According to culinary historians, the first historic record of cookies was their use as test cakes. A small amount of cake batter was baked to test the oven temperature.
7th Century A.D. – The earliest cookie-style cakes are thought to date back to 7th century Persia A.D. (now Iran), one of the first countries to cultivate sugar (luxurious cakes and pastries in large and small versions were well known in the Persian empire). According to historians, sugar originated either in the lowlands of Bengal or elsewhere in Southeast Asia. Sugar spread to Persia and then to the Eastern Mediterranean. With the Muslim invasion of Spain, then the Crusades and the developing spice trade, the cooking techniques and ingredients of Arabia spread into Northern Europe.
From the web site, How Sweet It Was: Cane Sugar from the Ancient World to the Elizabethian Period, by Brandy and Courtney Powers:
In 510 BC , hungry soldiers of the Emperor Darius were near the river Indus, when they discovered some “reeds which produce honey without bees.” Evidently this early contact with the Asian sources of sugar cane made no great impression, so it was left to be re-discovered in 327 BC by Alexander the Great, who spread it’s culture through Persia and introduced it in the Mediterranean. This was the beginning of one of the best documented products of the Middle Ages.
By the end of the 14th century, one could buy little filled wafers on the streets of Paris. Renaissance cookbooks were rich in cookie recipes.
1596 – From the 1596 cookbook called Goode Huswife’s Jewel by Thomas Dawson. One of the earliest cookery books for the growing middle classes in Elizabethan England. This is a square short-cookie enriched with egg yolks and spices, baked on parchment paper.
To make Fine Cakes.- Take fine flowre and good Damaske water you must have no other liqeur but that, then take sweet butter, two or three yolkes of eggs and a good quantity of Suger, and a few cloves, and mace, as your Cookes mouth shall serve him, and a lyttle saffron, and a little Gods good about a spoonful if you put in too much they shall arise, cutte them in squares lyke unto trenchers, and pricke them well, and let your oven be well swept and lay them uppon papers and so set them into the oven. Do not burne them if they be three or foure days olde they bee the better.
As people started to explore the globe, biscuits (hardtack) became the ideal traveling food, because they stayed fresh for long periods Hardtack proved a portable food that had a long storage life and was perfect for traveling. For centuries, a ship’s biscuit, an iron-like cracker, was aboard any ship that left port because it could last for months (even years under the right conditions).
During the 17th and 18th centuries in Europe, baking was a carefully controlled profession, managed through a series of Guilds or professional associations. To become a baker, people had to complete years of an apprenticeship – working through the ranks of apprentice, journeyman, and finally master baker. By having guilds, authorities could easily regulate the amount and quality of goods baked. As technology improved during the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, so did the ability of bakers to make a wide range of sweet and savory biscuits for commercial consumption. Despite more varieties becoming available, the essential ingredients of biscuits didn’t change. These ingredients are ‘soft’ wheat flour, which contains less protein than the flour used to bake bread, sugar, and fats, such as butter and oil.
1615 – The English Hus-wife, by Gervase Markham, has two recipes for Jumbles:
To make the best jumbles, take the whites of three eggs and beat them well, and take off the veil; then take a little milk and a pound of fine wheat flour and sugar together finely sifted, and a few aniseeds well rubbed and dried; and then work all together as stiff as you can work it, and so make them in what forms you please, and bake them in a soft oven upon white papers.
To make jumbles more fine and curious than the former, and near to the taste of the macaroon; take a pound of sugar, beat it fine; then take as much fine wheat flour and mix them together, then take two whites and one yolk of an egg, half a quarter of a pound of blanched almonds; then beat them very fine all together with half a dish of sweet butter, and a spoonful of rose-water, and so work it with a little cream till it come to a very stiff paste, then roll them forth as you please: and hereto you shall also, if you please, add a few dried aniseeds finely rubbed and strewed into the paste, and also coriander seed.
1671 – In the 1671 edition of The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digbie Kt Opened: Whereby is Discovered Several ways for making of Metheglin, Sider, Cherry-Wine, & together with Excellent Directions for Cookery: As also for Preserving, Conserving, Candying, &c., by Sir Kenelme Digbie (NOTE: Actual Quote):
Excellent Small Cakes – Take three pound of very find flower well dryed by the fire, and put to it a pound and a half of loaf Sugar sifted in a very fine sieve and dryed; Three pounds of Currnats well washed and dryed in a cloth and set by the fire; When you flower is well mixed with the Sugar and Currants, you must put in it a pound and a half of unmelted butter, ten spoonfuls of Cream, with the yolks of three new-laid Eggs beat with it, one Nutmeg; and if you please, three spoonfuls of Sack. When you have wrought your paste well, you must put it in a cloth, and set it in a dish before the fire, til it be through warm. Then make then up in little cakes, and prick them full of holes; you muct bake them in a wuick oven unclosed. Afterwards Ice them over with Sugar. The Cakes should be about the bigness of a hand-breadth and thin: of the cise of the Sugar Cakes sold at Barnet.
The English, Scotch, and Dutch immigrants originally brought the first cookies to the United States. Our simple butter cookies strongly resemble the English teacakes and the Scotch shortbread. The Southern colonial housewife of America took great pride in her cookies, almost always called simply tea cakes. These were often flavored with nothing more than the finest butter, sometimes with the addition of a few drops of rose water.
In earlier American cookbooks, cookies were given no space of their own but were listed at the end of the cake chapter. They were called by such names as Jumbles, Plunkets, and Cry Babies. The names were extremely puzzling and whimsical
1796 – In the 1796 cookbook American Cookery: or, The Art of Dressing Viands, Fish, Poultry and Vegetables, and the Best Modes of Making Puff-pastes, Pies, Tarts, Puddings, Custards and Preserves, and all kinds of Cakes, from the Imperial Plumb to plain Cake by Amelia Simmons, she includes two recipes for cookies. One simply called “Cookies” and the other called “Chriftmas Cookey.” This was the first cookbook authored by an American and published in the United States (NOTE: Actual Quotes).
Cookies – One pound fugar boiled flowly in half pint of water, fcum well and cool, add 1 tea fpoon perlafh, diffolved in milk, then two and a half pounds of four, rub in 4 ounces of butter, and two large fpoons of finely powdered coriander feed, wet with above; make rolls half an inch thick and cut to the fhape of pleafe; bake fifteen or twenty minutes in a flack oven – good three weeks.
Chriftmas Cookery – To three pound of flour, fprinkle a tea cup of fine powdered coriander feef, rub in one pound of butter, and one and half pound fugar, diffolve one tea fpoonful of pearlath in a tea cup of milk, kneed all together well, roll three quarter of an inch thick, and cut or ftamp into fhape and fize you pleafe, bake flowly fifteen or twenty minutes; tho’ hard and dry at firft, if put in an earthern pot, and dry cellar, or damp room, they will be finer, fofter and better when fix months old.
There are hundreds upon hundreds of cookie recipes in the United States. No one book could hold the recipes for all the various types of cookies. The geographic development of the United States was reflected in popular cookie recipes. The railroad’s expansion in the early 1800s gave cooks access to coconuts from the South. Later in the century, oranges from the West were included in many recipes. Around the turn of the century, the Kellogg brothers in Michigan invented cornflakes and cookies were made with cereal products. In the 1930s, with the advent of electric refrigerators, icebox cookies reached new heights of popularity. Today there are hundreds upon hundreds of cookie recipes in the United States. No one book could hold the recipes for all of the various types of cookies.