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8 Classic American Cookies You’ll Want to Bake at Home

Crispy, crumbly, frosted, nutty—anyway you bake them, cookies play a significant role in our lives. They’re intertwined with family traditions; they’re a way to express love or gratitude; they’re even a staple of local fundraising events.

But as ubiquitous as they are, how often do you stop to consider the origins of your favorite cookies? Many of the cookies we love best have interesting stories to tell about the places they came from. Here are the stories of eight classic American cookies—and recipes to help you make them at home.

cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Just how the chocolate chip cookie came to be one of America’s all-time favorite cookies is up for debate. Some people believe it was created purely by accident—missing ingredient leads to new discovery! But the more likely story is that the recipe was entirely intentional. There’s no dispute, however, that Ruth Wakefield, proprietor of the Toll House Restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts, invented the famous cookies in 1937.

Whitman was a talented cook and a savvy businesswoman, and her invention made chocolate chips one of the first food products created for a specific recipe. That, and when she gave Nestle the rights to her recipe (chocolate chip Toll House cookies), it became the most produced back-of-the-package recipe of all time.

August 4 is National Chocolate Chip Cookie day, so make a batch and raise a glass (of milk) to sweet creativity in the kitchen.

Recipe: Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Wakefield’s original chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for nuts, but I prefer to let the chocolate shine. This recipe uses maple sugar as a nod to the cookie’s New England roots, and is finished with a touch of sea salt.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1 1/2 cups dark chocolate chips
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
  2. Combine the butter, maple sugar, and brown sugar together in a standing mixer or by hand-held mixer. Mix until creamy and airy.
  3. Add egg and vanilla. Slowly pour in the flour mixture and mix until combined. Fold in the chocolate chips and chill in the refrigerator 1 hour to overnight.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  5. Using a cookie scoop, drop batter onto baking sheet 2 inches apart. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack or eat warm with a glass of milk.

cookies

Graham Crackers

Graham crackers typically conjure visions of campfires, gooey marshmallows, oozing chocolate, and summer fun. The cookie, however, was created for something entirely different. Sylvester Graham, a Presbyterian minister in the early 1800s, believed that certain practices—vegetarianism, sobriety, and whole-grain home baking—had the power to curb certain sinful desires that were at fault for severe health issues (a claim that was never substantiated).

The Graham crackers, though similar to a British digestive biscuit, were inspired by his “Graham diet” to act as a better way to snack and eliminate imprudent thoughts. Graham’s teachings may not have lasted, but thankfully his cookie did. Nabisco saw the potential in the cookie and made a few adjustments to the otherwise bland cookie to create the lovable treat we know today.

National Graham Cracker Day is July 5, just in time to start a fire and roast a few marshmallows. What s’more could you ask for?

Recipe: Spiced Graham Crackers

The original graham crackers would have been lacking in spice, so this flavorful recipe helps to make up for all of those bland bites.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup graham flour
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon, divided
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, sliced and chilled
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon cardamom

Directions

  1. In the bowl of food processor or standing mixer, whirl together the flours, sugar, salt, 1 teaspoon cinnamon, cardamom, baking powder, and baking soda. Add the butter in slices, pulsing in-between each addition until the mixture is coarse in texture.
  2. In a small bowl, mix together the milk, honey, and vanilla. Slowly add to the flour mixture, until the dough just comes together. Wrap the dough in plastic and chill in the refrigerator until firm, about 1 hour.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  4. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, sugar, and cardamom.
  5. Pour the dough onto a well-floured surface, knead and roll into a 1/16″ thick rectangle. Cut into 3-inch strips, adding perforations with a fork at 1/3 length-wise to make three separate cookies. Transfer to a baking sheet. Sprinkle with sugar mixture. Bake 15 to 20 minutes, until golden. Move to a wire rack to cool completely.

cookies

Peanut Butter Cookies

Though the peanut butter cookie has been around for what seems like forever, its past is much more recent and just a little muddled. The first cookie recipe calling for peanut butter was printed in a New Jersey paper in 1913, but there’s some speculation that George Washington Carver, an African-American educator, scientist, and botanist, might be behind their creation—having printed three cookie recipes using peanuts in 1916. Regardless of who invented it, peanut butter cookies were wildly popular during the first World War, as peanut butter was easier to obtain than shortening.

For years, the cookies were rolled or cut out before baking. It wasn’t until a recipe for “peanut butter balls” appeared in a 1933 Pillsbury cookbook that the iconic crosshatch design was established. The reasoning behind the design is elusive. Some believe it’s purely utilitarian (help the dense cookies bake more evenly), while others think it’s an easy way for those with severe allergies to recognize and avoid the potentially deadly sweet.

National Peanut Butter Cookie Day is June 12. Go nuts and celebrate with a few of these cookies dipped in chocolate.

Recipe: Peanut Butter Cookies

I like my cookies to be all about the peanut butter, so I stick to only the very necessary ingredients.

