What is a Cookie?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 16 October 2019
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Since 1703, speakers of American English have been using the word “cookie,” a derivative of the Dutch for “little cake” to refer to a small, sweet, flattish cake made out of baked dough. In Britain, cookies are better known by the word "biscuit," which confuses some Americans, who think of a savory breakfast pastry when the term biscuit is used. Whatever you call it, a cookie is one of the most ubiquitous baked goods in the world, from traditional Toll House cookies to delicate Greek kourambides to fluffy powdered sugar covered Russian teacakes. Cookies have been made for centuries; archaeological evidence from 7th century Persia suggests that small sweetened cakes first began to be made there to accompany meals.

A basic cookie incorporates flour, sugar, salt, butter, and eggs. Many cookies also add rising agents like baking soda or baking powder, along with spices such as vanilla extract, cinnamon, or nutmeg. Cookies can be dropped, rolled, pressed, or molded, and come in varieties which are filled, like jam thumb print cookies, rolled in spices, like snickerdoodles, or left to their own devices, like the classic chocolate chip cookie. Flavorings for cookies are limited only by the imagination of the cook, and most bookstores carry a number of all-cookie cookbooks for intrepid bakers to explore.


Many cooks dispute the texture of the perfect cookie. Some like cookies to be thin and crunchy, while others like soft, chewy cookies. In some cases, a crunchy outer layer surrounds a soft interior, while in others a cookie is designed to be crumbly and dense. Although cookies were originally known as little cakes, most of them do not have a classically cake-like texture, being denser and less airy. A single cookie packs a serious dessert punch into a small pastry unit.

One of the most common types of cookie is the drop cookie. Drop cookies are made using a loose, slightly moist dough, which is dropped from spoons onto a cookie sheet. Another common variety is rolled cookies, which are made by chilling the dough to relax the gluten, rolling the dough out, and then cutting out shapes with cookie cutters or by hand. Hand molded cookies are shaped by hand into various forms such as balls and crescents. Bar cookies, relatives of the brownie, are made by rolling dough out into a pan, cooking it, and cutting it into individual cookies after it comes out of the oven. Some cooks also use pastry bags and cookie molds to create pressed cookies, which have fancy patterns or designs, and others prefer to roll their dough into a log and chill it to make refrigerator cookies, which are sliced into rounds before baking.

Plain cookies are ready to eat right out of the oven, and are often the most delicious this way, especially when dipped in milk. Filled cookies require more effort, because of the multiple elements involved. Basic thumb print cookies are made by forcing a small indentation into the top of the cookie before baking, and spooning the filling into it afterwards. Sandwich cookies are made by putting a layer of filling in between two cookies, and other cookies have filling piped into them, as is common with cookies shaped into cylinders.


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You can change the texture of cookies by adding ingredients in different proportion or texture. For example, for a chewy cookie add melted butter to the mixture, however, if you want your cookie to have the texture more like a cake, you need to add more eggs.

More sugar will create a thinner cookie, while baking powder will make a smoother cookie.

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