In Cookies and Content Marketing, Cut the Sugar in Half

Cookies & Content Marketing: The 12 Cookies of KOTAW | Cookies 6, 7 & 8 (Amish-Inspired Raspberry Cookie Squares, Award-Winning Coconut Islands and Grandma Gilhuly’s Chocolate Chip Cookies.) 

Diabetes runs in my family. So does love of sweets. To me, a day without sugar is like a day without a story, a day of existing rather than living.

How to create a crave-worthy content strategy | KOTAW Content MarketingAnd, while I understand that there’s no direct correlation between sugar consumption and Type 2 diabetes, I know that acquiring the disease would force me to change my diet in ways that would sour my disposition. (I become less than pleasant company when my supply of “writing chocolate” runs out.)

To fend off my hereditary predilection and to avoid becoming one of the alarming statistics — more than 9 percent of people in the United States are diabetic — I eat a lot of broccoli, take Ivy and Lucy on a lot of walks and eliminate half the sugar in practically everything I bake.

I don’t miss the other half. And I don’t think you will either. Guests gobble up my cookies faster than I wish they would. (I used to think my mother was stingy when she kept her favorite baked goods hidden from company. I can’t bring myself — yet — to follow her example, but I don’t object when my daughters do!)

I invite you to test my theory with these recipes from The 12 Cookies of KOTAW:

Amish-Inspired Raspberry Cookie Squares, Award-Winning Coconut Islands and Grandma Gilhuly’s Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Or try it with any recipe of your own, particularly ones that include sweet additions or toppings such as chocolate, raisins, frosting or preserves.

And while you’re munching those guilt-reduced cookies, take the same sugar-slashing approach with your 2015 content marketing strategy.

Here’s how:

1. Write Less

If your business is directly dependent on content — you’re a blogger or newspaper publisher who derives income from ads — you need to publish on a daily or near-daily basis. Or, if you’re in business of instructing people about content marketing, you’d look pretty silly if you failed to update your blog more than once a month.

For the rest of us, though, more is just more. The content machine is already overfed — it gets stuffed with 27 million pieces of content a day — and may end up in a diabetic coma if someone doesn’t put it on a diet.

Be that person. Even if you’re a really good writer. Especially if you are.

When I discover a new fiction writer I admire, I get excited. I want to read everything the novelist has ever penned. And, if it’s late at night and I’m not thinking clearly, I order all of their works from And then I read them (also late at night) in marathon fashion, one after the other. And do you know what ALWAYS happens?

I start to find fault with the writer — the prose, the plot, the characters, the book jacket bio — because I dull my senses with content overload.

It’s like eating a handful of cookies. The second never tastes as good as the first, the third one mostly makes you thirsty and the rest you just shove in your mouth to free up your hands.

Never satiate your audience. Leave them wanting more.

2. Write Better

How many blogs cross your social media feeds a day? How many of those do you bother sharing? More important, how many of them do you read?

I’m a fast, voracious reader, but I don’t think I read more than 1 percent, and it’s probably less than that. But there are some writers whose work I always peruse, whose blogs and articles I actively seek out if I haven’t seen their work in a while.

I crave good content, and I happily go to a lot of trouble to find it. I am picky about what I read and downright fussy about what I share.

So are your readers and so are you, I hope.

Make your work crave-worthy. Make it as mouth-watering as your favorite cookie.

3. Don’t Write

It’s hard enough creating stories that matter, finding the words to skillfully relay a message that will inform, entertain or inspire your readers. Don’t waste your talent — or your audience’s time — writing pointless content.

After five years as a journalist, my reputation for storytelling was well-established. I did extensive research for hard-hitting stories and intensive brain probes for soft ones. I could spin a story out of almost any situation.

But I never wrote a story that didn’t exist.

