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The Greatest Story: The History of the Chocolate Chip Cookie

If you meet someone who doesn’t like cookies, they are probably not human. By definition, cookies are any sort of handheld, usually flour-based, cake that is either crisp, soft, or both. The American word, cookie, comes from the Dutch word koekje which literally means small or little cake. Depending on where you are from in the world, you may have a different name for these delectable treats. In the UK and Australia, cookies are known as biscuits which comes from the Latin word bis coctum which means “twice baked.” The Spanish call them galletas, Germans call them keks or Plzchen during Christmas, and Italians call them amaretti or biscotti.

According to historical records, the first creation of cookies was as a test cake. A small amount of cake batter was used to test the heat of the oven to ensure cakes would cook correctly. The earliest cookie cakes were thought to have been made in Persia back in the 7th Century. As sugar began to spread via trade routes, biscuits became a popular food because of their long-lasting shelf life. By the 17th and 18th centuries, baking became a prideful profession, controlled by various guilds and professional baking associations which regulated who could be bakers and how long it took to become a true, professional baker. As the Industrial Revolution imparted new technologies to improve baking techniques, it also allowed for the mass consumption of our favorite treats: cookies!

The Beginning of a New Cookie Era

Maybe the most well-known and American of all cookies came into existence during the early 20th century. The first chocolate chip cookie was invented in 1937 by Ruth Graves Wakefield of Whitman, Massachusetts. Wakefield ran the popular Toll House Restaurant which, back in 1709, was a real toll house, a place where stage coach passengers ate a meal while the horses were changed; a toll was then collected for use of the highway which ran between Boston and New Bedford. Unfortunately, the original Toll House Restaurant burned down in 1984.

One of Ruth’s favorite recipes was an old recipe for Butter Drop Do cookies, a recipe that dated back to colonial Massachusetts. The original recipe called for baker’s chocolate, but when Ruth went to make her favorite treat, found that she was without the needed ingredient. Rather than wait until she was stocked up on baker’s chocolate, Ruth substituted the semisweet chocolate she had available, chopped it into pieces, and stirred the chocolate into the cookie dough. Ruth had thought that the chunks of chocolate would melt and create a chocolate biscuit; instead, the chocolate chunks held their shape, creating pockets of rich chocolate in the sweet cookie dough—soon after, Ruth’s new invention became a sensation.

She eventually named these new cookies, which became very popular with guests at the Toll House Restaurant, the Toll House Crunch Cookies. Her recipe was soon published in a Boston newspaper and, eventually, numerous New England periodicals. Word of this new, mouthwatering treat spread and became popular in the region. In 1939, Betty Crocker talked about the Toll House Crunch Cookie on her radio series, Famous Foods from Famous Eating Places. This caused a national sensation and the cookies became a staple in American kitchens.

Shortly after the national chocolate chip cookie craze hit American ovens, Ruth approached Nestle to print her recipe on their chocolate bar wrappers. Together, Ruth and Nestle created the now classic Toll House Cookie recipe; in exchange for the recipe, Ruth was given a lifetime supply chocolate so she could make her delicious cookies for the rest of her life. To make chopping the chocolate easier, the company began making a scored semisweet chocolate bar and a small cutting utensil so that making chocolate chunks would be easier. In the 1940s, Ruth sold all of her legal rights to the name and trademark of Toll House to Nestle. Eventually, Nestle lost the trademark in federal court and now toll house is a descriptive term for the original recipe for chocolate chip cookies.

Chocolate chip cookies have earned a special place in America’s heart, but the state the cookie originated from took it one step further: in 1997, a third-grade class from Somerset, Massachusetts proposed that the chocolate chip cookie be designated the official state cookie. On July 9, 1997, the proposal passed, and the cookie became the official cookie of the Commonwealth under the General State Laws of Massachusetts!

Besides being a state-designated treat, one of the best things to have happened to the chocolate chip cookie is the hybrid meld of two favorite desserts—the aforementioned cookie combined with a brownie—creating the new powerhouse favorite on the block: the brookie. By combining two favorite treats, we at Ne-Mo’s Bakery have decided to up the ante on the chocolate chip cookie, pushing it into the next generation.

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