On Christmas mornings, once the flurry of opening presents dies down, my mom always brings out the cookie tray. Gobbling treats while cleaning up wrapping paper has long been a family tradition. There are sugar cookies, butter cookies, sprinkled cookies, frosted cookies, powdered cookies—you get the idea. But no cookie tray is ever complete without Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies.
The ones my mom gets are packaged in a 17.6-ounce red-and-gold tin canister and sold for around $30 at the Dallas-based department store’s 36 locations during the holiday season. She recalls first seeing them in the store’s annual holiday catalog and thinking it would be nice to buy an item from the posh catalog. You know the one—it features outrageously expensive gifts only the 1% can afford, like a walk-on role in an American Ballet Theater performance for $195,000 (yes, that’s an actual gift in this year’s catalog). As far as store-bought cookies go, the Neiman Marcus ones are like a Goldilocks chocolate chip cookie: They’re the right size and have the right amount of crunch and chocolate chips in every bite to satisfy any chocolate chip cookie craving. And you get a nice tin.
For decades, the Dallas-based retailer’s cookies have persisted as a holiday staple for many Texas families, much like mine. In fact, I always thought these were the chocolate chip cookies that everyone talked about. But I recently learned the packaged cookies sold between Thanksgiving and Christmas are not the famous Neiman Marcus cookies. Those would be the large freshly baked ones sold at Neiman Marcus’ in-store restaurants and bars. Sometime during the last century, a rumor started going round that you could buy the recipe for these cookies. The price? $250. It turns out this mythical story is what really put the cookies on the map.
Neiman Marcus was founded in 1907 by Herbert Marcus, Sr.; his sister, Carrie Marcus Neiman; and her husband A.L. Neiman with a mission to provide quality fashion and service for Dallasites. After a fire burned down the first location, the store moved to the corner of Main and Ervay in 1914, where its flagship location at 1618 Main St. remains and, presumably, where the urban legend was born.
The department store thinks the rumor dates back to the 1930s, but it really gained traction in the ’80s. According to lore, a wealthy woman from Beverly Hills was shopping at the Dallas store with her daughter. After purchasing a scarf for $20, they decided to lunch at the Neiman Marcus Café. They had a salad, then capped off the meal with a chocolate chip cookie. The woman loved it so much, she asked for the recipe. They wouldn’t give it to her, so she inquired if she could buy the recipe. “Just two fifty” was the response. Put it on my tab, she said. When she got her credit card statement, she was stunned to see she was charged $250 for the recipe. According to a 1997 New York Times story, she was unable to get a refund and emailed the recipe to her friends in a fit of revenge.
Neiman Marcus has always denied the story, even pointing out that they did not sell cookies in their restaurants. Then, after years of having to address the rumor and combat requests for the recipe, a vice president of food service for the company came up with the idea of making a Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookie available for customers and diners in 1997. The company also decided to make the recipe available for free on its website.
Curious to see if the fresh baked cookies are as good as they say they are and how they compare to the tin canister cookies I eat during Christmas, I decided to make a batch myself. (Note: Neiman Marcus would not provide me with the recipe for the tin cookies.) I followed the recipe as closely as possible—although instead of a stand mixer I had to use an old hand mixer, which made preparing the dough more of a challenge. The recipe calls for baking batches for 20 minutes at 300 degrees; I had to adjust my oven temperature to get the cookies brown and crisp and hit the sweet spot at 15 minutes at 350 degrees. My cookies were a bit on the hard side, but not break-your-teeth hard. More like good-for-dunkin’ hard. They had me craving a glass of milk, which I figured meant a job well done.
I have yet to compare my version to the original fresh baked cookies sold in the Neiman Marcus bars and restaurants in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. At the NorthPark location, you can find them at the Mermaid Bar, but they’re not on the menu at the NM Café. A person from the café told me if a customer asked for one, they would get it from the bar for them.
The downtown location’s Zodiac restaurant is currently only serving a holiday menu, so go to the first-floor Espresso Bar for a cookie. “You’ll want to get them when they’re hot,” a person at the bar told me by phone. And if seeking a quantity of them, Mariposa, the Willow Bend location’s restaurant, will have the cookies ready for you if you call ahead and give them at least 30-minutes notice.
As for Fort Worth, the chocolate chip cookie is available at the store’s NM Café. “They are a favorite,” said the staff member I spoke to on the phone.
Of course, if you’re unable to travel for the big chocolate chip cookie or not up for baking them, you can always order a tin of Neiman Marcus chocolate chip cookies. While not the same as the famous freshly baked cookies, they can be a nice gift for a friend or family member. You can say you bought them something from Neiman Marcus and watch their face light up—unless they were expecting a walk-on role at the ballet.