Schooling the cookie business
Retired teacher finds new passion in baking and creates local cookie craze.
Yvonne Conti-O’Brien retired as a middle school Spanish teacher and moved to The Villages in 2017. To say she accidentally discovered baking is an understatement. It literally fell into her lap.
“I’m not a cook,” Yvonne says. “My husband is actually the cook in the family, and one day, I was moving his cookbooks around and a recipe for chocolate chip cookies fell out and laid perfectly on the counter.”
It was a sign from heaven. The problem was, Yvonne had tried baking those cookies before and they turned out, well, less than appetizing.
“Seriously, they were bad,” Yvonne says. “But something inside me told me to try again.”
This time, they were fantastic.
Dumbfounded, Yvonne made the cookies again to make sure it wasn’t a fluke. It wasn’t. She was pleasantly surprised that they were amazing and her family couldn’t get enough of them.
“I told my husband that I wanted to make cookies, even though I hadn’t had cookies in over 15 years,” Yvonne says.
Yvonne battled Lyme disease in early years and developed neuropathy in her legs that leaves her in pain most of the time. In an effort to become healthier, she lost more than 160 pounds. Baking has become a place of solace for her to keep her mind off the pain and on to something she loves.
Sharing the Love
That Christmas, Yvonne made boxes of cookies for her friends and family members and all were thrilled. On a trip home to Connecticut, she made a huge batch of chocolate chip cookies, which seemed to disappear in an instant.
“My boys were two-fisting these cookies, eating a dozen at a time,” Yvonne says. “Then they went out and bought all the ingredients I needed to have me make more. We were only there three days and still had cookies in the oven when we left.”
When Yvonne returned home, she decided to try her hand at a different flavor. She wanted to make oatmeal raisin cookies, and her son’s girlfriend told her to put chocolate chips in them.
“I said, ‘Why bother?,’” Yvonne recalls. “Why not just use chocolate covered raisins? And that’s how I came up with my oatmeal Raisinette cookie.”
Yvonne kept giving her cookies away to everyone she met, even the FedEx guy who then dubbed her the cookie lady.
“He told me I should sell these,” Yvonne says. “That stuck with me, and I kept thinking about it, but I wasn’t sure I could do it.”
In Honor of Her Late Father
Yvonne teamed up with her youngest son, who designed a logo and encouraged mom to find a local market and see if people would be interested in buying her cookies. So Yvonne had to come up with a name.
As she walked into her kitchen and saw her red rooster cookie jar, she knew at that moment the name that would carry her into the cookie business.
“My son got to work on marketing material, and we got everything ready,” Yvonne says.
The business came to fruition on February 8, the day before a solemn anniversary.
“On February 9, 2005, my father passed away at the age of 57,” Yvonne says. “Every February was a very hard time for me as I was an only child and daddy’s girl. I feel like it was like my dad’s way of saying you need to be happy now.”
Creating the Cookie Craze
Today, Yvonne has created more than 100 different cookie recipes, including some popular adult flavors. Some of the most-popular include her classic chocolate chip, glazed golden apple, Mexican wedding cookie, snickerdoodle, lemon crinkle, salted caramel cashew, chunky peanut butter, a sugar-free chocolate chip, and a gluten-free chocolate coconut cluster.
She set up her shop at local markets in The Villages and quickly started a cookie craze.
What’s her secret?
“One thing we do is mix everything by hand,” Yvonne says. “I use what’s called a Danish whisk and I mix everything thoroughly to the right consistency. That’s imperative to the outcome of the cookie.”
During the pandemic, when many markets closed, a local farm opened and invited select vendors to sell their goods. A whole new world opened for Yvonne when the owner of Brown’s Country Market in Oxford tried one of her cookies and had to have them in the store.
“We still offer our cookies there and they are still going strong,” Yvonne sys. “Some people drive over an hour each week to get the fresh delivery.”
On an average day, Yvonne and her team can make a couple hundred cookies. In busier months, they make around 90 dozen.
Cookie of the Week
To showcase all her creations, Yvonne created both a Cookie of the Week and Cookie of the Month. The Cookie of the Week features a special flavor she debuts only once a year and is offered at Brown’s County Market, 13940 N. U.S. Hwy. 301 in Oxford. Her fans can also enroll in Yvonne’s Cookie of the Month Club, which guarantees members a half-dozen of each weekly flavor she bakes in that particular month.
“We have a lot of people who love our monthly club because they get a half dozen of each of that month’s cookie of the week, so 24 cookies each month,” Yvonne says. “We ship a lot of those.”
To purchase cookies, sweet breads, and gift sets, visit www.rrcookiejar.com. Orders can be shipped throughout the country or delivered in The Villages area.
Weigh out your flour in grams before adding it to the mixture. Many people take a cup of flour and pack it down, which actually adds more flour than you need, creating a heavier cookie.
The dough is ready when it doesn’t stick to your spoon, the bowl or fingers.
Make sure your butter is room temperature and not too warm or you will have flat cookies.
The color of your pan will affect the baking. The darker the pan, the better. A lighter pan will cause the bottom to cook faster than the top.
The weather will affect your dough. In the Florida humidity, you will most likely have to add a little extra flour to get the right consistency. If it’s a particularly hot day, the consistency of the dough will change. If it’s raining, you can almost forget it. The dough is ready by the texture, not by the recipe.
Always scrape the sides of the bowl to get an evenly distributed dough.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 10 minutes
Yields approximately 27
- 5 cups sugar
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 box lemon pudding
- 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 2 tbsp. fresh lemon zest
- 1 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup of white chocolate chips
- 2 3/4 cups of flour
- Cream together butter, sugar and pudding mix using a wooden spoon or whisk.
- Add baking soda and baking powder until combined.
- Add lemon juice, egg, zest and white chocolate chips. Mix until wet.
- Add flour and mix together until combined.
- Chill overnight.
- Form dough into 1-inch balls and roll in sugar before placing on baking sheet.
- Bake at 375 for 10 minutes.
- Let cool before serving.
Prep: 10 Minutes
Cook: 18 minutes
Yields 30 to 40
- 1 cup of unsalted butter, soft but not melted.
- 1 1/4 cups chopped pecans
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 2 1/4 cup flour
- Powdered sugar to cover
- Place all ingredients except for powdered sugar into a bowl and use a wooden spoon to mix thoroughly. Make sure the butter is very soft.
- Roll into tablespoon-size balls and place on cookie sheet.
- Bake at 325 for 18 minutes.
- After they cool, roll them in powdered sugar and serve.
Prep: 10 minutes
Cook: 9 minutes
Yields 27-30 cookies
- 1 1/3 cup of white sugar
- 1 cup of unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 2 tsp. cream of tartar
- 2.5 tsp. cinnamon
- 2 tsp. vanilla
- 1 large egg
- 2 3/4 cup flour
- Cream together butter and sugar.
- Add salt, baking soda, cream of tartar and cinnamon until combined.
- Add vanilla and egg. Mix thoroughly.
- Add flour and mix, but do not overmix or they will be flat.
- Make into balls and bake at 400 for 9 minutes.