The holidays put me in mind of one of my favorite culinary subjects—the chocolatization of America.
You could argue that it all began with Columbus’s “discovery” of cocoa in the 15th century. But America’s great chocolate love affair got really serious in 1894 when Milton Hersey began to manufacture cocoa powder and baking chocolate on an unprecedented scale. In 1900, with the advent of Hersey’s 5-cent chocolate bar, America started downing chocolate like never before. And our burgeoning cookie industry was right in step.
In 1902 Nabisco released its first sweet cookie, the Sugar Wafer. When did chocolate and cookies start to talk? In 1908 the Sunshine Biscuit Co. released the “Hydrox Biscuit Bonbon.” Nabisco fired back with the Oreo in 1912 and the Malomar in 1913. Nestle cut a deal with Ruth Wakefield (credited as the inventor of the Toll House Cookie) in 1939—her recipe appeared on every bag of Nestle Chocolate Morsels sold and she was allowed a lifetime supply of the little yummies.
Today Chocolate Chip Cookies, Oreos and those dastardly addictive rounds of Girl Scout sin, Thin Mints, remain America’s favorite cookies.
Here’s a recipe for the easiest chocolate cookie ever:
Yield: about 3 dozen
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk or soy milk
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1/4 cup smooth peanut butter
3/4 cup Nutella
2 cups rolled oats
1. In a saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the sugar, milk, and cocoa powder and stir until combined. Stir in the peanut butter and Nutella until melted, followed by the oats. Remove from stove. Continue mixing until all of the ingredients are incorporated.
2. Working quickly, use a melon baller to shape balls of dough and place them on a sheet of waxed paper on a cookie sheet. Refrigerate for about half an hour, until firm. Store in an airtight container. (If you don’t eat them all immediately.)
If you’ve decided to make sugar cookies this holiday season—here’s a classic recipe. These are good just sprinkled with sugar or all gussied up with frosting and decorations or…dipped in chocolate:
Sour Cream Sugar Cookies
Yield: about 2 dozen
3 cups sugar
2 cups unsalted butter
4 eggs, slightly beaten
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups sour cream
1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
A pinch of Amagansett Sea Salt
Preheat oven to 375°.
1. Cream sugar and butter together. Add eggs, flour, baking soda, baking powder and sour cream and stir well. Add vanilla and a pinch of salt.
2. Add enough extra flour to make stiff dough—it should not be sticky.
3. On a floured surface, roll out dough to about 1/4-inch thickness and cut into designs of your choice
4. Bake 8 to 10 minutes on greased and floured* cookie sheets, until golden around the edges.
5. Allow to cool on racks.
6. Decorate as you wish.
*Easier: line cookie sheets with parchment paper.