by Bonnie Williamson
“What about desserts?” I asked. “If the world comes to an end, I’m going to want cookies.” That quote, which comes from young adult science fiction writer Susan Beth Pfeffer’s book, Life As We Knew It, could be the mantra for many people. Cookies and other sweet delights are essential to a happy life. Well, Perry Sanders has been doing his bit to meet those cravings for more than 50 years.
Sanders, 57, is the proud owner and chief baker at Sanders’ Cookie Jar Bakery in Hagerstown, Maryland. He jokingly says he has had a hand in the Cookie Jar since childhood.
“I began helping out when I was about eight years old. It was fun. Soon I was doing more than just helping out. I was rolling out the dough for cookies and cutting the cookies out,” Sanders says.
Sanders comes by his choice of career as part of a family tradition. He is the third generation of bakers. His grandfather Preston owned a bakery in Aberdeen, Maryland. His father Don started his own business in downtown Hagerstown at 20 East Washington St. in 1965. Sanders briefly tried other jobs for about three years before returning to the bakery business in 1984.
“It got into my blood,” he says.
He worked with his father for about ten years. His father eventually decided to sell the Cookie Jar. Sanders took him up on the offer, purchasing the business in 1994. He opened up Sanders’ Cookie Jar Bakery at its current location at 13140 Pennsylvania Ave., in 2000. He’ll celebrate his 25th anniversary as owner of the bakery this year.
Sanders describes the Cookie Jar as a “full-line” bakery.
“We do just about anything you could want, not just cookies. We have such a wide variety. Decorated cakes, anniversary cakes, special occasion cakes, butter rolls, buns, doughnuts, pies, breads, and danishes. Ninety percent of the work is done from scratch. It’s all done on site. I do all the baking and most of the mixing,” says Sanders.
Keeping things fresh is important at the Cookie Jar. Since no preservatives are utilized, customers should store their items properly to maintain freshness. All products other than those that contain pastry cream or whipped cream can be left at room temperature for two days as long as they are stored in airtight containers or under cake domes. After that, they should be kept under refrigeration if they are to be eaten over the next few days or in the freezer where they can be stored for several weeks in ziplock bags. Most pastries can be heated gently in the microwave.
The Cookie Jar also uses its own recipes.
“These are family recipes. We do things the old-fashioned way. The dough isn’t frozen like you find in supermarkets,” Sanders says.
Sanders has nine employees who are talented bakers and decorators, but that doesn’t stop him from working long hours, starting early in the morning and continuing into the evening.
“The hours may be long, but I still love the work,” he adds.
Items featuring cinnamon are some of the most popular ones, Sanders says, like caramel cinnamon buns and glazed cinnamon donuts. Still, these are only two of the vast assortments of guilty pleasures at the Cookie Jar.
In the pastry department, there are such items as apple, blueberry, cherry and peach fruit pie tarts; fruit turnabouts, a buttery pastry shell filled with fresh sliced fruit and pastry cream (have to be ordered in advance); apple dumplings; filled croissants, including a chocolate filling; apple, blueberry, cherry cream cheese, peach and pecan danish; cream puffs; eclairs; pastry pretzels with almond and cinnamon; donuts, plain or iced filled with apple, cream, custard, lemon, peanut butter, raspberry, blueberry; donut holes; brownies; Baklava; dessert buns with caramel, coconut and other flavors; cannolis; cream horns; and elephant ears, along with a Mardi Gras King Cake (of course only around Mardi Gras time in February).
Pastry party platters are available, consisting of mini cream puffs and eclairs, mini danishes, pastry pretzels, tarts and brownies. The small platter of 30 assorted pastries serves from 12 to 20, the large platter of four dozen pastries serves 30.
Now let’s get to those cookies. Sanders says cutout cookies in the shape of snowmen, hearts (for Valentine’s Day) and other holiday symbols can be ordered. Butter tea cookies can be decorated. There are drop cookies, where the dough is literally just dropped on the cookie sheet then baked. These cookies come in chocolate chip, chocolate peanut butter, chocolate/white chocolate chip, coconut, oatmeal raisin, peanut butter, raisin, Snicker Doodle, and sugar. Cookies can be filled with coconut, chocolate chip, peanut butter or raspberry.
Cookie party platters are available with assorted cutouts, drop and decorated butter tea cookies. The small platter can meet the needs of five dozen people, the large 10 dozen.
Then there is the unique cookie cake. Sanders says a person’s favorite cookie, for any occasion, can be made into a cookie cake. The sizes can range from eight inches to ten inches to 12 inches in width.
“It’s not thin like other cookie cakes, but a thick cookie,” he adds.
A panoply of breads can be found at the Cookie Jar, including dessert breads like Monkey bread, a type of bread made by baking many small balls of yeast dough in a pan with a sweet or savory sauce; raisin bread, and banana nut bread. Customers can get loaves of bread like Irish Soda Bread, on hand for Saint Patrick’s Day; Challa; marble rye; wheat; and pumpernickel. There are also bread rolls like corn bread, garlic sticks, and potato hot dog rolls.
Need a pie? You’ve come to the right place at the Cookie Jar. Fruit and nut pies include apple, blueberry, cherry, peach, raisin, apple caramel walnut and strawberry rhubarb. Seasonal pies like mince, mincemeat and pumpkin can add to holiday dinners. There are cheese pies and custard pies.
Cakes are made fresh to order. They can be decorated with a company’s logo, a team’s logo or for special occasions. Cake flavors available are: white, yellow, chocolate, marble, almond flavored, spice, carrot, red velvet, lemon flavored, orange flavored, banana flavored, strawberry flavored, cherry chip, mint flavored chocolate, rum flavored. Icing flavors available are: white buttercream, butterwhip (marshmallow-based), chocolate, peanut butter, caramel, cream cheese, German chocolate, milk chocolate, milk chocolate butterwhip, lemon flavored, orange flavored, mint flavored chocolate, and coconut. A variety of fillings are available.
Cupcakes can also be ordered.
Sanders says the one type of cake you won’t find at the Cookie Jar is wedding cakes.
“Wedding cakes are very time consuming. We do a large volume of cakes. A wedding cake is something for a very special time. A once in a life time event. It requires a special cake decorator. We can recommend someone from our area to do wedding cakes,” Sanders says.
With the emphasis these days on more healthy eating and steering away from sweets, Sanders says he isn’t worried.
“There are ups and downs with anything,” he says. “People still want to treat themselves.”
The public agrees. Sanders’ Cookie Jar Bakery has been recognized as the Best Bakery in 2018 by Hagerstown Magazine and awarded Best Desserts of the Tri-State by the Herald Mail Company’s Readers’ Choice in 2018.
How sweet it is!
Sanders’ Cookie Jar Bakery’s hours are Monday to Friday, 6:30 a.m. to 6 p.m.; Saturday from 6:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, go to the website at www.sanderscookiejarbakery.com or call (301) 797-0076.