Neiman Marcus $250 Cookies
Before the internet, this cookie recipe made its rounds via chain letters and by word of mouth. It was called the Neiman Marcus $250 Cookie, but in spite of the fancy name it was just an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie. A wonderful chocolate chip cookie, by the way — distinctive because it contained not only semisweet but milk chocolate as well as chopped pecans.
And it was a cookie I remember baking for my newspaper colleagues in the 1980s in Atlanta. You might recall it, too. It always brought praise.
But did it really come from Neiman Marcus? Doubtful. That's what I wanted to find out as I wrote my latest book, American Cookie, which comes out tomorrow, where I learned that this cookie was such a part of Southern '80s culture. My friend Alice Randall, who teaches a Vanderbilt University class on soul food, knows this cookie well.
Alice's class was tracing the roots of soul food through recipe collections and they found this cookie in the recipe box of a well-known African-American caterer from Mobile, Alabama. Alice says this recipe speaks to how something called "Neiman Marcus" takes on a life of its own and is embraced by people wanting to emulate the food and fashion found at the high-end retailer.
Even if the cookie didn't originate at Neiman Marcus, it tastes like it should have. Rich and buttery, loaded with chocolate, it's something you only need to bake once. And then it becomes part of your cookie story.
What's Your Cookie Story?
That's the bigger question that evolved from this chain letter recipe. If someone can include a hand-written recipe in their box, make it a part of their family gatherings and bake it for clients, then it becomes a part of their story. It is their cookie. It speaks to them and of them.
Once again, I looked at American baking to examine history through the lens of something sweet. Last time it was cake, American Cake, and now it is cookies. (The images in this story offer a behind-the-scenes look at making my newest book.)
Cookies are different than cakes in that they are more down-home, they use ingredients you've got on hand, they feed children and crowds, and they're forgiving and are easy to bake ahead. If you lived in the 1980s you can see how well this Neiman Marcus cookie fit the times. Two kinds of chocolate, dark brown sugar, nuts and oats. That's typical of the loaded, indulgent cookies that came out of the decade.
And it's suitable for the way we bake today, too. We might be baking cookies with unbleached flour today and bleached yesterday, but that's the only difference. The dark brown sugar adds a pronounced flavor and darker color. Brown sugar also keeps cookies moist, which means you can bake today and serve them fresh tomorrow.
If you don't have a personal cookie story, if there isn't a recipe that you make each Christmas or send to your kids when they head to college, then this cookie recipe is a good place to start!
My cookie story includes the sugar cookie from my grandmother's recipe box, a sugar-dusted crescent-shaped cookie we make each Christmas, a gingerbread cookie scented with orange zest, and this Neiman Marcus cookie. These recipes say I love tradition and history and that I like to bake for others.
What's your cookie story? It's never too late to bake something new and start writing that story. If you need inspiration, then you'll find dozens of ideas in American Cookie. Some of the recipes are quite old but can still be baked today. Some of the recipes you might never have heard of — they are a part of the immigrant cookie story that became the American cookie story. And some recipes are modern and reflect a new way of baking. Regardless, each cookie recipe comes with a story and will let you travel back in time to learn about our country and the people who lived and baked here before us. Enjoy!
The Neiman Marcus $250 Cookie
Note: I used old-fashioned oats in this recipe, and by pulsing them in the food processor you break down the oats into a flour-like texture. If you have quick-cooking oats on hand, that is OK; just skip the step of pulsing in the food processor. As for flour, use bleached or unbleached. Unbleached flour will create a cookie with more shape and bite to it. The original recipe called for Hershey's milk chocolate, but our tastes today gravitate to a less sweet chocolate, so this addition of grated chocolate is your chance to customize this recipe. Use a bittersweet or semisweet for a stronger chocolate punch. Use milk chocolate if you like a sweet creaminess. Grate the chocolate with a cheese grater or cut the chocolate into shavings with a heavy, sharp knife. For a modern touch, use grated bittersweet chocolate and sprinkle the cookies with a little sea salt before baking. The salt really brings out the flavor of the dark chocolate.
Makes: 7 to 8 dozen 2-inch cookies
Hands-on time: 20 to 25 minutes
Total tme: About 1 hour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups oatmeal (see note)
2 cups all-purpose flour (see note)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
4 ounces semisweet or milk chocolate, grated (see note)
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts
Place a rack in the top third of the oven, and heat the oven to 375 degrees. Set aside two ungreased baking sheets.
Place the butter and sugars in a large bowl, and with an electric mixer beat on medium speed until creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Turn off the machine, scrape down the sides of the bowl, and add the eggs and vanilla. Beat on low speed until combined and smooth, 1 minute.
Place the oatmeal in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Pulse until the oatmeal is finely ground, 10 to 15 seconds. Place the oatmeal in a medium bowl and add the flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine the dry ingredients, and dump the dry ingredients into the bowl with the butter mixture. Beat on low speed until just combined, 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Fold in the chocolate chips, grated chocolate and nuts. Drop the batter by heaping 1-inch tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, on the baking sheets. Bake until the cookies just begin to crisp around the edges but are still a little soft in the center, 8 to 10 minutes. Let rest on the pan for 1 minute, then, using a spatula, transfer to a rack to cool. Repeat with the remaining cookie dough.
Recipe reprinted with permission from American Cookie: The Snaps, Drops, Jumples, Tea Cakes, Bars & Brownies That We Have Loved for Generations, copyright 2018 by Anne Byrn. Published by Rodale Books, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
Photos (behind-the-scenes images): Anne Byrn