In ancient times, learned men obsessed over turning lead into gold. This strikes us as laughable today, but who’s to say future generations won’t be puzzled by some Washingtonians’ obsession with the YWCA’s famed chocolate chip cookies?
These yummy treats were the subject of last week’s column. To recap: From at least the 1950s (and possibly earlier), cooks at the YWCA on K Street NW baked chocolate chip cookies that gained a rabidly loyal following.
“I have a great childhood memory of my father, whose office at the Housing and Home Finance Agency was across the street from the Y, arriving home with a white paper bag containing those big, delicious cookies,” wrote Catherine Fitz of Bethesda.
In 1981, the YWCA moved to a new building. The cookies were made sporadically for a couple of years, but regular production ceased around 1983.
The YWCA thinks it has discovered the original recipe, but it declined an opportunity to share it with Answer Man’s readers, as it has declined numerous similar entreaties.
Bethesda’s Catherine Seibert wrote that she and her colleagues at Aviation Daily, where she worked in 1975, tried to re-create the cookies. Wrote Catherine: “After our polite request for the recipe was rejected, we took to calling every few days to try to reverse-engineer it by elimination: ‘Hi! I love your cookies and would love to give one to a friend. But she’s allergic to [baking soda/oatmeal/egg whites]. Can you tell me if your cookies are made with it?’
“It didn’t work, of course, because I’m still making those substandard Toll House ones. But it’s a new era and I think you guys can do this. For some of us, getting the YWCA cookie recipe could trump Watergate as The Post’s shining achievement.”
Talk about pressure. Perhaps the District’s Simon Jacobsen can be “Deep Chip.” Simon’s grandmother, Alma Dino Kearney, worked at the YWCA for more than 35 years. Among her duties: making chocolate chip cookies.
Wrote Simon: “She often looked after us and made the same ones at my parents’ house since the 1960s. She would, by the 1970s, become the cafeteria manager at the YWCA and she continued her cookie making. . . . She passed away in 1988.”
And? And? The Treasure of the Sierre Madre, the Maltese Falcon, the Ark of the Covenant, the YWCA chocolate chip cookie recipe?
“I do not have the recipe but I do remember [the cookies] were extremely good,” Simon wrote. “It was as if they were slightly fried in butter, which made them sinful.”
Another dead end.
A 1989 Post article headlined “Cookie Entrepreneur Finds a Recipe for Sweet Success” adds a wrinkle. The story is about Danny Koch and the chain of Cookie Cafe stores he started in 1979. Koch originally resold chocolate chip cookies he bought from the YWCA, but when it closed its cafeteria and left its K Street building, he “hired two YWCA staffers as cooks.” The inference: These are Y-style cookies.
Or were, for there are no longer any Cookie Cafes. There is still a Danny Koch, however, and Answer Man found him. His company now oversees California Tortilla franchises and coffee bars in airports, including Primo Cappuccino at Reagan National. You can get a chocolate chip cookie there, but it is not the YWCA cookie, Danny said. (For starters, it’s dark chocolate.)
“I still have all the documentation for the original,” he said. “We’re actually toying with the idea of reopening a Cookie Cafe and featuring that product. . . . The big difference is the brand of the ingredients, knowing which flour from which mill to buy and which chocolate from which confectionery company.”
There’s another difference. Danny said the original YWCA cookies were baked in a pizza oven. “That’s a meticulous process,” he said. “You can’t put the volume through those ovens that you can for a real modern version of the cookie. To replicate it, it’s very difficult. But you can get close.”
Well, he can get close. You can’t. Danny said his recipe uses such large quantities of ingredients, there’s no point in trying to shrink it down for home bakers.
Finally, there is the recipe The Post printed in 1977. It was the result of two years of painstaking experimentation by Carol Finkelstein, an Arlington cooking instructor who had been rebuffed by the YWCA when she asked for the recipe. It calls for walnuts, not pecans. And while the coconut may seem weird, Danny Koch said his recipe also uses coconut.
1 1 / 3 cups unsifted hard-wheat flour or all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 / 4 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons butter
1 / 4 cup vegetable shortening
1 / 2 cup granulated sugar
1 / 4 cup dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 / 2 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 / 4 cup angel-flake coconut
1 / 4 cup chocolate chips
Mix together flour, soda and salt. Cream together butter, shortening and sugars. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Blend flour into creamed mixture. Mix in walnuts, coconut and chips. Divide dough into 12 equal parts. Flatten each part into a 3 1 / 2-inch round. Place on greased baking sheet and bake on lowest shelf of oven at 375 degrees for 15 minutes. Even if the cookies look underbaked, take them out.
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