t want lady-bits cupcakes at your next office party. If, on the other hand, that suits your purposes, I highly recommend them.
• The recipe insists you need paper muffin tin liners, but you don’t. I thought the jelly might seep through the bottom if you didn’t use them, but that wasn’t a problem.
• We used Pillsbury yellow cake mix because it was on sale, and it worked just fine.

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