Cutting the cake is a common part of wedding receptions all over the country. But what about serving the cookies?
At weddings in Pittsburgh and throughout western Pennsylvania, there’s another dessert tradition: the Pittsburgh cookie table. “I would say at least 80% – 90% of our brides do cookie tables,” says Rania Harris, owner of Rania’s Catering.
Some say the tradition started in western Pennsylvania with the influx of Italian, Greek, and Eastern European immigrants. No matter who started it, the cookie table has stuck – and specifically around the Pittsburgh area. “I used to think this was an East Coast tradition. I would meet with parents from Indiana or Minnesota whose son was marrying a Pittsburgh girl, and they would ask, ‘What’s the deal with the cookies at the reception here?’ But after meeting with some parents from New York and New Jersey, I realized this is a Western Pennsylvania thing,” says Tony Moio, who has owned Moio’s Italian Pastry Shop since 1977.
Over the years, the cookie table has evolved and grown into a big production. “The Pittsburgh area has always seemed to have cookies at their weddings,” Tony explains. “The numbers have changed over the years, and they have changed dramatically in the last 10 years.”
Most wedding guests expect to see a cookie table at a Pittsburgh wedding these days. Rania also adds, “the cookie displays have become far more elaborate.”
The number of cookies on the tables has also exploded over the past several years. “I would say the normal amount now is 4-5 cookies per person, and I’ve seen tables where it’s 10-15 per person. That jumps that 100 people wedding average to 40-50 dozen cookies now,” Tony says. Some couples like to truly shower their guests with sweets. “On traditional tables, they often order enough for two dozen cookies per guest,” Amanda from Bella Christie and Lil’ Z’s Sweet Boutique reports.
Depending on the number of cookies the couple has provided, the treats can be served during a cocktail hour with (or in place of) hors d’ouevres, or they can be set out after dinner for guests to snack on while dancing.
What Types of Cookies Go on a Cookie Table?
Cookies of all shapes and sizes can be found on a Pittsburgh cookie table. Many times, the bride and groom’s friends and family bake the cookies in the months leading up the wedding.
When ordering cookies from a bakery or a caterer, the flavors vary widely. “It often depends on what the family favorites are, which could mean anything from Italian knots to baklava to kolacki (a Polish filled cookie),” Amanda says. Basically, the couple has free rein to entertain their sweet tooth. “I would say that we’ve seen everything from the simple chocolate chip cookie to the delicate lady lock to the typical thumbprint and pizzelle,” Rania reveals.
With all those delicious cookies, no one wants to let them go to waste after the reception. “When you go to a wedding reception, the cookie table is expected along with boxes or containers for the guests to take some home,” Tony explains. Some couples provide elaborate boxes that match the theme of their wedding, encouraging every guest to take some cookies to go.
Beyond the Cookie Table
If cookies aren’t the only sweet treat you want to serve at your wedding, try a dessert table or a sweet table. These include different styles of desserts including crème brulee. For Bella Christie’s, “the most popular cookie for a sweet table is a chocolate chip cookie on a milkshake.”
Whether you want a cookie table or dessert table at your wedding, thank western Pennsylvania for keeping the tradition alive. Bella Christie’s says, “It started in western Pennsylvania, and truth be told, Pittsburgh should get the credit of starting dessert tables because here is where it all started!”
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My wife & I decided to keep our wedding cookie table small so we didn’t work our relatives to death by baking! The easiest decision we made was ordering a bulk of our wedding cookies from Smileycookie.com– the Pittsburgh iconic cookie of Eat’n Park. Every guest had a wrapped cookie to take home at the end of the night and our elderly relatives had enough energy to dance through the whole reception!
Just heard about the Cookie Table. My niece is marrying a wonderful young man from Pittsburgh. Her family has always loved my oatmeal raisin cookies…too basic for an elaborate wedding? How many should I contribute to bounty of cookies for 250 guests?
Hi Diane, Oatmeal Raisin Cookies are certainly appropriate, even for the most elaborate of weddings! A usual quantity is 5-7 dozen cookies of any one type for a wedding of that size. The family often supplies bags or boxes for guests to take home an assortment of any leftovers to enjoy the next day. Happy baking and congratulations to you and your niece!