Bakers have been baking cookies for as long as medieval ovens have been around, mixing different ingredients and perfecting recipes that evolved over time into the cookies we munch on today. The truth is the first cookies weren’t always intended to be cookies, but it was love at first crumble.
Dating back to seventh-century Persia, one of the first countries to grow and use sugar, it's believed that cookies were originally used as test cakes to test the temperature in an oven. With the growing spice trade, cooking techniques and ingredients, made their way into Northern Europe and the rest of the world, resulting in the various kinds of cookies we know today.
A cookie in the most basic terms is a sweet, baked, flour-based finger food. But it can come in all shapes, sizes, flavors, and textures. One country's iconic cookie may be light and fluffy, while another's may be triangular and jam-filled or even waffle-like and filled with syrup. And every kind of cookie — soft, chewy, or crunchy — has an origin story of its very own.
America’s favorite, the chewy, gooey, and often crunchy chocolate chip cookie, was originally called a “chocolate chunk cookie,” invented in 1937 by Ruth Graves Wakefield. She ran the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Mass., and made an agreement with Nestlé to print the Toll House Cookie recipe on the wrapper of the Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bar. In 1997, the chocolate chip cookie was designated the official cookie of the commonwealth.
Other countries’ iconic cookies have their own origin stories that date back even further, some many centuries.
The macaron that we know today is slightly different from the original Italian macaron, which was an almond meringue cookie, crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. The Italian macaron came to France in 1533, when the Catherine de Medici’s pastry chefs earned their keep during the French Revolution by baking and selling macarons. French macarons, light and crisp cookies that melt in your mouth, were invented in the twentieth century by Pierre Desfontaines Ladurée, who thought to join two meringue macarons together with ganache in between. Today, macarons come in all kinds of colors and flavors, such as raspberry, pistachio, chestnut, basil lime, and rose and white chocolate — the list goes on. But the original French macaron combined two almond meringues, filled with chocolate ganache.
It’s thought that Mary, Queen of Scots, who reigned in the sixteenth century, is responsible for the popularization of shortbread. The queen loved to snack on Petticoat Tails, which were made of thin and crispy shortbread flavored with caraway seeds. Shortbread, once called “biscuit bread,” was traditionally made with leftover dough used to make bread and dried out in an oven until it became hard and crunchy.
The recipes may be centuries old, but these cookies taste just as good today, if not better, and have become some of our favorites.
A triangular dumpling filled with jam and coated with fried bread crumbs, barátfüle, a traditional cookie enjoyed in Hungary, was invented by a German chef named Freund, who called the cookie “Freund’s filled pockets,” according to Krisztina Maksai, author of European Cookies. Barátfüle translates to “friend’s ear,” and is made by cutting the dough into small triangles, then stuffing and boiling it.
Biscotti, also called cantuccini by Italians, who typically eat it with wine or coffee, traces its origins to Roman times, when it was eaten as nourishment during long journeys and was a diet staple in the Roman army. The twice-baked crunchy cookie can be flavored with nuts, seeds, and fruit and is traditionally dunked in sweet wine.
Haley Willard is The Daily Meal's assistant editor. Follow her on Twitter @haleywillrd.