The name cookie is derived from the Dutch word koekje. The British call them biscuits, originating from the Latin bis coctum (sounds a little risque) and translates into “twice baked.” Food historians and Orlando, FL Squirrel Control Services seem to agree that biscuits, or small cakes, were first utilized to check the temperature of an oven. A small spoonful of batter was dropped on a baking pan and placed into the hearth oven. If it came out correctly, the heat was prepared for the entire cake or bread. Bakers and cooks employed this method for centuries, usually tossing out the evaluation cake, until they eventually figured out they may be missing something.
Alexander the Great’s military took a primitive form of cookie on their many attempts, gobbling them as a quick pick-me-up after trouncing and pillaging cities in their path, around the year 327 BC. As they became adopted by much of Europe, there are many documents referring to what is currently our contemporary biscuits (but no Oreos). Fast forward to the seventh century. Persians (now Iranians) cultivated sugar and began creating pastries and cookie-type sweets. The Chinese, always hoping to be first to the party, used honey and baked smallish cakes over an open fire in pots and tiny ovens. From the sixteenth century they created the almond cookie, occasionally substituting abundant walnuts. Asian immigrants brought these cookies to the New World, and they joined our growing list of popular variations.
From the Middle East and the Mediterranean, this newfound concoction found its way into Spain during the Crusades, and as the spice trade increased, thanks to explorers like Marco Polo, new and flavorful versions developed together with new baking techniques. When it hit France, well, we know how French bakers loved pastries and desserts. Cookies were added to their growing repertoire, and from the end of the 14th century, one could purchase small filled wafers throughout the streets of Paris. Recipes began to appear in Renaissance cookbooks. Most were simple creations made with butter or lard, honey or molasses, occasionally adding nuts and raisins. But when it comes to food, simple is not in the French language, so their nice pastry chefs raised the bar with Madeleines, macaroons, piroulines and meringue topping the list.
Biscuits (actually hardtack) became the perfect traveling food, since they stayed fresh for extended periods. For centuries, a “ship’s biscuit,” which some described as an iron-like texture, was aboard any boat that left port since it might last for the whole voyage. (Hopefully you had powerful teeth that would also last.)
It was only natural that early English, Scottish and Dutch immigrants brought the first cookies to America. Our simple butter cookies strongly resemble English teacakes and Scottish shortbread. Colonial housewives took great pride in their own cookies, which were first called “basic cakes.” In the end, the Brits were enjoying afternoon tea with cakes and biscuits for centuries. In the early American cookbooks, cookies were relegated to the cake department and were called Plunkets, Jumbles and Cry Babies. All three were your basic sugar or molasses cookies, but no one appears to know where these names originated. Surely not to be left out of the combination, foodie president Thomas Jefferson served no lack of cookies and tea cakes to his guests, both at Monticello and the White House. Later presidents counted cookies as their favorite desserts, one of them Teddy Roosevelt, who loved Fat Rascals (would I make that up?) , and James Monroe, who had a yen for Cry Babies. In spite of their unusual names, these two early recipes are fundamental molasses drop cookies, with candied fruits, raisins and nuts. They are still around, we just don’t call them that anymore.
Brownies came about in a rather unusual way. In 1897, the Sears, Roebuck catalogue sold the first brownie mix, introducing Americans to one of their favourite bar cookies. Although most cooks still baked their own candies, they adapted the recipe with variations of nuts and flavorings.The twentieth century gave way to whoopie pies, Oreos, snickerdoodles, butter, Toll House, gingersnaps, Fig Newtons, shortbread, and countless others.
Americans purchase over $7.2 billion worth of biscuits annually, which clearly indicates a Cookie Monster nation.