Cookie Research: History, Techniques, and Fun Facts

Cookie Connoisseur Badge, Step 1

cookie connoisseur badge

We are full swing into the holiday season around here. We can’t think of a better time to earn a badge all about cookies! We love everything cookies: cookie baking, cookie decorating, cookie tasting, cookie giving, and cookie swapping!

Although we’ve been cookie fans for a very long time, we did not know much about the history of cookies, how cookie recipes have changed over time, or how to decorate with royal icing. Join us as we become cookie connoisseurs! Follow along and research your favorite cookies, practice cookie decorating with royal icing, and learn some exciting cookie history and fun facts.

You can see the Cookie Connoisseur Badge Guide, or “recipe” for the badge here. Each Badge Guide contains three steps to be completed in order to earn the badge. These steps can be done on your own, but we encourage you to grab a few friends and learn together!

Step 1 is always focused on research. Look up the topic online, watch videos to learn a skill, or visit your local library.  You can read about the resources and fun facts we found below.

Cookie Making History

Researching cookies has been a captivating task.  As with past topics there are so many creative cookie possibilities!  We focused our culinary cookie research on basic cookie history, US cookie history, Christmas cookies, sugar cookies, royal icing, and cookie fun facts. Have fun with this part of the badge and dive into areas that interest you!

cookies with royal icing

Basic Cookie History

According to What’s Cooking America, a cookie is a thin, sweet, hand held, flour-based cake. The word cookie comes from the Dutch word Koekje, which means little cake. The first cookie dates back to the 7th Century AD in Persia, which is now Iran.  Persia was one of the first countries to cultivate sugar. Cakes and pastries were well known in the Persian Empire. The Crusades and the developing spice trade spread Persian cooking techniques and ingredients throughout Northern Europe.   

This site reports that by the 14th century, cookie recipes were found in Renaissance cookbooks.  By the 16th century, biscuits (hard tack) were common because they traveled well and were popular on boats. By the 17th and 18th century, being a baker was a real profession and part of a guild.  Cookie varieties exploded during the 19th century due to ingredients becoming more accessible to bakers. When electricity and refrigeration became common in the 20th century, cookies lasted longer and became even more of a staple.  

Photo by Jill Wellington on Pexels.com

Each country has its own word for “Cookie”

What’s Cooking America

  • Biscuit: England and Australia
  • Galletas: Spain
  • Keks/Plzchen: Germany
  • Amaretti/Biscotti: Italy

Cookie History in the US

The Stuff you Missed in History Class podcast interviewed Ann Byrns about the history of American Cookies.  I loved this interesting take on cookies, women, and ingredients.  You can find out more about Byrns and her book American Cookie here. The podcast discusses how American cookies were created out of creativity with ingredients that were on hand during hard times.  American women often made and sold cookies as a way to support their families during tough economic periods. Cookie recipes can often be dated by the ingredients that were used.  For example, raisins were introduced into cookies when sugar was rationed during the war. Peanut butter cookies were introduced when peanut butter became part of the government school lunch programs.  

A recent article in the Washington Post takes us on a cookie tour of the US to showcase cookies from various regions and cultures in the United States.

Christmas Cookies

Cookies have long been part of holiday traditions.  Chocolate and More Delights reports that Christmas cookies can be traced back to Medieval Europe.  During this time, new ingredients such as cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, black pepper, almonds, and dried fruits were extremely expensive and only used during special occasions.  These restrictions led to special holiday baking. By the 16th century, baking cookies during the holidays was common and the culinary delights were shared with family and friends.  

Check out this lovely video about Christmas Cookies (below).

Photo by Lina Kivaka on Pexels.com

Gingerbread is a holiday favorite and commonly associated with Christmas.  It dates back to the Crusades when spices were brought back to Europe. Gingerbread cookies became strongly associated with Christmas when Queen Victoria included them in her Christmas traditions.

Cookie cutters were introduced to the US in the 17th century by German and Dutch settlers. 

