Cookies are "small American bites that tell a big story."
Anne Byrn has published an amazing book called "American Cookie" that chronicles the history and important of the little sweet bites we love to bake this time of year.
"These little cookies, cakes and candies from distant lands are now a part of our American foodways, appearing slightly different in our land. As early American settlers adapted their recipes to new ingredients, ovens, religious practices, life on the farm or in the city, new jobs or no job, and the American way of living and baking, it is only natural that their recipes morphed into something new."
In today's food section, we ran more than half a dozen cookie recipes to jumpstart your holiday baking, and below, I've included an olive oil chocolate chip cookie that will be the hit of any cookie swap you have planned this month.
While I'm flipping through Byrn's book, I thought I'd compile some of the fun cookie facts I've discovered, which I'll be talking about in my livestream on the Austin360 Facebook page around lunchtime on Wednesday.
• The first cookie recipe printed in the U.S. was in 1796 in a book by Amelia Simmons called "American Cookery." The ingredients included sugar, pearlash, milk, flour, butter and pounded coriander seeds. Hartshorn, which is made from deer antlers, and pearlash, derived from lye, were early leavening agents.
• A cowboy cookie in Texas is called a kitchen sink cookie elsewhere in the country and is filled with a random assortment of pantry supplies, from cereal and nuts to candies and dried fruit.
• Bryn says that if your cookie contains oats, prunes, dates, corn syrup instead of sugar, shortening instead of butter or is made without eggs, it's probably a wartime cookie. That's the era when drop cookies also became more popular because women were working outside of the home and had less time for baking. Oatmeal cookies appears in cookbooks in the 1880s, but they didn't become an American classic until World War II, when flour was rationed.
• Rock cookies were an American staple in the early 1900s. These fruitcake-like cookies were mounded like rocks and reflected the regional ingredients found wherever they were made.
• Jumbles is the name of the English cookie that inspired what Americans now call sugar cookies today.
• Girl Scout cookies were originally baked in the young scouts' homes to sell and raise money to send the girls to camp. This started around 1917, and the first commercially produced Girl Scout cookies were sold in 1934.
Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies
The olive oil affects both the flavor and texture in this cookie. It first lends a fruitiness to the cookie and changes the flavor a bit from the classic but makes it delicious in surprising ways. From a texture perspective we get thin, crispy edges with a heavenly chewy center. If you haven’t made cookies with olive oil before, the time has come. Use a really delicious olive oil...one that you could drink straight from the bottle. It will lightly impart some flavor to the cookie.
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, packed
2/3 cup good quality olive oil
1/2 cup granulated sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup bread flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 1/2 cups dark chocolate, coarsely chopped or chips
Sea salt flakes for the tops, optional
Heat your oven to 350 degrees and line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
In an electric stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, mix your brown sugar, olive oil, granulated sugar and butter on medium for 2 minutes, or until smooth and fully incorporated. With the mixer on low, add in the eggs, one at a time, blending the first completely before adding in the second. Then add the vanilla and continue mixing until everything is well blended. Take the bowl out of the mixer and set aside.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the all-purpose flour, bread flour, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt. Add this to the wet ingredients and fold until the cookie dough is almost blended. You still want to see streaks of flour. Add the chocolate chunks and mix until evenly distributed throughout. Gently roll into 3-tablespoon-sized balls, place on the prepared baking sheet and allow about 3 1/2 inches of space between the dough balls to allow for spread.
Sprinkle each with a pinch of sea salt flakes, if using.
Bake one sheet at a time in the center of the oven for about 12 to 14 minutes. They will look slightly underdone. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes, and then move to a rack to finish cooling. Makes 18 to 20 large cookies.
— From "The Cookie Book: Decadent Bites for Every Occasion" by Rebecca Firth (Page Street Publishing, $21.99)