In her novel, ‘The Christmas Cookie Club’, Ann Pearlman tells the story of 12 women who get together before Christmas every year to share cookies, recipes and stories. Each woman’s complicated life story is revealed along with her cookie recipe. The meeting turns into a mass-confession of life’s ups and downs and at the end of the evening, they cry, hug and dance.
While the Buenos Aires Cookie Club does not involve as much drama as Pearlman’s characters, the recipe is similar: equal parts friend-making and cookie-eating.
The cookie club is intended as an exchange; each member brings 90 homemade cookies of one kind and takes home a delicious assortment. After chatting about recipes, sharing tips and tricks, and of course sampling all of the superb cookies, everyone leaves with a mixed selection of cookies baked by co-members. The club provides a variety of bags and wrapping material to package the cookies you bring home, and you can collect recipe cards of the cookies you like best. Everything is cleverly conceived and stylishly packaged.
The members, a mix of Argentines and expats of all ages living in the city, arrive with trays full of homemade treats. It is the club’s first get-together on a sunny Sunday afternoon in a serene private garden in Palermo. The creatively-decorated venue has sliding doors facing a swimming pool, letting the warm breeze in. The long tables are dressed with colourful cloths, while garlands in the BA Cookies Club colours — blue, brown and orange — line the ceiling and empty trays wait to be piled high with cookies.
The ambiance is pleasant and sociable and reminds me of the old fashioned kind of tea parties that you read about in a Jane Austen novel, with a more modern and relaxed feel to it. Yet, what most interests people are the cookie creations that are about to be unveiled. Soon, cookies of unprecedented variety are stacked up on the table: quinoa cookies, lavender dreams, sugar cookies in the shape of teabags, coffee and chocolate biscuits, and soft brownies with strawberry topping. The coffee is brewing while mate circulates the room.
“I thought it would be a good way of meeting new people with common interests,” says founder Kelly Poindexter, who is originally from the US but has been living in Buenos Aires for two years. She studies baking in Buenos Aires and sells her goods at markets and events. She also declares herself “a fanatic of social clubs” and likes the idea of getting to know people through a common interest. She says cookie clubs are common where she is from; an idea that might have gotten even more popular after Pearlman released her book.
Before trying the cookies, it becomes obvious that most members have a common interest in, and serious passion for, food. During introductions, the group identify themselves as food bloggers, restaurant owners, bakers, and hobbyists determined to improve their baking skills. After the roll call the participants describe their cookies, how they were made, and how they came up with the idea.
Paola, an Argentine woman who came from Tigre just to participate in the event, describes how this morning she “was struggling to keep her children and husband from eating all the chocolate and coffee cookies she had made for the meeting” and decided to make at least a double batch next time.
“Sweets are an important part of the Argentine food culture where principally dulce de leche is a pride and joy … [they are] a serious deal for the Argentine,” says Istaso, who moved from Spain to Buenos Aires to work, and immediately noticed the locals’ passion for confections. Buenos Aires is teeming with sweets shops, bakeries, cafés and pastry vendors. Buenos Aires Cookie Club takes this Argentine passion for pastries a step further by creating a social affair around the baking and sharing of sweets.
Eventually, it is time for the tasting. The enthusiasm is obvious: everyone wants to try all kinds to determine their favourite and to know which ones to bring home. They all taste delicious and the variety makes it easy to eat a lot. We refill our coffees, mingle, chat and keep eating cookies for another hour or so before people start heading home. I doubt there is a sweeter way to spend a late Sunday afternoon.
The meetings will be held once every three months. “The club was originally intended to be held (annually) before Christmas,” according to Kelly. That would mirror Pearlman’s story and be useful timing for having a big selection of sweets around the house. But Kelly changed her mind: “I thought it would be fun to do it more often.”
Most members come alone without knowing anyone else, but the open and friendly atmosphere makes it feel like we are sitting in a room with 20 old friends. Beyond the social benefits, another advantage of sharing homemade, rather than shop-bought cookies, one member points out, “is that you get cookies without preservatives.”
In the weeks preceding the event members are encouraged to send in their idea and recipe for the next event — a way for Kelly to make sure “there are no repeats on recipes and a good spread of sorts.” That spread will undoubtedly be unique: you won’t find many of these cookies in stores.