Human beings share a number of fantasies: we’re convinced our dogs are smart, we know our children are well-behaved, and many of us believe we make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. Having spent six months of my life baking chocolate chip cookies for resale, I harbor the last illusion.
However, the guy who really makes the best cookies on the planet is probably Francis Nelson Beebe of Gold Canyon, Arizona. Mr. Nelson, as he is known to his growing legion of fans, is a classically trained chef who now works in his own commercial bakery. He turns out 24 dozen cookies per day, four days each week, and sells them only online. They cost $5 apiece, and may be ordered in batches of six or 12—provided you log onto his site before they sell out for the day (mrnelsonscookies.com).
“My story is a tale of personal reinvention,” he says. “I was retired, playing a lot of golf and getting bored. I realized I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life agonizing over a four-foot putt. Many years before, when I was a single parent, I had baked thousands of chocolate chip cookies and perfected the recipe. My son suggested that I create an online cookie business, and I realized I had something proprietary that I was passionate about.”
“Passionate” is an understatement. Every cookie is hand made. Mr. Nelson uses three types of Ghirardelli chocolate (milk, semi-sweet and 60% cacao). His vanilla is made for him in Tahiti. “Most vanilla comes from Madagascar or Mexico,” he explains, “but the Tahitian variety has much more complexity of flavor.”
When I first heard about these cookies, I was hesitant to try them: they were made in Arizona and shipped by two-day air, so I doubted they would be fresh enough on arrival. I underestimated Mr. Nelson. The box arrived wrapped in thermal insulation, accompanied by a cool pack to stabilize the temperature. Inside the box, which was a thing of beauty itself, each cookie was wrapped in airtight foil and nestled in its own padded compartment. “I wanted to create boutique packaging that was in line with the quality of the cookies,” he says. “Many of my customers tell me they’re using the boxes to store stationary or jewelry.”
Can a single chocolate chip cookie really be worth $5? Mr. Nelson’s are. Each one weighs a quarter pound. They are dense and chewy, heady and delicious, and are richly satisfying. While they’re not exactly the stuff of diets, a little bit goes a long way. They also make a very special gift. As Mr. Nelson reminded me, “you can’t eat flowers.”
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014; his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is forthcoming from Black Opal Books in Spring 2016. For more information, go to amazon.com