We regret that this fine company is no longer selling cookies online
(as of March, 2010).
We remember an America where no one spoke of take-out, dads carved turkeys and moms baked wonderful goodies every week. Daughters spent enough time away from celebrity magazines to share the joy of baking, and you could look forward to the school or church bake sale, knowing there were butter-laden treasures to be found. Mrs. A’s apple pie, Mrs. B’s brownies and banana bread, Miss C’s chocolate chip cookies, and Grandma D’s devil’s food cake were made by women who knew nothing of baking with boxed powders that called for mixed in oil or margarine, or of frosting cakes with a product from a can. Even if you didn’t bake, you would ask them for the recipe.
If this sounds like an era that passed you by, or one that has gone with the wind of progress, take heart: there are still a few practitioners of the old craft of home baking in pockets of America. Some of them even are in business, fighting for your right to enjoy traditional delights of great cookie, cake and brownie recipes. They hold out against the high rents, low margins, long hours and back-breaking work that have driven their colleagues into more sensible professions—such that when an old-fashioned-style bakery opens, it is generally considered a cultural “event.”
Such a cultural event took place down the block from us recently; but after tasting one bite of everything, we tossed the forgettable rest and focused on the champion imports from Solomon’s Gourmet Cookies in Chicago. Solomon’s offers an extensive line of cookies and bars, made from the finest ingredients, that would make grandmothers throughout heaven nod in approval.
The business is the legacy of the owners’ own grandmother, Frieda Middel, who was a beautiful young woman in 1943 when she fell in love with handsome Aaron Solomon. You can follow the story on the company’s website.
For people who don’t like things sweet, the “Jelly Cookie,”
or thumbprint, adds just a little sweetness to the day.
Chocolate Mint Brownies: you can taste the butter,
the chocolate, the sugar and the mint. As it should
Plans to marry were interrupted by World War II. But every few weeks, Frieda would bake cookies from her own recipes to send to Aaron, stationed in Europe.
Finally the G.I. returned home, and the couple married and had two daughters. Frieda continued to develop recipes and sent cookies to friends nationwide.
By the early 1960s, fifty friends received cookies twice a year. The website shows an old black and white photo of a platter of cookies looking exactly the same as the beautiful colored ones in this article, so Mrs. Solomon clearly excelled at her craft from the beginning.
By 1994, 51 years after Frieda first shipped cookies to Aaron overseas, she turned over her recipes to her daughters; ultimately, in honor of Frieda and Aaron, Solomon’s Gourmet Cookies was formed.
The Wisdom of Solomon
Solomon’s calls their products “elegant gourmet cookies, brownies and bars.” It’s all semantics, but in the interest of journalism—how “elegant” is a brownie, chocolate chip cookie, or oatmeal bar compared to complex pastries?—we would call them a line of casual standards, elegantly turned out. If you’re a good baker, these are recipes that you would bake as treats for your family—not the fancy wares people expect for desserts. That being said, they are executed as beautifully as any artist could paint them and packaged in a simple but sophisticated presentation that makes the whole indeed more “elegant” and “gourmet” than the sum of the parts.
In fact, Solomon’s does not aim to turn heads by being super-rich, over-the-top, complex, sweet or nouvelle. They do what grandmas have always done best: take butter, sugar, chocolate, and other simple, quality ingredients, and mix them into wholesome, familiar, uncloying yummies. They are sweets that are not too sweet.
While all are good, we’ve asterisked our favorites. There are the familiars:
Chocolate chip cookies: white chip, chocolate and peanut butter chip, pecan peanut butter chip, pecan chocolate chip and M&M (no chips). These are not a brown sugar Toll House® style cookie but a lighter, large-format style.
Bars: Chocolate filler (oatmeal fudge), coconut bar, chocolate-frosted banana bar
And there are the not-seen-often-enough:
Chocolate mint brownies*: you can deconstruct the butter, chocolate and mint as you taste these; if you find the photo above tempting, you’ll love the taste
Chocolate-based chip cookies*: white chip, peanut butter chip, and chocolate chocolate chip, all in a delicious cocoa cookie base
Jelly cookies* (known elsewhere as “thumbprints”)
Sandies and chocolate chip sandies*
Bars: turtle bars, caramelitas*
Caramelitas have an oatmeal base with chocolate, caramel, and a streusel topping.
Solomon’s makes other items too, but we left them for another day: if anyone reading this wants to send us a gift, we’d like to try the mandel bread and the Muriel Roth bar (a friend of Mrs. Solomon?). If you live in the Chicago area, there are many other treats you can buy at the bakery that aren’t available online.
We had a feeling when we first saw the photography on Solomon’s website—among the most beautiful we have seen in our thousands of hours of looking at food producers’ websites—that their baked goodies were going to be delish. But like a blind date with a guy or gal who sends fabulous photos and a great dossier, you never know what you’re going to get until you meet and spend an evening together. Solomon’s was the tastiest of first dates...and seconds...and thirds....
SOLOMON’S GOURMET COOKIES
Chocolate Chip Cookies, Jelly Cookies Brownies, & Bars
Certified Kosher (Dairy) by the Chicago Rabbinical Council