Ingredients

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  2. Combine the peanut butter, sugar, vanilla, and eggs in the bowl of a standing mixer or with a hand-held mixer. Mix until smooth.
  3. Using a cookie scoop, drop batter onto baking sheet 2 inches apart. Using the tines of a fork, gently press down horizontally and then vertically to create the crosshatch pattern. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt and bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack or eat warm with a glass of milk.

cookies

Biscochitos

As New Mexico’s Official State Cookie (the very first of its kind in the U.S. in 1989), Biscochitos or Bizcochitos (bis-co-CHEE-toe) are clearly well loved by the state—and for good reason. The anise-and-cinnamon-spiced cookies play an important role in the state’s culture, making an appearance at almost every celebration or holiday event. They can be found in New Mexico’s bakeries throughout the year.

It may come as a surprise, then, that the “little biscuits” didn’t originate in the state. Spanish settlers introduced the shortbread-style cookie, known as Mantecosos (or Mantacados), when they first arrived on the continent. The original version was bland and durable, as they were meant to survive long voyages. The recipe has evolved over the years, incorporating indigenous Mexican and Native American flavors to create a spicy and crisp cookie for any occasion.

There isn’t an official National Biscochitos Day, maybe because every day is a day to celebrate these unique cookies.

Recipe: Biscochitos

Use cookie cutters that highlight the occasion and make these cookies a staple for every celebration.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons anise seeds
  • 1 ½ cups lard, chilled
  • 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 tablespoons bourbon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt, and anise seeds. Set aside.
  3. Combine the lard and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer or with a hand-held mixer. Mix until creamy and airy.
  4. Add eggs, one at a time, along with the bourbon. Slowly pour in the flour mixture and mix until combined. The dough will be stiff.
  5. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes.
  6. In a small bowl, mix the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and cinnamon.
  7. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to 1/2 inch thick and cut out cookies with favorite cookie cutters.
  8. Dip each cookie in the cinnamon-sugar mixture before placing on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until tops are just set. Remove from oven and let cool on wire racks.

cookies

Black-and-White Cookie

The black-and-white cookie is a classic New York City treat, and can be found in bakeries, bodegas, bagel shops, and delis throughout the city. This cookie, however, is often confused with the half-moon cookie. Though the origin of the black-and-white cookie is unknown, the half-moon was created at Hemstrought’s Bakeries in Utica, NY, in the early 1900s.

The two cookies look almost identical, with equal sides chocolate and vanilla frosting, but they are not the same cookie. The base and frosting vary between the two: black-and-white cookies have a cake base with fondant frosting, while half-moons have a cookie base, sometimes chocolate, with a buttercream frosting.

The black-and-white cookie also had a starring role in an episode of Seinfeld where Jerry explains to Elaine that, “If people would only look to the cookie, all our problems would be solved!” He was referring to the cookie’s two different frosting colors coming together to create a harmonious and unified flavor. We all could learn something if we paid a little more attention to baked goods, it’s true.

There’s no National Black-and-White Cookie Day (yet), but that’s pretty much every day in New York City, really.

Recipe: Black and White Cookies

A lot of recipes will add corn syrup to the frosting to give it more of a shine, but I found that to be too sweet. The choice is up to you.

Ingredients

  • 1 1/4 cups cake flour
  • 1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons whole milk, divided, plus more if needed
  • 3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract, divided
  • 1/8 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 cups confectioners’ sugar
  • 2 tablespoons cocoa powder

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk together flours, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.
  3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standing mixer or with a hand-held mixer. Mix until creamy and airy.
  4. Add one egg at a time and mix until combined. Beat in 1/3 cup milk, 1/4 teaspoon vanilla, and lemon juice. Slowly add flour mixture and mix until combined.
  5. Using a cookie scoop, drop batter onto baking sheet 3 inches apart. Bake for 12 minutes, until edges are light golden brown. Move to a wire rack placed over parchment paper and let cool completely.
  6. In a small bowl, combine confectioners’ sugar, remaining 3 tablespoons milk, and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
  7. Frost half of each cookie with the vanilla frosting. Add the cocoa powder to the remaining frosting, with a little more milk if too thick. Frost the other half of the cookie with the chocolate frosting.

cookies

Fortune Cookies

Okay, I know you must be thinking that these cookies are Chinese and couldn’t possibly have anything to do with U.S. history. Think again. The fortune cookie is actually Japanese in origin, and it’s believed the modern-day version is a descendent of a cookie called tsujiura senbei, where fortunes are baked into the larger cookie and sold on the new year for luck.

As for when the cookies first appeared in the U.S., there’s some dispute. It’s widely accepted that they were first served at San Francisco’s Japanese Tea Garden in 1890, but David Jung, owner of the Hong Kong Noodle Company in Los Angeles, claims to have invented them in 1918. Seiichi Koto, also from Los Angeles, lays claim as the inventor as well; he believed he was the first to sell the cookies to Chinese restaurants and therefore was responsible for the widespread popularity. The matter was settled in San Francisco’s Court of Historical Review in 1983 in favor of the tea garden, but Los Angeles denounced the ruling.

