July 28, 2014

Elyria
Cloudy
70°F
test

Plenty of praise — and now an award — for Elyria Schools’ legendary pink cookies

ELYRIA — The legendary Link’s Bakery can claim fame to a lot of things, but the pink cookies made and sold by the dozens to Elyria schoolchildren are not one of them.

Yes, the Elyria pink cookie and the Link pink are both sugar cookies with pink frosting. But any true cookie connoisseur worth their weight in flour knows the difference between the defunct bakery’s signature butter vanilla cookie called “Link pinks” and the soft, buttery-sweet cookie found only in school cafeterias across the city.

“Our cookies are kind of like a cake cookie,” said Dee Dee Schullick, one of the district’s cooks and bakers.

This week, Schullick is on cookie duty, and the pink cookies are her responsibility.

“They are not crisp like Link pinks,” she said.

Click on any photo to view larger:

The locally famous Link’s Bakery had a home on Lake Avenue for 51 years until December 1999 when the business moved to a location on Second Street. It closed for good in April 2001, but the bakery is still known to area residents for its signature cookie.

Those cookies were truly iconic to Elyria and probably the reason why the district’s pink cookie has been linked to the confectionary treat.

Still, no one knows for sure how the story originated that Elyria Schools is making Link pinks. But for the real story on how the pink cookie came to Elyria Schools, it’s best to turn to Jean Gawlik, food production manager for Elyria Schools.

For more than 33 years, Gawlik has churned out dozens of the cake-like cookies, making sure every cook that stepped inside the district’s central kitchen at the Administration Building knew just how to make the cookies.

Gawlik will tell you that the cookies are more a part of her family than anything. And, to prove it, she brings out a handwritten recipe passed down to her from her mother, the late Marie Smith of Amherst.

“I don’t know where my mother got it, but this is my mother’s recipe for a sour cream sugar cookie,” she said, playfully waving the recipe in the air.

In a moment of nostalgia, Gawlik recalled times when her mother made the cookies for all the grandchildren.

Smith worked three jobs while raising Gawlik and her siblings and had little time in the day for baking. But as soon as she became a grandmother, the apron and oven went on almost simultaneously.

“This was always a cookie my kids love,” she said. “They will tell you it reminds them of their grandmother. That’s why I decided to start making it for school kids.”

The original recipe Gawlik brought in is formulated for home baking.

Tweaking it for mass production was not easy. Over the years, the recipe has doubled — and then some.

At one point, kitchen scientists thought it would be a good idea to make the cookie a low-calorie, low-fat treat.

“But an order came down from high — also known as Superintendent Paul Rigda — to keep the cookie just as it was,” said Amy Higgins, district spokeswoman.

Now, Gawlik said the recipe is basically the same one her mother used but instead of a ½ cup of butter or margarine, 3 cups of flour and 1½ cups of sugar, cooks dump 16 pounds of butter, 40 pounds of flour and 11 quarts of sugar into an industrial strength mixer to make cookies in batches of 14 dozen at a time.

Hand rolling and cutting cookies have been replaced by a cutting machine that makes perfectly round cookies every time.

The only thing that is still done by hand is the frosting, Schullick said.

And, speaking of frosting, Gawlik said pink frosting was chosen because they couldn’t make red. Red and white might be the colors of Elyria Schools and Petey Pioneer, but, “I don’t care if you put an entire bottle of red food coloring in the frosting, it always just gets pinker and pinker,” she said.

While pink is the signature color of the cookie, special occasions call for special colors, Gawlik said.

When the Elyria High School girls’ softball team won the state title, the district celebrated the occasion with cookies decorated like softballs. Orange is the color of choice each year when children at Kindergarten Village spend the day icing cookies for Halloween.

And, for the first time, the pink cookie will make its debut outside Lorain County: Later this month, it will be featured among several other “best” items at the Best of Cleveland show hosted by Cleveland Magazine at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

There it will be officially unveiled as the “Best Cafeteria Cookie” in Cleveland.

But that is something Elyrians have known for years.

Sour cream sugar cookies

  • ½ cup butter or margarine
  • ½ cup Crisco
  • 1½ cup sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon of baking soda
  • 3 tablespoons sour cream
  • 3 cups sifted flour
  • ½ teaspoon of salt

Mix butter (or margarine), Crisco and sugar until creamy. Add eggs one at a time. In separate bowl, mix baking soda and sour cream until baking soda is completely dissolved. Add to butter mixture. In separate bowl, sift flour and salt together. Add to wet batter and mix well. Dough will be sticky and could then be used as drop dough if desired. If too sticky, add more flour until it can be rolled ¼ inch thick. Cut with cookie cutters and bake at 350 degrees until golden brown.

Don’t want to make this delicious treats yourself? You are in luck. You can buy them from Elyria Schools. The cookies are $5 a dozen. Order by calling (440) 284-8287 or e-mail burnsideconnie@elyriaschools.org.

Pink praise

Everyone in Elyria Schools knows and loves the pink cookie. Here’s what they had to say about the timeless treat.

  • “As a teacher and former student at Elyria High School, I understand the importance of the pink cookie. Every student that has passed through here has had a pink cookie or two or 200, and I even get requests from friends that graduated with me to bring a few home.” — Amanda Belcher, social studies, Elyria High School
  • “First off, the pink cookie has been a long time favorite! It satisfies that sweet tooth after lunch and it quite simply melts in your mouth. My kids love when I bring some home to share, and they’ve even made it into my kids’ classrooms as the chosen ‘birthday treat’ to share with their friends.” — Amy Keir, content area specialist, language arts and social studies
  • “The pink cookie was also a ‘crumb’ of EHS History. In October 2000, Vic Janowicz’s jersey No. 22 was retired. It was the first jersey to ever be retired from Elyria High School. The ceremony was held at the EHS vs. Shaker Heights football game on Oct. 6, 2000. The Athletic Office had ordered dozens of pink cookies with No. 22 on each to commemorate the occasion. They were distributed free to fans at the game.” — Paula Powers, administrative assistant, Athletic Office
  • “It’s not easy for a guy like me to admit, but the power boost that those pink cookies give off is incredible. Having a bad day? Just take 5 minutes. Sometimes, I go to work early just to get them before the cafeteria closes.” — Terry Lewis, utility worker, building operations, Elyria High School
  • “When I was pregnant with my first son, who is 17 now, I ate a pink cookie every day with my school lunch. Now, whenever I see that cookie, I think of those long-gone days when I could eat anything I wanted and not worry about gaining weight.” — Beverly Furnas, third grade, Windsor Elementary
  • “There are three reasons I salivate when I think about those pink cookies. They are crispy on the edges and soft in the middle like my grandma’s sugar cookies. The pink icing makes me happy because it reminds me of the pink frosted animal crackers I loved as a little girl. I can treat myself and eat the whole thing.” — Dineen Ryals, kindergarten, Prospect Elementary
  • “It reminds me of my husband and I sitting together at lunch at Elyria West High School. We have been married for 10 years.” — Jennifer Maiden, health, Northwood Junior High
  • “As a 1978 graduate of Elyria West High School, I have been eating pink cookies for many years. My mom, JoAnn Dugan, was a baker in the EWHS cafeteria and baked those cookies. The eyes of my family still light up if I purchase a cookie for them from the cafeteria at McKinley, where I teach second grade.” — Kim Sullivan, second grade, McKinley Elementary

Contact Lisa Roberson at 329-7121 or lroberson@chroniclet.com.