Chocolate chip. Snickerdoodles. Green, red and white sprinkles. M&M’s.
The cafeteria kitchen at Lancaster High School was the bustling scene of an ambitious holiday baking extravaganza Friday afternoon, as 17 students began the task of baking 6,000 Christmas cookies.
The cookie marathon will go on for three days, and at the end, the baked goodies will be packaged and handed out with gifts and Christmas trees to less-fortunate families in Lancaster and Depew.
By 4 p.m., a student picked up a calculator and began trying to tally the cookies baked so far: 1,265.
“We’re almost out of dough,” said Karen Martek, one of the adult cooks helping the students.
The merry elves had been a little too generous in heaping clumps of dough onto the bafdough on the baking sheets.
“Make them a little smaller,” Martek said gently, praising the kids’ efforts. “Don’t make them too big, because we may run out of dough.”
“They’re huge cookies,” said Sandy Stoeckl, faculty cook manager, as she pulled out a batch of softball-sized Snickerdoodles from the oven.
“But it’s hard to scold the kids,” she said smiling. “We’ll just make more dough.”
They’re going to have to. The kids will be back on the job next week, making the rest of the cookies. The yummy treats will be presented Wednesday to nearly 200 families through the Lancaster Youth Bureau’s Christmas Fund.
After classes finished Friday, high school students rolled up their sleeves, donned plastic gloves and got down to business, baking two dozen cookies at a time on giant sheets.
They baked their hearts out, undaunted by the task of scooping, molding, decorating, baking and cooling the mountains of cookies.
As the cookies and the smells of vanilla and cinnamon wafted through the kitchen, the teenagers sang Christmas carols and kidded around.
“Silver Bells” was playing on a small radio, huge boxes of cookie sprinkles and bags of sugar were on counter tops, while students kidded over who made the most perfectly shaped cookies whether by hand or with ice cream scoops.
The kitchen was transformed into a festive place, where 17 students had fun while doing something rewarding. There also were the “honest” ones, washing dishes to keep up with the organized madness, admitting that some of “the boys” had to be watched, lest they sneak some advance sampling of the dough. Two school cooks manned the hot ovens. And at the end of the mass assembly, four students neatly arranging the four varieties of cookies on parchment paper in large cardboard boxes to store until they are packaged next week for distribution to the families.
“It’s been a tradition for a long time,” said Marissa Pillitteri, a senior and co-chairwoman of the event.
In the last four years, the teens have gone from baking 5,000 to 6,000 cookies in the annual marathon. Stoeckl, wearing a snowman’s shift, said the marathon baking event has its “craziness.”
“Sometimes, they’re singing Christmas carols, sometimes the cookie dough is flying,” she quipped.
With two sets of students standing at two separate tables, forming dough and placing two dozen unbaked cookies on each baking sheet, it resembled an assembly line.
Brooke Tryjankowski stood out among the pack. She was one of few using an ice cream scoop to perfectly mold her shapes of dough.
“I’m a privileged one,” she quipped, noting that she “stole” her scoop from a fellow student standing nearby. “I’m an ice cream scooper, so it’s in the blood.”
It was her second year of helping.
“We do it all,” she said proudly.
Then there was Ethan Bruening, a junior, standing across from Tryjankowski. He was forthright, saying he didn’t have the patience to use a scooper. He preferred shaping the dough with his gloved hands.
Then he got busy, sprinkling generous amounts of a cinnamon and sugar mixture over the cookies.
“You gotta give ’em love,” he said.
Stephanie Gervan, another student co-chairwoman, was washing large bowls and bakeware, trying to keep up. But she knew the real challenge was “the boys.”
“We’re trying our best to keep them from eating the dough,” she said, with a grin.
It was an incredible effort for an incredible amount of cookies – 500 dozen of them to be precise, when the job will be fully done early next week.
Jacob Doyle was carefully scooping cookies off the baking sheet, once they had cooled.
“Some stick a bit to the parchment paper,” he said. “But we have a good system down. Every year, we learn a little bit more about what works and what doesn’t.”
A short distance away, Colleen Wilkie was busily packing cookies into large, cardboard boxes.
She wasn’t the least bit tired, noting that it’s good preparation for her planned weekend ahead of holiday baking with her extended family.
“This is practice,” she said, noting that her family makes about 500 cookies.
The annual cookie marathon is in its 10th-plus year at Lancaster High School.
“I think it’s great because there are so many families going through hard times. It’s even people from our school, our friends,” Pillitteri said. “It’s not like it’s unknowns.”