The History of the Cookie (The One You Can Eat)

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a cookie as a “small flat or slightly raised cake”. Merriam Webster also defines a cookie as "a small file or part of a file stored on a World Wide Web user’s computer". That type of cookie is not much fun to put in your mouth. What we are going to talk about is the history of the cookie you can eat. To begin with, ‘a cookie’, to many people (especially those who grew up in another country) is an unfamiliar term. Although a ‘cookie’ is a well-known dessert, commonly found in every American’s pantry, other countries and cultures have different terms for the ‘cookie’ as a tasty, baked, treat.

Cookies can be traced back to the 7th century A.D in Persia, and by the end of the 14th century one could find them being sold along the streets of Paris, France. Like many foods that are popular today, the cookie could almost be considered a mistake. Bakers would use small pieces of cake batter to test the oven temperature, and eventually someone discovered how delicious these pieces of test batter were. Thus, the cookie was born.

The word cookie originates from the Dutch word ‘koekje’, which means little cake. Like most things American, the English, Scotch, and Dutch brought the cookie to the United States. The first cookies were simple, made only out of a few basic ingredients. They lacked the extras, such as peanut butter or chocolate chips, that cookies feature today. They were plain and generally served over tea. Therefore, the first American cookies were called tea cakes.

Elsewhere around the world, countries were creating their own style of cookie and giving it a different name. A large portion of the globe, including England and Australia, calls what we consider to be cookies, biscuits. Other countries adopted names unique to their language. For instance, in Spain the cookie is called a ‘galleta’, while in Italy it is dubbed ‘biscotti’.

cookiesBefore the cookie had swept the globe as a type of dessert, it was used during war as a substitute for bread. They were very portable and had a long shelf life, which allowed for them to be shipped overseas by boat. They were still more or less unflavored, and now used oil instead of butter to eliminate bubbles and cut down on cost.

Finally, in 1937 the very first chocolate chip cookie was invented, marking the beginning of the cookie as we know it today. Ruth Graves Wakefield of Whitman, Massachusetts, created the first chocolate chip cookie entirely by mistake when trying to prepare a dessert for the customers at her Tollhouse Restaurant. Realizing that she was out of baking chocolate, she decided to use the semisweet chocolate that she had available as an alternative. She chopped the chocolate up into chunks to help aid in the even distribution and melting time, and tossed it into her cookie batter. She was attempting to make a completely chocolate cookie, but instead the chocolate chunks stayed chunky. They were a huge hit with her customers, and thus the chocolate chip cookie was born.

After Betty Crocker mentioned the chocolate chip cookie on her radio show, “Famous Foods From Famous Places”, the cookie was officially a nationally known dessert. This fueled the fire for inventing new, original flavored cookies.

As bakers across the world worked to change the cookie, many types of cookies were created. A few of the cookie categories are listed below.

Drop Cookies
The drop cookie is simply dropped onto a cookie sheet. It is not shaped or flattened, but instead flattens on its own while cooking.

Pre-made Cookies
Pre-made cookies are created from dough that is already prepared. The baker only has to place the dough onto a cookie sheet and put it into the oven.

Molded Cookies
Molded cookies are shaped by hand, usually into balls, before they are placed onto a cookie sheet.

Cut Cookies
Cut cookies are time consuming, but very visually attractive. The dough must be rolled out and then cut with a cookie cutter. The cut cookie dough is then placed onto a cookie sheet and baked. Cut cookies are often decorated with icing and other food decorations after they are removed from the oven.

Bar Cookies
Bar cookies are thicker and usually made in a pan. Often times, bar cookies consist of many layers.

Sandwich Cookies
Sandwich cookies consist of distinct multiple layers. The most recognized example of a sandwich cookie is the infamous Oreo.

Fortune Cookies
Fortune Cookies are commonly found in Chinese restaurants and are shaped to provide an empty pocket of space in the middle. Each fortune cookie contains a small slip of paper that has a written fortune on it. In actuality, fortune cookies are not an authentic Chinese creation. The first appeared in the 1990s in China and were advertised as a genuine American fortune cookie.

The cookie is still developing to this day. If you pick up a cookbook or baking magazine, you are bound to discover a new cookie recipe that you have not seen before. The next time you bite into your favorite flavored cookie, consider the history that shaped the American cookie and give a silent thank you to those who brought the concept to America. Without them, America would be cookie-less.

O.K., time for some fun stuff to eat, check out CopyCat Recipes.

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