Chicago — known for its dynamic summers, wind, and, most importantly, the amazing food found across her many neighborhoods — has welcomed yet another tasty destination to its mix. Chicago has everything you need and more: popcorn, pizza, and pastry, especially if you are looking for a cookie or two! Chicago has welcomed a homegrown pastry chef into its mix who brings a sweet medley of savory and sweet cookies to the Pilsen neighborhood.
What is a dessert without conversation? It’s good! It’s the reassuring silence after the first bite that rewards any chef with the truth of their cooking. Beyond being filling, it’s what is needed to touch the heart. As silent as the dining experience started, it soon erupts with laughter, comedic commentary, and heartfelt conversation. In that split moment of both silence and laughter, Cookies & Conversations thrive.
Cookies & Conversations is the newest bakery welcomed into Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. Unlike a typical bakery, it has a unique focus on bite-sized fun and dynamic pallet creations. From its inception, it has been a socially-focused cookie bakery and manufacturer that seeks to expand social settings into communities of honest dialog. It is imaginative, curious, and ever-evolving.
For Cookies & Conversations, play is at the center of creating delicious cookies and desserts from the heart. The combination of imagination and fearlessness that arises under such circumstances encourages others to be ingenious, creative, and dauntless — all the while forming a foundation through food, specifically cookies, to encourage us to look to the past that propels us forward, leading us to expanded growth.
Owner, and French pastry chef Leah Tibbs founded Cookies & Conversations to embrace the art of pastries and focus on ethically-sound ingredients. Chef Leah’s passion for food goes beyond her ability to sprinkle flavors into her cookies. She’s on a philanthropic mission to educate people on food that surpasses the limited knowledge of nutrition, while aiming to focus on what nourishment can be.
Chef Leah said, “Food is the physical record of our history, movement, and impact around the globe. Both our human bodies and what we consume are commodities in tandem. And as we’ve traveled, willingly and not — so has our food and how we’ve chosen to manipulate it into nourishment and love.”
“So much of food history and the way it’s ‘classically’ prepared is viewed and taught from a eurocentric lens. A lens that negates the powerful and the subtle ways different cultures of people have used, celebrated, and shared their food in their communities,” she lamented.
Chef Leah has an innovative approach to bridging food consumption and education. She crafted a play box that centers intimate conversations around baking in her fan-favorite Cookie Mix Kit. The kit includes a cookie mix, an assortment of tea (caffeinated and herbal blends), snacks, and conversation cards. There is a medley of topics and conversation starters for those who choose to participate.
“I see it as a vehicle to combine sweetness and connectivity, like real intentional connection. The type of connection where you have to slow down and be in the moment for — not the quick, short-lived ways we access one another through our phones by multitasking,” Chef Leah said. “I provide cookies that make you pause and evoke a response … and also aim to do the same with conversations as well.”
Although still gaining its legs, Cookies & Conversations is a beautiful addition to the community of Chicago. It’s an opportunity for engagement with those with whom we seek to grow and share experiences. As Chef Leah expands her bakery, she hopes to curate a space of free thought and exploration that most people are unaccustomed.
“I hope to help others lean into the unexpected … be it with a new cookie flavor or an opportunity to discuss a random subject with a stranger or loved one,” Chef Leah said.
“I want to remind Chicago she is very much alive, has so much vitality, and can offer so much more than the repetitive and unimaginative brick and steel that has marred her raw, natural, and blemished beauty. Chicago isn’t perfect but plastering a facade of sameness does nothing to help her grow and push her citizens to face themselves and decide to do better,” she said
Lemon Butter Cookie Recipe
1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
¾ cup granulated sugar
1 ½ tsp pure vanilla
1 tsp lemon extract
1 large egg
2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1–2 tbsp milk
- Prepare a sheet of parchment paper that will fit into a large flat container. This will be placed in the freezer with your piped cookies to firm up. The cookies will be transferred to your lined baking sheet trays after about 20 minutes in the freezer. Prepare two baking sheets lined with parchment or silicone mats. Set to the side.
- In a large bowl combine butter and sugar together with a handheld mixer or a stand mixer on medium-high. You want the butter and sugar combination to be smooth and creamy. Beat for 2 minutes.
- Add your egg, vanilla, and lemon extract. Beat on high until combined for 1 minute. Scrape your bowl and beat again quickly to make sure everything is combined.
- Add your flour and salt, and, on low speed, combine slowly until moistened. Turn up to high speed and beat until completely combined.
- Add 1 tablespoon of milk and mix on medium speed. You want the texture to be smooth and creamy like thick mashed potatoes, firm enough to hold shape, but soft enough to pipe. Add another tablespoon if needed to thin out cookie dough more. Mix to combine.
- Add a tip to a piping bag and cut off the end of the bag. Spoon some of the dough into the bag. On the flat sheet of parchment set aside for the freezer, pipe a 1 to 2-inch swirl. As these will go into your freezer to firm up and will need to be placed onto your baking sheets 2 inches apart, the swirls can be close together. In this step check to see how easy it is to pipe. If it’s too thick, add more milk.
- Pipe 1 to 2-inch swirls on the sheet until all the dough is used up. Place the sheet into a Tupperware and put the container in the freezer.
- While the dough is firming in the freezer, for 20–25 minutes, turn the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Move chilled cookie dough to baking sheets, giving 2 inches of space between each cookie. Bake the chilled cookies for 12–15 minutes, until the edges are lightly browned. These cookies will spread a little bit but should hold their shape because of the time spent in the freezer. Check the cookies at the 10-minute mark. They are done when the edges are lightly browned.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5 minutes before removing from the tray.