It was a dark and stormy night . . . a perfect night for baking cookies!
All of those words are not actually mine, but they unquestionably embody my sentiments: There are no miserable situations that cannot be made at least a little better by an adventurous stretch in the kitchen. Be it skinned knees, bruised feelings, or broken hearts, it is my experience that cookie baking always helps relieve the hurt . . . with the added benefit of cookie dough to soothe an aching soul and cookies to pack in your lunch the next day in case the hurt returns. Throughout my life, my tendency to solve bad days with cookie baking was (and is) so well-known with family and friends that, to this day, when someone calls and asks what I am up to, and my answer is,
what I inevitably hear next is,
That response, however, always ignores the fact that there is, also, no better way to celebrate a good day—or simply enhance an okay day—than with a round of creativity in the kitchen constructing the ultimate in cookies (which, inevitably is the ultimate in cookie dough, as well).
So, in honor of National Cookie Day (December 4, 2021) and, by definition, cookie baking, I am writing this testimonial to the humble cookie.
A Short History of the Cookie
Basically, as long as there has been baking, there have been “cookies” . . . or maybe “cookie-like” baked goods. According to Wikipedia, the origins of the cookie date back to the seventh century AD, though the use of the word “cookie” came much later. They were created in Persia during the Ottoman Empire after sugar made its way onto the shelves of most Persians. The concept of the cookie was then introduced to the Western world when the Ottoman Empire conquered Europe. After several centuries of adaptation and variation floating about the nations of the “Old World,” the Dutch brought this confection to the “New World” in the early 1600s.
These original cookies were not as sweet as what we enjoy today, but because they traveled and kept well, they soon became a staple of early American life. The earliest reference in America to the humble cookie came in 1703 when it was reported that the Dutch brought eight hundred cookies to a funeral in New York.
The modern version of the cookie, identified by the initial creaming of the butter with the sugar, did not appear until much later in the eighteenth century. By the nineteenth century, a copious amount of cookie recipes popped up as a result of the price of flour and sugar becoming more affordable and new leavening agents (like baking soda) being developed. Once the various and assorted manufacturers embraced the idea of mass-producing cookies, it was clear that the humble cookie was headed for stardom.
A Short History of Me and Cookies
My history with cookies started many years ago before I was old enough to make cookies myself. I reveled in the days that my mother would head to the kitchen to bake. Whether it was bread, pies, cakes, or cookies, it was always a magical day of sugar, shortening, and flour that resulted in delightful delectables . . . with an ample amount of uncooked doughy magic in between. Despite loving those days baking with my mom, I could not wait to be old enough to have my own ventures into the kitchen to produce my own delicious creations.
My first forays into the kitchen were heavily supervised by my mom and did not leave any room for getting inventive. But, as soon as I was left to my own devices, I began experimenting. From the beginning, my ultimate goal was to create the perfect chocolate chip cookie (always a crowd-pleaser, not to mention the delicious cookie dough). I spent many days after school playing in the kitchen and learning by trial and error. Those efforts lead to the development of a whole repository of “tricks” to make any type of cookie better and last longer. This is what propelled me into a lifetime of kitchen creativity, not to mention my passion for baking and my admiration for the humble cookie.
My Tribute to the Humble Cookie (and Cookie Baking)
I am a baker, and, as such, I enjoy creating all manner of baked goods. However, my favorite thing to bake, by far, is the humble cookie. But why?
The humble cookie is an amazingly versatile creation that seems to be universally loved. It can be buttery or sugary, laden with chocolate or sprinkled with spice . . . not to mention chewy or cake-like, thick or thin, or even shaped, dropped, or cut into bars. It has been my experience that even people who are generally not fond of sweets will have a favorite cookie. I can think of no other baked good or confection that can make that claim.
In addition to being versatile and loved, the humble cookie is still highly durable and ships well to just about anywhere. Today’s cookie might not be as travel-solid as its early American ancestor, but due to modern transportation, a batch of cookies can be created, baked, and shipped, and the sender can be confident that the cookies will arrive safe and ready to eat. In fact, that is what makes the humble cookie the perfect treat to send to anyone far from home. Whether their absence is because of school, missionary work, military service, or some other unspecified reason, a care package of cookies is always appreciated and always brings joy.
I know this for a fact. You see, for the past seventeen years, the recipients of my cookie care packages have mostly been my soldier son and his fellow comrades-in-arms as they served in and out of war zones. But, even before my son enlisted, I would send my homemade cookies to our troops serving overseas just to let them know that their sacrifices were appreciated. Without fail, these troops would go out of their way to thank me for my support! Basically, they just appreciated having that “little piece of home” to savor (and share).
These experiences confirmed my belief that, above all, the humble cookie is the ultimate in comfort foods. It seems that no matter one’s upbringing, everyone seems to have comforting memories associated with cookies. Maybe it is the memory of the cookies that were in your lunch on your first day of school. Or maybe it is the cookies and hot cocoa shared with your Nana before bed when you would spend the night. No matter the specific memory, the humble cookie is untouchable in its ability to convey someone back to simpler times, even if only momentarily . . . and only in their minds.
It was no different for my son. Along with having a sweet treat to enjoy in an inhospitable environment, a multitude of memories were always stirred . . . and they gave him strength. For in our family, eating cookies implied cookie baking time, and cookie-baking time meant family time, and it didn’t even have to be a “dark and stormy night!”
Just like it was with me and my mom, my son, and my daughter would love to hang out in the kitchen as I baked. Sometimes they would help me measure and stir and drop the dough on a cookie sheet, and sometimes they just wanted to steal the cookie dough when they thought I would not notice, but it was always a time of love, laughter, and, sometimes, learning too.
So, it is in honor of the humble cookie that I now challenge everyone reading this blog to grab your kids and head to the kitchen to make some memories . . . and some cookies. To aid you in this endeavor, I have attached my long-sought recipe for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. Enjoy . . . and Happy Baking!
Maggie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream the following ingredients together with an electric mixer until light and fluffy (3 to 5 minutes):
1/2 Cup Shortening
1/2 Cup Margarine
1 Cup Brown Sugar (firmly packed)
1/4 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/2 Tablespoon Corn Syrup
1 Teaspoon Corn Starch
1 Teaspoon Vanilla
1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
Continue to beat with electric mixer for about a minute.
With a spoon, mix in:
2 1/2 Cups Flour
1 Cup Semi-Sweet Chocolate chips
Drop by rounded tablespoonful onto cookie sheets.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes (or until golden brown on top and edges).
Maggie McCreath is a single mom with two grown kids. She received a degree in Computer Science from George Mason University, and has worked in the field for over thirty years. Her life has always revolved around her family. Her kids began as her pride and joy, and have grown into her best friends and confidants.