Place of origin
In the United States and Canada a cookie is a small, flat, baked treat, usually containing flour, eggs, sugar, and either butter or cooking oil, and often including ingredients such as raisins, oats, or chocolate chips. Most other English-speaking countries would call it a biscuit.
In most English-speaking countries outside North America, including the United Kingdom, the most common word for this type of treat is biscuit and the term cookie is often used to describe only certain types of biscuits. However, in many regions both terms are used, such as the American-inspired Maryland Cookies, while in others the two words have different meanings.
According to the Scottish National Dictionary, its Scottish name derives from the diminutive form (+ suffix -ie) of the word cook, giving the Middle Scots cookie, cooky or cu(c)kie. It also gives an alternative etymology, from the Dutch word koekje, the diminutive of koek, a cake. There was much trade and cultural contact across the North Sea between the Low Countries and Scotland during the Middle Ages, which can also be seen in the history of curling and, perhaps, golf.
Cookies are most commonly baked until crisp or just long enough that they remain soft, but some kinds of cookies are not baked at all. Cookies are made in a wide variety of styles, using an array of ingredients including sugars, spices, chocolate, butter, peanut butter, nuts, or dried fruits. The softness of the cookie may depend on how long it is baked.
A general theory of cookies may be formulated this way. Despite its descent from cakes and other sweetened breads, the cookie in almost all its forms has abandoned water as a medium for cohesion. Water in cakes serves to make the base (in the case of cakes called "batter") as thin as possible, which allows the bubbles – responsible for a cake's fluffiness – to better form. In the cookie, the agent of cohesion has become some form of oil. Oils, whether they be in the form of butter, egg yolks, vegetable oils, or lard, are much more viscous than water and evaporate freely at a much higher temperature than water. Thus a cake made with butter or eggs instead of water is far denser after removal from the oven.
Oils in baked cakes do not behave as soda tends to in the finished result. Rather than evaporating and thickening the mixture, they remain, saturating the bubbles of escaped gases from what little water there might have been in the eggs, if added, and the carbon dioxide released by heating the baking powder. This saturation produces the most texturally attractive feature of the cookie, and indeed all fried foods: crispness saturated with a moisture (namely oil) that does not sink into it.
Cookie-like hard wafers have existed for as long as baking is documented, in part because they deal with travel very well, but they were usually not sweet enough to be considered cookies by modern standards.
Cookies appear to have their origins in 7th century AD Persia, shortly after the use of sugar became relatively common in the region. They spread to Europe through the Muslim conquest of Spain. By the 14th century, they were common in all levels of society throughout Europe, from royal cuisine to street vendors.
With global travel becoming widespread at that time, cookies made a natural travel companion, a modernized equivalent of the travel cakes used throughout history. One of the most popular early cookies, which traveled especially well and became known on every continent by similar names, was the jumble, a relatively hard cookie made largely from nuts, sweetener, and water.
Cookies came to America in the early English settlement (the 17th century), although the name "koekje" arrived with the Dutch. This became Anglicized to "cookie" or cooky. Among the popular early American cookies were the macaroon, gingerbread cookies, and of course jumbles of various types.
The most common modern cookie, given its style by the creaming of butter and sugar, was not common until the 18th century.
Cookies are broadly classified according to how they are formed, including at least these categories:
- Bar cookies consist of batter or other ingredients that are poured or pressed into a pan (sometimes in multiple layers) and cut into cookie-sized pieces after baking. In British English, bar cookies are known as "tray bakes". Examples include brownies, fruit squares, and bars such as date squares.
- Filled cookies are made from a rolled cookie dough filled with a fruit or confectionery filling before baking. Hamantash are a filled cookie.
- Molded cookies are also made from a stiffer dough that is molded into balls or cookie shapes by hand before baking. Snickerdoodles and peanut butter cookies are examples of molded cookies. Some cookies, such as hermits or biscotti, are molded into large flattened loaves that are later cut into smaller cookies.
- No-bake cookies are made by mixing a filler, such as cereal or nuts, into a melted confectionery binder, shaping into cookies or bars, and allowing to cool or harden. Oatmeal clusters and Rum balls are no-bake cookies.
- Pressed cookies are made from a soft dough that is extruded from a cookie press into various decorative shapes before baking. Spritzgebäck are an example of a pressed cookie.
- Refrigerator cookies (also known as icebox cookies) are made from a stiff dough that is refrigerated to become even stiffer. The dough is typically shaped into cylinders which are sliced into round cookies before baking. Pinwheel cookies and those made by Pillsbury are representative.
- Rolled cookies are made from a stiffer dough that is rolled out and cut into shapes with a cookie cutter. Gingerbread men are an example.
- Sandwich cookies are rolled or pressed cookies that are assembled as a sandwich with a sweet filling. Fillings include marshmallow, jam, and icing. The Oreo cookie, made of two chocolate cookies with a vanilla icing filling, is an example.
A basic biscuit (cookie) recipe includes flour, shortening (often lard), baking powder or soda, milk (buttermilk or sweet milk), and sugar. Common savory variations involve substituting sugar with an ingredient such as cheese or other dairy products. Shortbread is a popular biscuit in the UK.
Related pastries and confections
Product lines and brands
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- "History of Cookies - Cookie History". Whatscookingamerica.net.
- cookie (food) - Encyclopedia Britannica
- Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, Tenth Edition. Merriam-Webster, Inc.: 1999.
- The Food Timeline: history notes-cookies, crackers & biscuits
- History of cookies/biscuits