Regardless of how they came to be, the fortune cookie is here to stay. At least, that’s what I predict.

National Fortune Cookie Day is July 20, so be sure to crack open a few and see what your future holds.

Recipe: Fortune Cookies

This recipe requires a quick hand, as you don’t want the cookies to cool before shaping. If they do, pop them back in the oven for a few seconds and start again.

Ingredients

  • 2 large egg whites
  • 6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Draw circles by outlining a 3-inch circular glass with a pencil. Flip the paper so pencil marks on facing down. On thin strips of paper, write fortunes. Set aside.
  2. In the bowl of a standing mixer, whisk the egg whites until stiff. In another bowl, combine the butter, sugar, and vanilla until creamy and airy. Add flour and mix until just combined. Mix in the egg whites until smooth.
  3. Using a small offset spatula, spread the batter within the circles on the baking sheet. Bake for 4 minutes, or until edges are golden brown. Remove from oven and cover with a kitchen towel. Working quickly, one at a time, place a fortune in the middle of the cookie and fold it in half, pressing the two edges together for a few seconds. Fold the cookie again over the lip of a glass and let it sit 1 minute before placing on a wire rack to cool completely.

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Cowboy Cookies

Can cookies be political? You bet, especially when they’re made popular by a first lady. Since 1992, Family Circle has held a cookie contest between the two presidential hopefuls’ spouses, and it was Laura Bush who submitted and won in 2000 with her Texas Governor’s Mansion Cowboy Cookie recipe. This introduced a large portion of the country to these everything-but-the-kitchen-sink oatmeal cookies.

The origin of the cowboy cookie, and where it gets its name, is unclear, but we do know that with its variety of ingredients (nuts, chocolate, oats, etc.) it’s hearty enough for those out on the range for long hours. You might call it the country’s first protein bar.

The name also suggests that the cookie is no doubt American in origin, as the cowboy is an iconic symbol of the West. You can find variations of this cookie in bakeries across the states, and each one has a slightly different version. The one element most agree upon is that the base is oatmeal. Think of them as oatmeal cookies with a little more giddy up.

There may not be an official cowboy cookie day, but I say they’re a must any time you have to travel long distances.

Recipe: Cowboy Cookies

This version is similar to one I used to get in Colorado, but feel free to swap/omit the nuts, chocolate chips, dried fruit or cereal.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup maple sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed light-brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats
  • 1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
  • 1/2 cup Rice Krispies cereal
  • 1/4 cup toasted pecan pieces
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and baking powder. Set aside.
  2. Combine the butter, maple sugar, and brown sugar together in a standing mixer or by hand-held mixer. Mix until light and creamy.
  3. Add eggs and vanilla. Slowly pour in the flour mixture and mix until combined. Fold in the oats, chocolate chips, coconut, cereal, pecans, and cranberries and chill in the refrigerator 1 hour to overnight.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mats.
  5. Using a cookie scoop, drop batter onto baking sheet 2 inches apart. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack or eat warm with a glass of milk.

cookies

Sugar Cookies

The sugar cookie is steeped in holiday tradition, from being cut out in festive shapes and decorated for the arrival of jolly old St. Nick to making appearances at Easter, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, and even the 4th of July. Though the origin of the cookie can be traced back to medieval Arab cuisine (using large portions of sugar to make sugar cakes with nuts and spices), it wasn’t until the 1700s that the sugar cookie emerges.

It’s believed that Europeans adopted the sugar cakes from the Arabs and brought it with them when they first came to Nazareth, Pennsylvania. The German settlers created the version that is so popular today, and that’s why you’ll sometimes see them called Nazareth sugar cookies or Amish sugar cookies.

The tradition of cutting the cookies in unique shapes and decorating them with ornate frosting is a mystery, but there’s a good chance it came after the invention of the biscuit cutter in 1875.

Mark your calendars for a sweet treat: National Sugar Cookie Day is July 9.

Recipe: Sugar Cookies

I like to add almond extract in place of the traditional vanilla, but citrus works as well. The frosting flavors are also limitless, and I’m a fan of coffee, amaretto, or mint—depending, of course, on the flavors in the cookie.

Ingredients

  • 5 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 4 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract (or almond extract)

Directions

  1. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, salt. Set aside.
  2. Combine the butter and sugar together in a standing mixer or by hand-held mixer. Mix until light and creamy.
  3. Beat in eggs one at a time and add vanilla. Slowly pour in the flour mixture and mix until combined. Cover and chill in the refrigerator 1 hour to overnight.
  4. Preheat the oven to 400°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment p aper or silicone mats.
  5. Roll out dough to 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick on a well-floured surface. Cut into shapes with a variety of cookie cutters. Place cookies 1 inch apart on baking sheets.
  6. Bake 6 minutes in the oven, or until golden. Cool completely on a wire rack.

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Kate H. Knapp also covers food-related topics for Eat Boutique, as well as recipe tests for major online publications and cookbooks. Follow her on Instagram @katehknapp and Twitter @katehknapp.

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