One Smart Cookie - No. 103
My favorite Girl Scout memory from the Oscars, the first Girl Scout cookie recipe baked at home 100 years ago & some Ukraine updates
IF YOU JUST FINISHED THE LAST Thin Mints stashed in your freezer, I don’t have to tell you that Girl Scout cookies are irresistible.
They’re enticing on camera, too. Do you recall the Academy Awards ceremony of six years ago when comedian Chris Rock was hosting and announced he’d been away from home for so long he had dad guilt from missing cookie season?
We find out later his daughter had been bugging him to sell more Girl Scout cookies for her, which any parent of a scout can relate to, believe me! And for those of you who have not experienced the parenting side of cookie sales, let’s just say it gets competitive because the scouts and their troops are awarded for how many they sell.
But back before Trefoils, Tagalongs, and Thin Mints were baked commercially and sold by scouts coast to coast, America’s best-loved form of fundraising was cooked up at home.
The Mistletoe Troop of Muskogee, Oklahoma, first baked cookies and sold them in their school cafeteria in 1917, a year before World War I would end. Five years later, Florence Neil, a Girl Scout director in Chicago, created a recipe for all scouts to follow and bake for fundraising. It was printed in the July 1922 issue of American Girl magazine, published by the Girl Scouts.
Per her instructions, 12 round cookies were to be baked, stacked, and wrapped in waxed paper and tied with string at each end to form a neat bundle. The scouts would sell each cookie stack for 25 to 30 cents, which in truth was the cost of baking an entire batch of six or seven dozen cookies, so they were off to a nice profit!
And should they be tempted to taste a cookie while baking, Florence Neil reminded the girls to practice self-control: "Don't eat too many before selling, or the Girl Scouts won't make enough money to pay for camp this summer."
Cookies are a most genius food to sell
Cookies have been with us for hundreds of years, cobbled together with ingredients we have on hand, baked big or small depending on our economy, and loved by children.
When I was researching my book American Cookie, I interviewed people about the cookies of their youth, and their memories were profound…how cookies fit into the palm of their hands. How their grandmother baked them after school. How she filled a cookie jar, which stayed on the kitchen counter. How old cookie recipes reappeared each year at holidays and reunions as gentle reminders of the past.
Cookies may be baked with just flour, sugar, butter, and eggs, but the fifth ingredient is surely love.
And for the Girl Scouts baking these buttery cookies, it must have been overwhelming smelling the aroma and not being able to taste one. Cruel might be a better way to describe it. I’ve never been a raw cookie dough eater, thankfully, but I have been drawn to freshly baked cookies before they’ve had sufficient time to cool.
So I’m not sure I would have made a very good 1922 Girl Scout with the devil whispering in one ear that I deserve to try one and the angel admonishing me in the other.
In all the years I baked cookies for fundraisers and bake sales and parties, I came up with a simple solution. If I needed to bake three dozen cookies, I baked four so we’d have extras for nibbling and making memories.
Cookies baked by children is the best branding idea ever
This first Girl Scout cookie might seem ho-hum today without all the flashy chocolate, nuts, and spices we’re accustomed to, but it was appropriate a century ago.
By the 1930s, troops had become so successful selling their own home-baked cookies that they eyed bigger profits. In 1934, the Girl Scouts of Greater Philadelphia became the first to sell commercially baked cookies. New York followed, and it bought its own die in the shape of a trefoil, the three-leafed symbol of the Girl Scouts and the shape of the iconic Trefoil shortbread cookie.
I think Girl Scout cookies had the same genius factor that Kinko’s (now FedEx) had in 1970 on the University of California Santa Barbara campus, but for slightly different reasons. Students staying up late to finish papers needed to get them copied for class, and Kinko’s grew from a tiny location to thousands worldwide. Girl Scout cookies came out of the oven just as a brutal world war was being fought. America’s involvement paled to the rest of the world, but the soldiers returning had a renewed sense of pride and patriotism. And cookies were hopeful.
