Heartfelt tributes to former first lady Barbara Bush, who passed away on April 17 in Houston, have been pouring in from around the world. Global fans have flooded social media and have been wearing blue (her favorite color) and donning pearls (her signature accessory) in her honor.
At the iconic Houstonian Hotel, a place the Bushes called home, a particularly sweet tribute is being shared with visitors: Barbara Bush’s “famous” chocolate chip cookies.
“We’ve been baking and giving away thousands of Mrs. Bush’s cookies since her passing,” says Catherine Rodriguez, head pastry chef at the Houstonian. The cookie recipe was a favorite of the former first lady, who, according to her press secretary, got the recipe from a dear friend. Bush once submitted it to Family Circle magazine’s “presidential bake-off,” a competition in which the wives of presidential candidates pit their recipes. The Houstonian staff discovered the recipe and approached Bush at the hotel.
“She was having lunch here at our restaurant, Olivette,” recalls Rodriguez. “We asked her if we could use it at the hotel. She said she would be honored and she was flattered that we even asked.”
The cookies have since become a staple at the hotel, as annual holiday giveaway treats to visiting children, dignitaries, and hotel clients. The label reads: “These cookies are made with gracious permission from Mrs. Bush.”
The Bushes lived in The Houstonian’s Manor House while George H.W. Bush served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency and vice president of the United States. Mr. and Mrs. Bush then relocated to the hotel when the house was renovated and reintroduced in 1986 as a private dining restaurant for the members of The Houstonian Club. In 1990, President Bush hosted world leaders in Houston for the G-7 Economic Summit.
Rodriguez says the couple soon became “family” to the Houstonian staff. “This was a special place for them; they would come in all the time," she says. "I found them to be so down-to-earth. They knew every server by name. I’ve been thinking a lot about her this week, and what great role models she and her husband were. They were humble, really wonderful people.”
As for the famous recipe, Rodriguez, an 11-year veteran of The Houstonian, says the secret is in the oats and the luxe Valrhona chocolate chips — the “best chocolate chips available,” she adds. Rodriguez says the cookies pair perfectly with morning coffee or with ice cream on a hot day, and, in keeping with the former first lady’s generous spirit, they’re perfect for sharing or gifting.
“They’re great because they have a distinct taste, with the oats and specialty chocolate chips,” she says. “But they’re not a soft, fluffy, cookie. They’re sweet and firm.”
Sweet and firm, not unlike the former first lady.
Barbara Bush’s famous chocolate chip cookie recipe
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 2 eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups quick-cooking oats (not instant)
- 1 (12 ounces) bag semisweet chocolate chips, preferably Valrhona
- Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Sift together flour, baking soda, and salt onto waxed paper. Set aside.
- Beat together butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs, and vanilla in a large bowl until fluffy. Stir in flour mixture until well blended. Stir in oats and chocolate chips.
Drop batter by rounded tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, onto ungreased cookie sheets.
Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Transfer cookies to wire rack to cool.