The name cookie comes from the Dutch word koekje. The British call them cookies, originating from the Latin bis coctum (sounds somewhat risque) and translates into “twice baked.” Food historians appear to agree that biscuits, or small cakes, were first utilized to check the temperature of an oven. A small spoonful of batter has been dropped on a baking pan and put 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 kind of cookie in their many attempts, gobbling them as a fast pick-me-up after trouncing and pillaging cities in their own 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 into the seventh century. Persians (currently Iranians) cultivated sugar and started creating hamburgers and cookie-type sweets. The Chinese, always hoping to be first to the party, used honey and baked smallish cakes over an open flame in pots and tiny ovens. From the sixteenth century they created the cookie cookie, occasionally substituting abundant walnuts. Asian immigrants brought these biscuits to the New World, and they joined our growing list of popular variants.
In the Middle East and the Mediterranean, this newfound concoction found its way into Spain during the Crusades, and as the spice trade improved, due to explorers such as Marco Polo, fresh and flavorful versions developed together with new baking methods. When it hit France, well, we understand how French bakers loved desserts and pastries. Cookies were added to their growing repertoire, and from the end of the 14th century, an individual could purchase small filled wafers across the streets of Paris. Recipes started to look in Renaissance cookbooks. Most were simple creations made out of butter or lard, honey or molasses, occasionally adding nuts and raisins. But when it comes to food, easy isn’t in the French language, so their nice pastry chefs raised the bar with Madeleines, macaroons, piroulines and meringue topping the list.
Biscuits (really hardtack) became the ideal traveling food, since they stayed fresh for extended periods. For centuries, a “ship’s biscuit,” which some described as an iron-like feel, was aboard any boat that left port since it might last for the whole voyage. (Hopefully you had powerful teeth which would also last.)
It was only natural that ancient English, Scottish and Dutch immigrants brought the first cookies to America. Our simple butter cookies strongly resemble British teacakes and Scottish shortbread. Colonial housewives took great pride in their own biscuits, which were called “basic cakes” In the end, the Brits were enjoying afternoon tea with cakes and biscuits for centuries. From the early American cookbooks, cookies were relegated into the cake department and were known as Plunkets, Jumbles and Cry Babies. All three were your basic sugar or molasses cookies, but nobody appears to know where these names originated. Surely not to be left out of this combination, foodie president Thomas Jefferson served no lack of biscuits and tea cakes for his guests, both in Monticello and the White House. Later presidents counted cookies as their favorite desserts, one of them Teddy Roosevelt, who adored Fat Rascals (could I make that up?) Notwithstanding their unusual names, these two early recipes are fundamental molasses drop cookies, with candied fruits, nuts and raisins. They are still around, we just don’t call them anymore.
Brownies came about in a rather unusual manner. In 1897, the Sears, Roebuck catalogue sold the first brownie mix, introducing Americans to one of their favourite bar cookies.