What with these young scouts preheating ovens and baking cookies, learning sales and marketing, and funding camp for themselves and their friends, who wouldn’t want to support their entrepreneurial endeavor?
And there resides the greatest baked-in feature of Girl Scout cookies—guilt. Not from eating too many, but from not buying enough or helping your daughter sell the most cookies.
If Girl Scout cookies need a spokesperson, call Chris Rock
So, Chris Rock’s daughter and her fellow troop members come to the 2016 Oscars, and we get to watch Charlize Theron, Mindy Kaling, Steve Carell, and so many others reach for their wallets and bum money from colleagues to buy a box.
That was one of the best feel-good moments I can recall about the Oscars, and on TV in general. As those scouts circulated up the aisles, and cookies were shared throughout the bejeweled audience, it gave me hope for the future.
What a stark contrast it was to this year’s awards, right? On the self-control scale what happened this year made stealing sugar cookies from the cooling rack look pretty tame!
What’s your favorite Girl Scout cookie memory?
The 1922 Girl Scout Cookie
Here is my latest adaptation of the original Girl Scout recipe. In truth, it’s better than the original recipe, which was too loose to work with so I omitted the milk. And it’s got a bit more flour so it’s easier to roll out and cut. If you want to dress these up, after cutting into the shapes you like, brush with egg white and add sugar sprinkles before baking. What’s the baking powder for? A lot of cookies of this era added a pinch of baking powder to make them lighter, and I think it does just that. Go ahead and double this recipe to bake more cookies as the Scouts did. And I challenge you, regardless of how many you bake, to eat just one.
Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies
Prep: 10 to 15 minutes
Chill: 30 minutes
Bake: 9 to 12 minutes
1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus a little flour for rolling the dough
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1. Place the butter and sugar in a large bowl, and with an electric mixer beat on medium speed until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla and beat just to combine. Scrape down the bowl and set aside.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt in a small bowl. Add to the butter, beating on low speed until blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until chilled, about 30 minutes. (This makes cutting out the cookies easier.)
3. Place a rack in the center of the oven, and preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
4. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and roll out to 1/4-inch thickness. Flour a 2-inch round cookie cutter and cut the dough into circles. Transfer the rounds onto ungreased baking pans, spacing them about 1 inch apart. Place the pans in the oven.
5. Bake the cookies until they are lightly browned around the edges, 9 to 12 minutes. Remove to wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough. Store cookies covered for up to 1 week.
Updates on Ukraine
The television images and updates have gone from heart-wrenching to despicable. I may not be actively writing about Ukrainian food this month, but the Ukrainian people are in my heart and mind.
Subscriber Cookbook Giveaway Winner: Congrats to Pam G, the winner of Mamushka, by Olia Hercules! Our next subscriber cookbook giveaway will be at the end of April. I’ve so loved cooking from Mamushka in March and focusing on Ukrainian recipes.
And I’m thrilled to announce that $1,750 in March subscriptions went to World Central Kitchen to help feed the people of Ukraine. Thank you for subscribing this month and also for supporting WCK’s Herculean efforts to help feed war-torn Ukraine. I hear via emails that many of you have made your own WCK contributions. Subscriber Molly P shares that when you make a contribution to WCK you can honor someone, too.
The World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts is helping Polish, Latvian, and Czech families welcome Ukrainian scouts and their families.
I’ve cleared my garden to plant dill and sunflowers for Ukraine. More on that later as the weather warms. I think dill should be the new cilantro. I plan to cook with it all year.
This Thursday morning, for Subscribers, an OPEN THREAD of discussion on what to bake for Easter, Passover, or a springtime birthday. I’ll share a recipe for this gorgeous but so-easy almond cake you make in the food processor! Subscribers will receive the email prompt, then you click on the button and we’ll start sharing recipes and ideas!
Anne Byrn: Between the Layers is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Have a great week! Slava Ukraine!