By Harriet P. Gross
Once upon a long time ago, I ate the best brownie ever at a friend’s home. I asked for the recipe; when she gave it, I was startled to see that its name was “Swear-on-a-Bible Brownies.” I immediately thought, “Hey! There’s a story here!” And there was:
When my friend asked for the brownie recipe, the baker refused, saying she never gave it to anyone. But my friend is the essence of persistence and has no shame. She said, “Give it to me, and I’ll swear on a Bible that I’ll never give it to anyone else.” She’s been handing it out, under her own title, ever since.
I remembered those Biblical brownies as our recent Women’s League for Conservative Judaism’s Dallas conference wound down. Many locals had graciously baked for our hospitality room: mandelbrot, lemon squares, brownies (but none as good as you-know-which). At the end, I thought our out-of-towners might want the few leftovers for their trips home, but they all asked for the lace cookies, which were long gone.
“I’ll find out who made them and get you the recipe,” I promised. Rashly, because a Shearith Israel woman spoke right up: “Those are Susan Ehrlich’s cookies. She brings them every time she’s asked to bake for something, and she won’t give the recipe to anyone.” “We’ll see,” I said, thinking about those brownies. But the speaker went on: “She’s giving the recipe to one good friend. One ingredient a year….” Well, I do recognize a story when I run into one!
When I contacted Susan, she thought it hilarious that her cookies could make a column. But she stressed that she would not divulge the much-sought-after recipe, although “I’ve considered putting it in Shearith Sisterhood’s upcoming cookbook,” she said. “But so far, I haven’t submitted it.” So don’t hold your breath.
Susan got the recipe from a friend many years ago, and now they’re her own special cookies, which “always seem to be a hit,” she says. She’s happy to make them for any occasion, from upbeat ones like our conference to shiva minyans. But she’s a realist: “I figured that if everyone had the recipe, they wouldn’t be special.”
Susan has announced that she’ll be leaving the recipe, in a sealed envelope, with the lawyer who has her will, and he can share it with anyone and everyone when she’s no longer around to bake herself. But then, Susan adds this bit of anticipatory caution: “He loves the cookies, too. So I haven’t yet given him the envelope….”
Before dear friend Gail Mizrahi’s very special birthday last fall, “I was trying to think of something meaningful to give her,” Susan recalls, “and I thought of the recipe, because she loves the cookies so much. And then I decided to make the gift go on until her next big birthday. So I prepared labels with a portion of the recipe for every year for the next nine years, too. I made a little board for her to place each sticker on. And by the time she gets the entire recipe, she will have to take over my baking responsibilities.” (Susan admits to being a decade older than Gail.)
At the time she puts the last lace cookie puzzle piece into place, Gail will probably be ready to stay home and bake, because she’s “on the ladder to be president of Shearith Israel,” Susan says, and will have completed her two years of top congregational leadership by then.
Susan has shared her precious recipe with just three other people, and that was a long time back — before she moved to Dallas 15 years ago. Many of her local friends know she’s giving Gail this special gift, and are getting a kick out of the idea, but Susan acknowledges that she’ll have to share the recipe with everyone once her friend’s is complete. So the lace cookie baker is already considering hedging her bet: “I may get cold feet and start giving the stickers every other year….” Don’t you love it?
You can contact me for the Swear-on-a-Bible brownie recipe if you like. I’ve never baked them. I don’t bake much of anything, so I’m not panting for Susan’s recipe myself. But I was very busy during the conference, and didn’t have a chance to taste her lace cookies before they were all gone. So she’s promised to save a few for me the next time she bakes them. And these — I promise NOT to share with you!