At Cookies for Caring on Sunday at the Driskill Hotel, 5-year-old Sawyer VanNess knew which of the dozen cookies he and his family added to their tin was his favorite one.
"I had the lemon one," he said, referring to the Four Seasons Austin's lemon gooey butter cookie. "Really, really good."
Sawyer and his parents also tried Hank's eggnog and nutmeg cookie and Hotel Ella's classic gingerbread cookie. The rest, they would save for later.
"It's one of our favorite things to do," said Sawyer's mom Jessica VanNess. "The carolers (from Austin Carolers) are fun, and Santa."
For the fourth year, the Driskill has hosted Cookies for Caring to benefit the American-Statesman's Season for Caring program, which highlights the stories of 12 Central Texas families and helps hundreds of others through local nonprofit organizations.
The Driskill invites local pastry chefs to participate by baking 300 of their signature cookies and donating them to the event. For $50, people buy a tin to fill with one of each cookie.
The event is expected to raise $10,000 this year, the most ever.
Each year, folks at the Driskill, including head pastry chef Tony Sansalone, reach out to a network of pastry chefs in local bakeries, restaurants and hotels to ask them to participate during Cookies for Caring. This year, the Driskill's 1886 Café & Bakery, Cedar Door, Four Seasons Austin, Hank's, Hotel Ella, Hyatt Regency Austin, La Volpe, Tatsu-Ya, the Cake Plate, Tiny Boxwoods and TLC Austin participated.
"For me, it's why not?" said Liana Sinclair, executive pastry chef at Hotel Ella. "I wasn't sure I would have time to do it, but it is for charity."
Sinclair chose to make gingerbread cookies because she's originally from New England and "gingerbread is very nostalgic for me," she said.
Natalie Gazaui of Tatsu-Ya also went for nostalgia by making peanut butter and jelly cookies, which remind her of the fun of being a child. "I remember I loved PB&J."
"It's all for a good cause," she said. "We love doing charity events as often as we can do them."
The Cake Plate made Texas-shaped Ranger Cookies coated in chocolate with coconut, oatmeal and Rice Krispies inside. "I don't do anything simple," said owner Scott Calvert. "We go all out."
Cookies for Caring is fun for him because he gets to meet new people, he said. Last year, after the event, a couple of them even called up and ordered a cake. "That's lovely, but that's not why we're here or what we came for."
For these pastry chefs, it's about giving back.
"It's an opportunity for us to be part of the community," said Sansalone. This year, he made peanut butter-Cocoa Krispies drops and rocky road caramel crunch bars.
Corinna Wenkes, general manager at the Driskill, said this is a way of doing something for Austin. "How do we help Austin? We're keeping it local."
Season for Caring's 12 nonprofit partner organizations are all local, providing everything from shelter for children, abuse survivors, refugees or the homeless to money management services for seniors and cancer care to people in Central Texas.
Cookies for Caring also brings an energy to the hotel. People showed up and started to line up about an hour before the event. Many were excited to have purchased their tin in time this year. "I had tried for the past three years," said attendee Leslie Luciano, adding the event was always sold out before she could get one.
"This year, we did it right," daughter Summer Luciano said.
Katie Rector brought her daughters, daughter-in-law and granddaughters to the event, making it the third year they have attended. "It's a great cause," she said. "We love to support it."
"It's a great family tradition," said daughter Colene Rector.
"It's festive and fun," Katie Rector's other daughter, Ashley Rector, said.
After filling their tins with cookies, many attendees sat down outside the ballroom to sample them. "Oh, my gosh," said Annette Mercado with a mouthful of Tiny Boxwood's classic chocolate chip cookie. "I would buy them. This is an excellent cookie."
She attended with sister-in-law Suellyn Mercado, who had been on the lookout for when the tins went on sale. "You all need to answer me ASAP before they are gone," she had told her friends.
"This is a great event," she said. "I look forward to it."
"It's a very Austin event," friend Catherine Melvin said.