The Origins Of Biscuits And Cookies

The history of the biscuit follows that of sugar and it seems that the first biscuits were baked in Persia during the 7th Century BCE. It wasn't until the Moorish conquest of Spain and the crusades of the 12th and 13th centuries that Arabic cooking practices slowly came to Europe.

The modern biscuit, however, is a French invention, and by the 14th century it was possible to buy little fruit-filled wafers on the streets of paris. The name of these comes from a corruption of the Latin bis cotum (baked twice) which became biscuit in English and biscotti in Italian. Traditionally, such biscuits are hard and dry in texture and they're know (and commonplace) from recipe books going back at least to the Elizabethan era.

In contrast, cookies are Dutch in origin. The name itself derives from the Dutch word 'koekje' (small or round cake) which represents the small pieces of dough that Dutch bakers used to place in their ovens to test the temperature. However, the classic cookie, the 'cocolate chip cookie' was only invented in 1937 by Ruth Graves Wakefield (1905-1977), of Whitman, Massachusetts, who ran the Toll House Restaurant. This type of cookie didn't reach nationwide fame until 1939 when Betty Crocker popularized it in her radio show. Today, however, the chocolate chip cookie is by far the commonest baked and eaten cake in America.

Below you will find a recipe for a classic British biscuit and a classic American cookie so that you can bake these for yourselves and appreciate both the similarities and the differences between these classic baked goods.

Devon Flats

These are a classic and simple biscuit, native to the Devon region of south-west England. They are a light and crumbly biscuit, traditionally used as an accompaniment to tea.

225g self-raising flour
pinch of salt
100g caster sugar
100ml clotted (or double) cream
1 egg, beaten
1 tbsp milk (approx)

Mix the flour, salt and sugar in a bowl then stir-in the cream and egg. Add just enough milk for the ingredients to come together as a stiff dough.

Turn the dough onto a lightly-floured surface (if it's a little sticky cover in clingfilm and refrigerate for 30 minutes) and roll out unitl about 8mm thick. Cut into biscuit circles using a 7.5cm pie cutter and place these to greased baking sheets. Transfer to an oven pre-heated to 220°C and bake for about 8 minutes, or until they're coloured a light golden brown.

Allow to cool for 10 minutes on the baking tray then transfer to wire racks and leave to cool completely.

Chocolate Chunk Cookies

This is a close relative of the classic chocolate chip cookie recipe of 1937 in that it uses a mix of plain and brown sugar, the only difference is that a chopped block of plain chocolate is used rather than pre-made chocolate chips.

60g toasted pecan or walnuts, chopped
225g unsalted butter
210g light brown sugar
50g granulated sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
280g plain flour
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
180g plain chocolate (I prefer very dark chocolate, at least 80% cocoa solids, but use whatever you like), chopped into coarse chunks

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy then add the egg and beat to combine thoroughly before adding the vanilla extract and beating to incorporate.

Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Add this to the butter mix and stir until just combined (do not over-work). Now add the chocolate and nuts and stir to distribute evenly.

Cover the mixture then set aside in the refrigerator to chill and firm for at least an hour. When ready drop about 2 tbsp of the mixture per cookie onto a lightly-greased baking tray, allowing at least 8cm between each cookie for them to spread. Place in an oven pre-heated to 190°C and bake for about 12 minutes, or until golden brown around the edges. Allow the mixture to cool for 10 minutes on the baking tray before transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.

I hope that you have learnt something about biscuit and cookie baking and that you will now want to know more about these baked goods.

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About The Author, Gwydion
Dyfed Lloyd Evans runs the Celtnet Recipes free recipes where you can find hundreds of biscuit and cookie recipes from all corners of the globe. Why not visit and try baking something new today?