Check out this great article about how to get organized for holiday baking!  We are sure to use some of these tips at our annual Christmas Cookie Bake (Step 3 of our Cookie Connoisseur Badge).

Sugar Cookies and Royal Icing

The most magical cookies might be the ones we spend the most time decorating. On the site Vintage Recipe Project, a sugar cookie is defined as a cookie whose main ingredients are sugar, flour, butter, eggs, vanilla, and either baking powder or soda.  They may be formed by hand or rolled out and cut into shapes using cookie cutters. They can be decorated with frosting, icing or sprinkles or a combination of all.  Today’s popular sugar cookies date back to the German Protestant settlers in 1700’s Pennsylvania.

Using Royal Icing is a next level (fancy) way to decorate sugar cookies (we take a class on how to do this for Step 2 of this badge). Real Simple says Royal Icing is an icing made from confectioners’ sugar, egg whites, and flavorings and used to decorate cookies and cakes.  It is different from frosting because it hardens into a candy like texture. The name Royal Icing is somewhat of a mystery but it has been a favorite of England’s royal family since the 19th century.  

gnome cookie with royal icing

Royal Icing Tips and Techniques from Real Simple:

  • To avoid hardening when using, keep icing covered with a damp cloth. Give it a quick stir occasionally and add a few drops of water if it hardens too quickly.
  • Thicker royal icing is used for piping and outlining and should be a toothpaste-like consistency.
  • Thinner royal icing is used for “flooding” or background and should be a honey-like consistency.
  • Thin royal icing using a few drops of water or lemon juice (do this slowly).
  • Thicken royal icing by adding confectioners sugar.
  • Avoid air bubbles by letting your royal icing sit at room temperature or by shaking your cookie side to side.
  • Let decorated cookies dry 6-8 hours.

Here is a sugar cookie decorating video to illustrate the technique:

And just in case you are vegan (like us) and need a plant based sugar cookie/royal icing recipe:

Here is another another vegan Royal Icing Recipe from A Beautiful Mess.

Some Cookie Fun Facts by Mobile-Cuisine:

  • The first commercial US cookie was the Animal Cracker that appeared in 1902
  • The Oreo was the best selling cookie of the 20th Century
  • December 4th is National Cookie Day
  • The US leads the world in cookie baking and eating
  • The Girl Scouts began selling cookies in the 1920’s
  • There is a Cookie Cutter Museum in Joplin, Missouri
  • Cookie cutters were first made by Early American tinsmiths in the 1700’s
  • Christmas Cookies date back to Medieval Europe
  • Cookie Jars first appeared in the 1930’s during the depression when women began making cookies at home rather than buying them at bakeries

The Top Four selling commercial cookies in the US are (Mobile-Cuisine):

Oreo
Chips Ahoy
Double Stuff Oreo
Milano

CCC: Chocolate Chip Cookie

Of course no cookie post would be complete without mentioning America’s favorite cookie:  Chocolate Chip Cookies. According to Fairytale Brownies the Chocolate Chip Cookie is named by 53% of Americans as their favorite cookie.  Peanut butter and oatmeal cookies came in second and third. The Chocolate Chip Cookie (CCC)  was created by Ruth Wakefield in the 1930’s. Ruth worked at the Toll House Inn. To find out more about the invention of the CCC, Ruth Wakefield, and what she got paid for her ravishing recipe check out this short Youtube video (above).  

Baking Glossary

The Cookie Blog has a very comprehensive baking glossary. We suggest checking it out!

Just for fun:

100 years of Cookie History with Cookie Monster can be seen here!

There are a ton of great cookie decorating pins on Pinterest. Check out a few of them here.

Join us for Step 2 of the Cookie Connoisseur Badge as we continue our research at a cookie decorating class. Will we master the art of royal icing or will our frosting skills be a big flop??

We want to hear from you! Do you know any other cookie fun facts? What is your family’s favorite cookie to bake? Is the CCC your favorite cookie? Message us on Instagram or Facebook or drop us a line here.

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