Debunking The Gazillion-Dollar Designer Cookie Recipe


You may have heard the story before: woman goes to Neiman-Marcus/Mrs. Fields, orders cookie, loves cookie, requests recipe, is told it’s “two-fifty” and is shocked to get a credit-card statement for $250. For revenge, she shares with the world:

Here’s one basic version, which predates the internet but has certainly flourished since its inception.

This is a true story… Please forward it to everyone that you can…. You will have to read it to believe it….
My daughter and I had just finished a salad at Neiman-Marcus Cafe in Dallas & decided to have a small dessert. Because both of us are such cookie lovers, we decided to try the “Neiman-Marcus Cookie”. It was so excellent that I asked if they would give me the recipe and the waitress said with a small frown “I’m afraid not.” Well” I said, “would you let me buy the recipe?”
With a cute smile, she said YES”. I asked how much and she responded, “Only two fifty, it’s a great deal!” I said with approval, “just add it to my tab”.. Thirty days later, I received my VISA statement from Neiman-Marcus and it was $285.00. I looked again and remembered I had only spent $9.95 for two salads and about $20.00 for a scarf. As I glanced at the bottom of the statement, it said, “Cookie Recipe – $250.00”. That’s outrageous!!!
I called Neiman’s Accounting Dept. and told them that the waitress said it was “two-fifty,” which clearly does not mean “two hundred and fifty dollars” by any POSSIBLE interpretation of the phrase. Neiman-Marcus refused to budge.. They would not refund my money, because according to them, “What the waitress told you is not our problem. You have already seen the recipe – we absolutely will not refund your money at this point.” I explained to her the criminal statutes which govern fraud in Texas. I threatened to refer them to the Better Business Bureau and the State’s Attorney General for engaging in fraud. I was basically told, “Do what you want, we dont give a damn, and we’re not refunding your money.” I waited a moment, thinking of how I could get even,or even try to get any of my money back. I just said, “Okay, you folks got my $250.00, and now I’m going to have $250.00 worth of fun.”
I told her that I was going to see to it that every cookie lover in the United States with an e-mail account has a $250.00 cookie recipe from Neiman-Marcus… for free..She replied, “I wish you wouldn’t do this” I said, “Well you should have thought of that before you ripped me off”, and slammed down the phone on her.. So, here it is!!! Please, please, please pass it on to everyone you can possibly think of. I paid $250.00 dollars for this… I don’t want Neiman-Marcus to ever get another penny off of this recipe….
(Recipe may be halved): 2 cups butter
4 cups flour
2 tsp. baking soda
2 cups granulated sugar
2 cups brown sugar
5 cups blended oatmeal (measure oatmeal and blend in blender to a fine powder)
24 oz. chocolate chips
1 tsp. salt
1 8 oz. Hershey bar (grated)
4 eggs
2 tsp. baking powder
3 cups chopped nuts (your choice)
2 tsp. vanilla
Cream the butter and both sugars. Add eggs and vanilla; mix together with flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder, and soda. Add chocolate chips, Hershey bar and nuts. Roll into balls and place two inches apart on a cookie sheet..Bake for 10 minutes at 375 degrees. Makes 112 cookies.. Have Fun!!!
This is not a joke – this is a true story… Ride free citizens!!!! This isn’t some stupid chain letter either.. pass it on.. if you don’t, you won’t die or get dumped.. you’ll just do the world an injustice…

There are numerous variations. In some, it’s Mrs. Fields. There are foreign variations that name other high-end department stores as the villain. (In England, it’s “Woollie’s Cookies.”) Cookbook writer Ann Hodgman relates a version in which the wronged diner is “a member of the American Bar Association.”

In fact, the “average-jane-gets-duped-spreads-recipe” story has been around for decades. Snopes unearthed this variation in a 1948 cookbook, Massachusetts Cooking Rules, Old and New: a “$25 Fudge Cake.” A few decades later, the culprit was a red-velvet cake at New York’s Waldorf-Astoria. As one red-velvet cake site sums it up, “A red velvet cake was a signature dessert at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City during the 1920s. According to a common urban legend a woman once asked for the recipe for the cake, and was billed a large amount. Indignant, she spread the recipe in a chain letter.” Sound familiar?

The cookie we now know was first attributed to greedy bakers at Mrs. Fields, circa 1987, and the rumor proved pervasive enough that Mrs. Fields stores started displaying the following sign: “Mrs. Fields recipe has never been sold. There is a rumor circulating that the Mrs. Fields Cookie recipe was sold to a woman at a cost of $250. A chocolate-chip cookie recipe was attached to the story. I would like to tell all my customers that this story is not true, this is not my recipe and I have not sold the recipe to anyone. Mrs. Fields recipe is a delicious trade secret.”

Apparently it’s only been Neiman’s for about 20 years. Some speculate that this came about when, in some sort of chain-letter game of telephone, “Mrs. Fields” morphed into “Marshall Fields” which in turn somehow became “Neiman-Marcus.” Maybe Texans just had better PR.

It’s pretty easy to debunk the myth: for one thing, Neiman-Marcus didn’t even have a “Neiman-Marcus” cafe back when the rumor started circulating, let alone a signature cookie. Now, they do – in response to the rumor. As a Neiman’s rep (no stranger who fielding queries about the urban legend) wrote me,

As this urban myth has been circulating for over 15 years, long before Neiman Marcus ever served cookies in our cafes (we have never served them in our restaurants), I am certainly familiar with it. I can assure you it is absolutely untrue. It has been investigated time and time again and has never been found to have a single bit of factual information. For example, Neiman Marcus does not accept VISA as payment in our stores and we have a very strict policy that stipulates a customer must sign his or her sales receipt prior to leaving a cafe or restaurant.

They have also developed what they consider an improved version of the recipe.

But whence the recipe itself? The only real innovations in the chain-letter cookie are the ground oatmeal and chocolate, and this in itself is not that big a deal: my great-grandmother was “famous” for what were known as “Munnie’s WOW Cookies” (don’t ask; they were WASPS.) This contained fine oatmeal and chocolate, but not ground. Recipes for “cowboy cookies” including chocolate and oats date back to community cookbooks (or at least mine) of the 1940s. Of course, the chocolate-chip cookie itself only dates back to the 1930s. And the Neiman-Marcus cookie probably did not pre-date the era of the household blender, since oatmeal and chocolate would have been too hard to grind by hand.

But given the dates when it starts popping up and the style of cookie, it seems safe to date this recipe to the 1980s, when big, extravagant, death-by-chocolatey stuff became popular. Maybe the back of a box, maybe some pastry chef’s kitchen: the secret is lost somewhere in the mists of urban legend, waiting for someone to step forward and take credit.

And, how is it? Pretty good. Kind of a hassle, frankly: the chocolate can get gummy as the blades of your blender or food processer heat up and then you have to scrape the remains out with the handle of a wooden spoon. And the dough, being full of ground chocolate, is messy to work with. The resulting cookie is big, ungainly, almost off-putting in its lavishness. For those of us who love the salted caramel notes of a chewy cookie, this will not be the platonic ideal. But this I will say: when I brought these to a party in high school, a boy I liked told me that “this is the closest a cookie comes to an orgasm.” Which is, I guess, something.

Costs A Fortune Cookie
That’s One Expensive Cookie [Breaking the Chain]
Neiman Marcus [Wikipedia]

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