In one of my last assignments as a newspaper reporter, I was asked to write a deadline story about a construction project. It involved moving and erecting some very large pieces of glass across a downtown street. The editor was certain the glass would break, knew someone would get injured when it did and insisted I deliver the story in two hours — he would hold part of the front page for my story.

Fifteen minutes later, shivering on a grey winter morning, I knew there wasn’t a story. There was little to no danger of anything breaking and, if it did, mine was the only head that would be harmed. The street was deserted except for the crane operators who seemed relaxed and confident.

I called the editor, told him to put something else on the front page. He told me to stay and find a story. I stayed. I called the editor every 15 minutes to report the non-story and repeatedly suggest he find a better use for the front page.

He got angrier. I got colder. Neither experience produced a story.

The editor was furious when I returned two hours later with numb fingers and an empty notebook. Where, he wanted to know, was the &%#%#!!!!! story?

Not at the scene and not in my head, I said. It was nowhere.

Don’t tell nowhere, nothing stories. (There are plenty of other people who will tell them for you.) Tell the ones that matter to you.

And, for those of you who haven’t forgotten the original point of this story, here are some reduced-sugar cookie recipes that matter to me and that I hope you will enjoy.

Amish-Inspired Raspberry Squares

When my dad went on business trips to Pennsylvania, he always returned with a plastic-covered pan of jam-filled cookies that he picked up from a roadside stand in Amish country. We savored the crumbly cookies every three months for five years until whatever my dad did in Pennsylvania no longer needed doing.

I missed them, but my mom declined my requests that she bake them herself. “Jam is for toast, not cookies,” she said.

Some 30 years passed before I found a similar cookie at Whole Foods. It was tasty, but not as good as the raspberry-jam squares I remembered as a child. And, at $2 per square, they were a lot more expensive.

So I decided to make my own. This is an easy recipe and none of the measurements — except for the baking soda — must be exact. So feel free to experiment.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Line a 13 x 9 inch pan with parchment paper. Set aside.

Sift together the flour and baking soda. Stir in oats and combine with the butter and brown sugar.

Press about half of the mixture into the bottom of the pan. Top with jam and spread it to about ½ inch from edge.

Crumble the remaining mixture over the jam. Cover with coconut and press down gently.

Bake for about 25 minutes until the coconut is toasty brown.

Cool and cut into squares.

Award-Winning Coconut Islands

My mother kept a recipe for coconut islands in her recipe tin. I think someone won a contest for the recipe, and I think the contest was sponsored by a flour company. Year after year, I urged my mom to bake them. She demurred. “Frosting is for cakes, not cookies,” she said.

So she gave me the original recipe when I had a home of my own, and the cookies became everyone’s second-favorite holiday cookie (nothing surpassed my mom’s butter tarts.)

My ex destroyed the recipe and about 200 others after my daughters and I fled to a battered women’s shelter (That’s a story worth telling, but I already shared it in my memoir, “Quicksand: One Woman’s Escape From the Husband Who Stalked Her,” which inspired the Lifetime movie, “Run For Your Life.”) I found the recipe online about five years ago and adjusted it to accommodate our food allergies and my sugar-cutting efforts.

The online version of the recipe did not credit the author or the brand that sponsored the contest. So I give anonymous thanks to the person who made it possible for my daughters and me to enjoy coconut islands again.

To make:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Sift together flour and baking soda. Set aside.

Melt chocolate in microwave for about 1 minute (squares should be soft but still retain their shape.) Stir until chocolate is fully melted. Stir in coffee. Let cool.

In mixer with paddle attachment, cream together butter and brown sugar. Add eggs and cooled chocolate mixture and mix.

Add flour mixture and sour cream alternately, beginning and ending with flour.

Drop by rounded teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Bake for about 10 minutes. Bottoms will be brown; top will not change color.

While cookies are baking, melt remaining chocolate. Stir in sour cream and butter.

Gradually blend in confectioner’s sugar. If frosting is too thick, add sour cream a teaspoon at a time.

