“Cookies by the thousands”

Cookies by the thousands - Feature

During the 1980 Cookies by Bess promotional tour, Grandma Bess, Grandpa Abe, and my parents (Rich & Toby) traveled all over the mid-west to promote the revitalization of Cookies by Bess.  Along the way, Grandma Bess was interviewed by newspapers and TV talk shows.  One of my favorite newspaper articles “Cookies by the thousands” published in the Family/Food/Fashion/Fun section of Waukesha (WI) Post on Thursday, December 4, 1980.  Byline by Audrey Dobish, of the Post Staff.

Ms. Dobish does such a wonderful job of summarizing Bess’ story and bringing Cookies by Bess to life!  The article even has a recipe not found in the current Cookies by Bess cookie book!  It is such a treat to read these articles and even more sweet to share them with you!

“Cookies by the thousands” by Audrey Dobish is written below as published in the Wakesha Post almost 40 years ago.  I have added pictures from my archives as appropriate throughout the article.

I hope you enjoy “Cookies by the thousands” as much as I did!

“Cookies by the thousands”, by Audrey Dobish, of the Post Staff.  Originally published in the Wakesha Post on December 4, 1980.

Imagine baking a thousand cookies for Christmas.

Now imagine baking a thousand cookies in one day. Bess Hoffman has done that – she once baked 1700 cookies in one day. “With interruptions, yet!”

Bess (as she prefers to be called) is the author of “Cookies by Bess”, a completely revised edition of a book that was first printed in 1961, when she was living is Wausau.

The new edition included many of the recipes from the old book, but there are a lot of new ones, and many more frosting and filling recipes.

The first edition, also called “Cookies by Bess,” went in to seven printings and sold 35,000 copies. Bess recalled with amusement the efforts and work that went into the first book. Bess didn’t drive a car and she faced peddling the book with some trepidation. “I walked, such a challenge, and within a week the second printing was ordered.” She filled her shopping bag with copies of the book and found outlets for them throughout the city.

She got the idea for the cookbook from her doctor.

“My last daughter went off to school and I wasn’t feeling just right. My doctor suggested this was the time to write a book.” she said.

“I gathered the recipes that I had accumulated over 25 years, including my mother’s recipes. Many of the recipes had to be changed to specific amounts of ingredients. You know how some of those old recipes were a pinch of this, a handful of that.”

“Thinks are easier now – we have regulated ovens; remember how our mothers had to guess at the temperature of the oven? And how they would use straws from a broomstick to test for doneness?”

Bess’s love for baking began way back when as a child she watched her mother bake. “I was a tomboy then, but I always thought when I watched my mother that I, too, would bake some day.

She was raised in Chicago. After her marriage to Abe Hoffman she moved to Menomonie, Mich. After living there for a time, she and her husband moved to Wausau “where we spend most of our lives.”

The Hoffman’s have four children: June, Northbrook, Ill, twin sons, Richard and Ronald, who are pharmacists in Appleton, and Susan, the baby of the family.

It was when the twins were small that Bess really go in to baking. “I used to be so tired at the end of the day. After they (the twins) were tucked away for the night I began baking; baking relaxed me.”

“It’s wonderful to bake. Your mind is on your baking. There’s a wonderful feeling about it,” Bess says.

Efficiency is the key to baking lots of cookies at a time. Bess doesn’t double recipes and she follows directions carefully. She thinks everyone should, especially when it comes to pan sized and ingredients. The pan size, she says, should be governed by the size of the oven. Cookies on a large baking sheet will not bake properly in a small oven where the heat cannot flow evenly.

She has all her ingredients and baking pans, measures, etc., lines up before she begins her mixing. If eggs are to be used they are at room temperature, as are all other ingredients.

“In 1963 when my sons opened their drug store in Appleton, the Post-Crescent food editor, the late Lilliam Mackesy, came to interview me. I had told her I brought 10,000 cookies along with me from Wausau, and she said she just had to see it!” And there they all were, lined up on a wall of shelves.

I baked 3,000 cookies for my granddaughter’s wedding. She lived in Madison so they had to be brought in from California, hand carried. Each person in our party carried a shopping bag full of cookies onto the plane.”

The Hoffman’s moved to California in 1972 where they now live in West Los Angeles. “I like California very much,” said Bess, “but my heart is in Wisconsin; I’ve always loved Wisconsin.”

Bess thinks Wisconsin daily products are superior.

“Maybe I shouldn’t say this, but California butter is not as good as Wisconsin butter. You can’t beat Wisconsin dairy products; the butter, milk, cottage cheese…I love all Wisconsin dairy products.”
Bess uses butter in her cookies. “I’m a butter gal. There are some recipes, though, that do require shortening, but there is no substitute for butter,” she says.

What does Bess do with all those cookies? She has a freezer in her bedroom where she keeps the overflow, but she shares her cookies, “I just turned 73,” she said. “Most of my friends are senior citizens; I try to do as much as I can for them. Senior citizens are my specialty.” She give lectures, workshops, and has appeared on television frequently. “I try to do as much as I can, but I do rest in between.”

The cover of the new book is in color and is of cookies, what else? The cookies are in boxes and the boxes are arranged in geometrical shapes with the camera angle from straight above. (The accompanying photo on this page is of the back cover.)

Included in the book are hints on successful cookie baking, how to substitute (or when not to substitute), equivalencies, and an order form for additional copies. Bess has also included on invitation to the readers to submit their comments about the book and which recipes they liked best.

Bess gets lots of mail from readers through this invitation and she answers all the letters.

She summed up her baking career with a touching tribute to her “wonderful” husband Abe. “I could never have done it without the help of Abe. He has helped me all the way. I don’t drive so I have to depend on him.” Her family, too, she said, has supported and helped her through all the trails and tribulations of being a cookbook author.

The book sells for $5 and is available at Zita’s or Peg Bradley’s Suburban Sports Shops where it was recently introduced at an autographing party. It is expected to be available at other outlets.

Each of Grandma Bess’ newspaper articles included recipes from Cookies by Bess.  Bess shared several of my favorite recipes in this article…I’m happy to share the recipes with you as well as I’ve made most of them 🙂  Just click on the links below…

Cinnamon Swirls
Cinnamon Logs
Rich Flavor Christmas Cookies
Apricot Bars
Rich Butter Cookies
Chocolate Thumbprint Cookies

One other recipe included with this article was new to me! How fun to find new recipes from Grandma Bess even 40 years later! I’ll definitely use this recipe going forward and if I ever republish Cookies by Bess again, I’ll be sure to include it in the new book!



Chocolate Filling for Tarts, Small Cakes, Bar Cookies, and Sandwich Cookies


16 oz. package semi-sweet chocolate bits
½ cup sweetened condensed milk
1 tablespoon butter
¼ teaspoon salt


Melt over hot water in a double boiler, making sure the water does not boil over into the pan holding ingredients.  Remove from heat and add 1/2 cup chopped pecans or walnuts and 1 teaspoon vanilla.  Mix well.  Cool and use.

Cookie Difficulty Rating

difficulty 1 out of 4


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