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!

Pineapple Pound Cake

Phew. This past week has been devoted to tracking down the date that the Detroit News printed a delicious pineapple pound cake recipe.

Pineapple Pound Cake Recipe
The recipe.

Allow me to take you through the process that we undertook to attempt to put this tasty recipe in a historical perspective.

First, we visited the Detroit News’ Web site. The home page gave me the option of perusing the last seven days or looking into the Rearview Mirror at the photo store of Michigan’s yesteryears. I could find nothing beyond that, not even a basic archive search.

Then I tackled ProQuest and Lexis Nexus. Lexis Nexus Academic doesn’t have the News, nor does it have the Free Press. The Daily Yomiuri, yes. Detroit News? No.

I finally had to contact my talented copy editor friend, Benita, to help me out. She found the archive search page at detnews.com, which was a battle in and of itself, but even that only went back a year.

Dan & Benita
The lovely Benita with Freep copy editor Dan Austin, Detroit’s biggest fan.

She hooked me up even further and went through the News’ internal archives, but those only went back three years. “The font recipe exchange is totally ’80s type,” said Benita, which would obviously put us back much further than three years. We seemed to be a dead end.

But why stop there?

I sent off an e-mail to Neal Rubin, metro columnist at the News. I thought he might be able to unearth something Benita didn’t, because he often writes posts about figuring out random stuff. I also knew him from a high school internship, and we stayed in one-e-mail-a-year touch, so it seemed like a better option than contacting someone random in the News’ library.

Neal was back with answers in a day or so:

Recipes aren’t indexed as far back as this one goes. What I do know is that [reporter] Andrea Wojack worked for the News prior to the JOA, which means before 1989.

So we know that it was, indeed, from the late ’70s or the ’80s.

I just found out today what Wojack is doing now, so I’m planning on contacting her soon. Not that she probably remembers this one particular recipe, but it’s worth a try.

Bottom line: At some point in the 1980s, the News printed a fantastic recipe for pineapple pound cake.

I can wager a guess that the Detroit News reduced its free archived content because it wanted a way to make more money from the Web site. But how can it make money if it won’t even tell me what it has hidden in its archives?

Anyway, onto the cake.

I just skirted disaster when I attempted this recipe, as I was under the mistaken impression that a “tube pan” was just a longer, thinner version of a loaf pan. I needed a ten-inch tube pan and my loaf pan was 9 3/4″, so I assumed I’d be close enough. I called Mom to confirm, and was surprised to discover that a tube pan actually means a Bundt cake pan. Whoops!

Clearly, my background weighs more heavily on the reporting side than the baking side of this endeavor.

That crisis averted, I cautiously brought my laptop into the kitchen so I could bake.

MacBook in the Kitchen
My MacBook meets my kitchen.

The recipe was crazy easy, and although I was skeptical about the pineapple glaze (because it looked pretty gross), the finished product was remarkable. And now, you can make it too!

Crushed Pineapple Pound Cake

1/2 cup shortening
1 cup butter or margarine
2 3/4 cups sugar
6 large eggs
3 cups sifted flour
3/4 cup milk
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup crushed pineapple with juice

Glaze:
1/4 cup butter or margarine
1 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
1 cup crushed pineapple, drained

1. Don’t preheat the oven!

2. Cream together shortening, butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition.

3. Sift flour with baking powder and add to creamed mixture in small quantities, alternating with milk.

4. Add vanilla and stir in crushed pineapple. Blend well.

5. Pour batter into well-greased 10-inch tube pan.

6. Place in cold oven. Set the temperature to 325 degrees and bake 1 1/2 hours or until cake springs back in pan when lightly touched.

7. Let cake stand a few minutes in pan, then loosen and invert on rack.

8. For glaze, combine butter, sugar and pineapple. Pour over warm cake. Cool before serving.

Finished Pineapple Pound Cake
Delightful.

Notes and Modifications
• We had regular canned pineapple on hand, but it’s worth it to go out and get diced/crushed pineapple instead so you don’t have to mess with a food processor or anything.
• Obviously, this cake needed to be placed on a larger plate. Don’t make the same mistake we did, as we came dangerously close to a glaze disaster.
• A big THANK YOU to Benita and Neal for all their help!

And just think, without my mother obsessively saving recipes, this one would have been lost for all eternity.

Coming up: the history of the Bundt pan revolution, and a test kitchen adventure.

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Published in: on January 27, 2008 at 8:52 am  Comments (5)  
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