July 9, 2020

Jed Portman

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Editor’s Letter: The At-Home Cookie Table

A tradition that straddles the Ohio River

A cookie table is a community effort. Sometimes, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers start baking months before a wedding or graduation party, shaping and freezing hundreds or thousands of cookies. The end result is a display heaped with family-recipe sweets in different sizes, shapes, and colors, on trays and stands, bountiful enough to overshadow or replace a wedding cake. Guests fill plates, load take-home boxes, and discreetly stuff napkins with kiffles, thumbprints, pizzelles, and clothespin cookies. The tradition has a second act: the next morning’s cookie breakfast.

The cookie table originated, according to its chroniclers, as an all-hands-in alternative to expensive wedding cakes for Italian and Eastern European immigrant families in eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. The practice is still more or less localized around Youngstown and Pittsburgh. If, like many of us, you’ve never known the joys of an all-you-can-eat cookie bar at a family gathering, you can get a taste, even in these distanced times, from Bonnie Tawse’s charming new Belt Cookie Table Cookbook.

Tawse immersed herself in cookie table culture to collect forty-one time-tested and treasured recipes—going from the Cookie Table and Cocktail Gala in Youngstown to the 15,500-member Youngstown Cookie Table group on Facebook. She found sweets with Rust Belt roots generations deep and others that demonstrate the cookie table’s versatility, including the truffle-like brigadeiros that a Brazilian mother-of-the-bride made to go with the groom’s mother’s baklava at a wedding in Ohio. The first time I flipped through the book, I stopped at these throwback cream wafers, contributed by Youngstown cookie table enthusiasts Sally Palumbo and Chelsey Ludwiczak.

Cream Wafers

Every family wedding we have, my mom makes these traditional cream wafer cookies and fills them with the wedding color. I can remember helping her fill the cookies growing up and looking forward to the challenge of finding unique food colorings (lilac, steel blue, etc.). These cookies are more than a recipe to me—they represent my mom and all the times we spent in her kitchen.

My mom is the one who taught me my love for baking. I can remember coming home from school and having the smell of fresh baked chocolate chip cookies as soon as I walked in the door. I have faint memories being as young as 3 or 4 and helping her scoop cupcakes in a pan. She would make matching aprons for us so we looked like twins. We would both snicker as we would save the “wounded” cookies (those that were burnt or fell apart) for my dad who would happily wait on the sidelines for an imperfectly perfect treat. I’m now twenty-six, and to this day, we still get together to prepare cookies for weddings and look forward to the challenge of finding the perfect sprinkle, coloring, or adornment to match the wedding theme and colors.

I feel my mom’s love for the cookie table blossomed after marrying my dad fifty years ago. My dad comes from a strong Italian background, and his family established here in Youngstown in the early 1900s from Buffalo, New York. The Italian cookie table is more than just a tradition to me. It’s a way to show your love for the bride and groom. It’s the time you get to spend with family while making the cookies. It’s making memories and passing down recipes, creating the backbone of what is the Youngstown Cookie Table.


1 cup butter or margarine, softened
½ cup heavy cream
2 cups flour
Granulated sugar, for coating

¼ cup soft butter
¾ cup confectioners sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla
Food coloring (optional)


To make wafer dough, mix butter, cream, and flour thoroughly in a medium bowl to form a dough. Wrap dough in plastic and chill for one hour.

To make filling, add butter, confectioners’ sugar, egg yolks, and vanilla to a small bowl and mix, using a hand mixer or whisk, until combined. If you want to tint the filling, add a few drops of food coloring and blend until no streaks are visible.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough to ⅛-inch thickness. Using a biscuit cutter or a round cookie cutter, cut dough into 1½-inch rounds. Sprinkle granulated sugar on a piece of wax paper and coat rounds on both sides with sugar. Place rounds on ungreased cookie sheets and prick each three or four times with a fork. Bake 5-7 minutes, or until lightly puffy. Allow to cool on racks.

When wafers are completely cool, spread one generous teaspoon of cream filling onto one of the wafers and top with another wafer. Repeat.


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