Baker shares story, search behind cookie caper

Cook of the Week

  • Debra Solberg of West Dundee and her holiday cookies.

    Debra Solberg of West Dundee and her holiday cookies.

 
Updated 11/30/2010 12:16 PM

To look at her, you'd never suspect Debra Solberg would be capable of pulling off the biggest neighborhood Cookie Heist of the past two decades, but alas, it's true.

This kindhearted mother of two, who gives away dozens of Christmas cookies every year, tells all in an exclusive to the Daily Herald today.

 

We're reasonably sure the statute of limitations has run out. Pretty sure, at least.

Actually, it wasn't exactly a batch of cookies she purloined but a very special recipe, one that her former neighbor in West Dundee refused to give her. Here's how it came down.

"Just after she moved in, she asked to borrow one of my pans to bake cookies in, and I didn't get it back for weeks," says Debra. "One day she came over with it, and there was a big chunk broken off, but it was filled with these cookies."

Ah yes, THE cookies, a three-layered almond bar, sandwiched with apricot and raspberry jams and finished with chocolate glaze, called Neapolitan Cookies.

"They were absolutely delicious," says Debra, who was willing to forgive her neighbor for breaking the pan in exchange for the recipe.

"She never gave it to me," says Debra. "She broke my pan and she never gave me the recipe."

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What's a woman to do?

Well, one day the neighbor asked one of Debra's daughters to watch her kids, and you probably know where this is going. Debra plotted a low-tech, covert operation that gasp -- involved her daughter as accessory.

As soon as the neighbors stepped out, Debra's daughter signaled the "all clear" and stood watch while her mother rifled through the neighbor's recipe binder.

"If anything happened, I'd have to go out the back door," says Debra. "I wrote it down and ran home; I was in seventh heaven."

But the wheels of justice sometimes work in strange ways.

"I lost the recipe," laughs Debra. "I got punished."

This time she didn't have to plot a black op mission to retrieve it. She had shared it with a friend who willingly gave it back. But Debra's search wasn't over yet. The original recipe called for cooking the layers in the microwave, a temperamental method that sometimes left the edges dry, so she went on a multiyear prowl for an oven version, searching the Internet and any cookbooks she could lay hands on.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In a brush with fate seven years ago, while having her hair done, she was leafing through some of the stylist's cookbooks when she found what she was looking for, under a surprising name Rainbow Cookies. It turns out that these cookies are as famous in New York City as its popular black-and-white treats, and Debra had been searching for them under the wrong name.

"Now I have it," says Debra, and she shares it with all of us today in print and in her online demo.

"The almond butter gives you that real, real chewy, moist texture," she says.

They are one of 14 kinds of cookies she'll make this year for the holidays and give away at work, to friends and family.

Debra gives us two more as well, and some sage advice for baking: for accuracy, always weigh your ingredients instead of measuring in cups, and for safety, always post a lookout at the back door during a recipe heist.

Laura Bianchi