Spread on warm cookies. Top with coconut.

Note: These are soft cookies and should be stored in the refrigerator. If you can’t eat the cookies in less than a week, freeze the remaining cookies.

Grandma Gilhuly’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Before Mrs. Fields introduced them to mall shoppers everywhere, I’d never tasted a gooey, chewy chocolate chip cookie.

The ones my mom made were thin, crispy and small — about the size of a silver dollar.

It’s taken me a long time to perfect my mom’s chocolate chip cookies. Getting the cookies to crisp up with the reduced sugar was a challenge, but I did it this year!

Here’s how to make them:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Sift together flour and baking soda. Set aside.

Cream butter and sugars until sugar is fully dissolved and mixture is fluffy – about 5 minutes.

Add vanilla and eggs. Mix thoroughly. Add flour mixture and beat on low speed until blended.

Stir in chocolate chips.

Drop by slightly rounded teaspoon onto cookie sheet. Cookies are small but will spread, so keep about two inches between each cookie.

Bake about 10 minutes until tops of cookies are medium brown and bottoms are deep brown.

Moral of the Story

The easiest, best way to cut the sugar out of your content marketing is to double your thinking and halve your words.

Too often, it’s the other way around. Every day, when I scroll through my social media feed, I read a post that says it’s quantity, not quality that matters. Then another the next day – by the same author! – that says, well, quality DOES matter, but quantity is KEY!

First, I think: Does the author know how many other people are saying the same thing EVERY DAY? Then I think: Maybe, if the author took the time to actually THINK about what he’s writing before publishing, it wouldn’t take him two separate blog posts to form a complete thought.

Think more, write less – that’s my message. And, if you need help thinking, eat a cookie. It always works for me.

And, this, my friends is my Call to Action for this post: Eat a cookie! And Happy New Year!


  1. […] as called for in most peanut butter cookie recipes. I don’t think you’ll miss the sugar (and I’ll explain why in another installment of The 12 Cookies of KOTAW). But, you can add another ½ cup to the recipe if you like. Please […]

  2. Super post, Katherine! Only you could weave cookie recipes into a classic lesson in creating good content without putting us all into a sugar coma. Quality not quantity — a valuable lesson for any marketer, especially with the persistent, overwhelming deluge of content that confronts us each day. Informative, heartfelt, fun and unique. Well done!

    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      Some days I WISH for a sugar coma so I don’t have to read another blah-di-de-blah post, some by pretty good writers who get sucked in by artificial demands.

      I read “Gone Girl” over the holidays and the husband, a reporter-turned-bar-owner in the wake of newspaper and magazine collapses, says he couldn’t resurrect his career as a blogger because journalists couldn’t think quickly enough to churn out daily posts.

      Here’s to more thinking and less writing in the new year!

      Thank you — again — for your kind words, Paul, and for making YOUR audience wait for your brilliant insights and putting the social media beast on a much-needed diet.

  3. Kattt

    I am here!!!

    First off, those cookies look delectable!

    Second, I thought my husband and I were the only two crazies who binged on their favorite author – so glad to know you are in the same boat! ;) #HUGSSSS LOVEEE YOU so much <3

    Third, I echo Paul – only you could masterfully weave a content marketing fable using cookies as your foundation – you rock, lady!

    Hope your 2015 is bigger, better and BRIGHTER than before!


    • Katherine Kotaw says:

      I think we are always in the same boat. But we may need a bigger one to accommodate all the books and furry family members we keep accumulating!

      Love to you, Niks and Oreo today, tomorrow, in 2015, always.

  4. […] While the cookies baked, I mulled over some story ideas and came up with three that met my critical sniff test. And while I ate some of my creations, I penned “Branding Magic and the Evolution of Kris Kringle Cookies”, “Allergic to Peanuts or Social Media? This Cookie’s for You!” and “In Cookies and Content Marketing, Cut the Sugar in Half.” […]

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