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The History of Cookies

Published October 21, 2010        by Rae Ann

Oatmeal Cookies

The world has long had a love affair with their cookies. In any American supermarket, you can  walk down the cookie aisle and be bombarded with multi-color packages tempting you to try them. There are hundreds of choices in everything from super sweet to biscuit to fruit filled.

Believe it or not, what is now known as the beloved cookie once started out as a humble tester cake. Sugar was beginning to be cultivated way back in the days of the Persian empire. Royal bakers began to test out different cake recipes. The problem was, there were no temperature regulators on the ovens they used. They were brick and clay fire pits, essentially, and the cook could not be certain how hot the oven was or when it was ready. So when it came time to cook the cakes for the royals, bakers had to find a way to make sure the oven was hot enough. They devised a method of taking a bit of cake batter, a small cookie-like shape, and placing it in the oven. If it cooked up right away, it was time for the cake to go in.

People soon realized that these little tester cakes were actually quite good and not to be thrown away. And there was born the humble cookie.

Some credit the Dutch with popularizing the cookie. They called them "koekje" or "little cake" in the Dutch language. From there the British took a liking to their “biscuits” which they served with tea. The popularity of the cookie spread, partially due to the ease of eating. Workers could take these little cakes out to the fields with them. They were an easy snack that required no cutlery or lengthy preparations.

Each country has its own version of the cookie. Styles and ingredients vary from the Italian twice baked, rock hard biscotti to Bavaria and Austria’s favorite anise flavored and highly decorative Springerle. Each country has perfected the art of the cookie in their own way. The Spanish call cookies “galletas”  and Germans refer to them as “keks.” But no matter what you call them, they’re delicious in any language.

Perhaps the most popular cookie in America is the chocolate chip cookie. This now famous cookie was reportedly invented back in the 1930s by Ruth Wakefield, an innkeeper at the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts. When she ran out of nuts while baking cookies, she broke up a chocolate bar and added the chunks to the batter instead. The rest is cookie-making history. Just about every cook in America has tried their hand at the Toll House cookie. The recipe has been featured on the Nestle chocolate chip morsels bag ever since Ruth Wakefield sold her recipe to the company.

It’s hard to imagine life without cookies. They’ve become such a staple of the American diet that entire industries have grown up around them. Everyone has their favorite and even today home baked cookie gifts are a sign of love and affection. There has been a movement of late to offer reduced fat and sugar free cookies. And while they do enjoy some popularity, America’s sweet tooth has spoken. The most popular cookies today are still the fully sweet Double Stuff Oreo and original chocolate chip with chunks of rich chocolate and mounds of nuts.