The History of Cookies

Defined as a sweet, flat-baked or slightly raised cake, modern-day cookies come in a wide array of sizes, shapes, colors and flavors, with something sure to suit even the pickiest of palettes. Although cookies line the shelves in most grocery stores in America and can likely be found in nearly every home in the country, relatively little thought is given to this popular style of snack food or its origins. However, taking a moment to study the history of cookies can offer a better understanding of and appreciation for this tasty treat commonly enjoyed at cafeteria benches, dinner tables and bakeries all around the world.

It is believed by culinary historians that cookies were first created as tiny test cakes, in which a small portion of cake batter was baked in an effort to test the temperature of an oven before committing to a full-size cake. The cakes were coined "koekje," which translates into "little cake" in Dutch. The history of cookies can be traced back as far as the 7th century, when Persia began to cultivate sugar for its elaborate cakes and pastries. Due in large part to the developing spice trade and the invasion of Spain by Muslim countries, popular baking techniques were slowly introduced to Northern Europe.

Ranging in style and texture from soft and moist to hard and crisp, the various styles of cookies began to pop up in places across the map as explorers ventured across the globe. Perfect for long-distance travels because they remained fresh for months, biscuits - a hard, dry bread-like cookie historically used as rations on ships - gained popularity in Europe throughout the 16th century.

The history of cookies continued in the 17th and 18th centuries as baking became a more prestigious profession closely monitored and controlled by various guilds and associations. Potential bakers were required to complete several years of apprenticeship, moving throughout the ranks until they earned the ultimate title - master baker. Technological improvements forged during the Industrial Revolution enabled bakers to develop more varieties of biscuits in the 19th century, using common ingredients such as wheat flour, sugar, butter and oil.

Although they were considered a popular delicacy in Europe for hundreds of years, it wasn't until the late 1700s that cookies were introduced to the United States by Dutch and English immigrants, resulting in a resemblance between American butter cakes and English tea cakes. As the popularity of cookies spread across the colonies, so, too, did a desire to create an increased selection of styles of styles and flavors. The flat, crisp biscuits that characterized much of the early American cookies brought from Europe soon gave way to a melting pot of styles ranging from the shortcakes and snickerdoodles to spice cookies and gingersnaps that we enjoy today.

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