Here Comes the Fudge

Lawyer Steve Silver has spent two decades in the Arizona Attorney General's Office, but he's better known in some Phoenix legal circles for his white chocolate chip cookies.

Silver's wife, U.S. District Court Judge Roz Silver, brings a batch of her husband's baked goods each week to a regular meeting that includes her fellow District Court judges, federal magistrates and bankruptcy judges.

Steve also bakes for his wife's trials; she shares peanut butter cookies and cinnamon rolls with juries and lawyers. Sometimes, performance anxiety kills the defense attorneys' appetites, Judge Silver says, and they share the treats with defendants. In one memorable case, a man was convicted of telemarketing fraud. When asked for his final words to the court, the defendant rose and, according to the transcript -- which Judge Silver saved as a souvenir -- he said, ". . . I'd like to thank Your Honor, or actually have Your Honor thank her husband for the cheesecake, because that's the -- probably the most memorable thing that I -- positive thing that's happened to me since coming to Phoenix."

He got eight years.

Every fall for the past six years, Steve Silver's cookies and pies have won favor with a different set of judges -- the folks who hand out ribbons at the Arizona State Fair. This year, Steve entered key lime pie, blueberry pie, cranberry bread and four kinds of cookies: gingersnaps, oatmeal, peanut butter and white chocolate chip. The winners will be announced today, the fair's opening day, but the Silvers won't learn about Steve's successes or failures until October 29, the last Sunday of the fair, when they traditionally visit the exhibition hall to collect his ribbons. He's won a dozen ribbons in the past half-dozen years, including a blue ribbon in 1996 for his gingersnaps.

One evening last week, Steve baked a test batch of white chocolate chip cookies and shared some baking tips. Nothing fancy in the Silvers' north Phoenix kitchen, just lots of measuring cups and old mixing bowls Steve took from his parents' home when he moved out 31 years ago. He does have a KitchenAid mixer. His baking outfit includes Tevas, white socks, an oversize gray tee shirt and shorts.

As Steve packs brown sugar (dark brown sugar) and breaks eggs (extra large eggs), Roz ducks around him, slipping her dinner into the microwave: a chicken fettuccine Alfredo Healthy Choice, which she eats at the kitchen table, flipping through a catalogue and kibitzing. An ancient Persian cat and three dogs look on.

Steve began baking in high school, he recalls, but Roz reminds him that his love of ingredients was documented much earlier. Instead of candy, the young Steve used to munch on a stick of butter. He's baked for Roz since they began dating more than 20 years ago, and started cooking for her colleagues when she was chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office.

"Since she had grand jury powers, I wasn't going to argue," Steve quips.

Now his cookies are a part of the routine at the federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix. Every Wednesday when the judges spot Roz en route to their weekly meeting, they greet her with jackpot cries of "Ka-ching! Ka-ching!"

"When they see me coming, it's not, 'Hi, Roz.' They look at my hands and it's, 'Well, where are the cookies?'" she says.

Not everyone likes regular chocolate, so sometimes Steve makes a half batch of white chocolate and a half batch of chocolate chocolate. "They're fine with peanut butter. They like the oatmeal raisins and they really like the gingersnaps," he reports.

This week, Steve had to prepare his state fair entry, too. His plan was to rise at 3 a.m. Monday to prepare all of his recipes, which were due to the fair judges at 7 that evening. No small feat, since his baking day happened to fall this year on Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement -- the one day of the year observant Jews fast all day.

Steve figured it was okay to prepare the food, as long as he didn't sample any of it. He tries to stay away from his own creations anyhow, he says, cracking one-liners about his arteries. He's very particular about his food. He won't eat sushi and he cooks his key lime pie because he doesn't like the thought of chilled, raw eggs. He won't eat veal, and he refused to eat Roz's aunt's "lamb cake" on similar grounds until he learned it was iced pound cake. (This year he's convinced her to enter it in the fair.)

Baking is just one of Steve's hobbies. He's also into theater and has taken ballet and tap dancing, although right now his exercise of choice is a 5:30 a.m. aerobics/kickboxing class. Roz says her husband bakes because he's a caregiver; he wants to make people happy. Steve says his reasons are a little more selfish.

"When I'm alone in the kitchen, it's very, very relaxing. You just get so focused on what you're doing, you forget what's going on in the world," he says.

His world can be a stressful place. Steve heads the child support enforcement unit of the Attorney General's Office. He makes referrals for federal prosecution of alleged deadbeat dads and moms. The work is both rewarding and frustrating; middle-of-the-night baking sessions calm him. Snacking sessions, too.

"We've been on a diet, so we removed everything that tastes good from the house," Steve says, piling plastic-wrapped cookies into a Ziploc to send off with a visitor. "Actually, I'm going to keep some of these. I got up at 2 this morning going, 'Goddamnit, there's no Häagen Dazs.'"

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Amy Silverman is a two-time winner of the Arizona Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award. Her work has appeared on the radio show This American Life and in the New York Times, the Washington Post, Lenny Letter, and Brain, Child. She’s the co-curator of the live reading series Bar Flies, and a commentator for KJZZ, the NPR affiliate in Phoenix. Silverman is the author of the book My Heart Can’t Even Believe It: A Story of Science, Love, and Down Syndrome (Woodbine House 2016). Follow her on Instagram (@amysilverman), Twitter (@amysilvermanaz), and at