We’ve all made them, possibly your first cookie adventure. But how did they become such a part of our baking landscape?
Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House: Tried and True Recipes
In the introduction to the 1941 edition of “Ruth Wakefield’s Toll House: Tried and True Recipes,” the author outlined her adventure as a restauranteur and innkeeper. She and her husband bought “a lovely old Cape Cod home” on the outskirts of Whitman, Mass., in 1930. At one time, it was actually used as a toll house between Boston and New Bedford, thus the name.
OK, now what?
Her previous experience as a dietitian and food lecturer gave her the confidence to open a little seven-table restaurant at the Toll House.
“Feeling that there was an opportunity in this vicinity for an eating place serving the finest obtainable foods, cooked carefully and served as nicely as one would like in one’s own home, with a restful atmosphere, we started in business, having one male assistant and a waitress,” she wrote. Within three years, the restaurant expanded to 64 tables serving over a thousand customers in a day, and staffing 100 employees. Now, that’s success. A wise female entrepreneur of her time, and she certainly understood marketing, and word of her food spread like mad.
She started publishing her recipes, and this provided even more notoriety for her ventures. Her extremely successful cookbook, first printed in 1936, went through 39 printings! I have a signed copy of her book, and every single copy I’ve ever seen or purchased for resale has been signed, so this woman wasn’t just in the kitchen, she was everywhere, spreading her recipes and image!
“I still believe in small quantity cookery as giving the best results in flavor, consistency and general quality, especially in baking, and I know there are no substitutes for butter, cream, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables in preparing a fine meal,” she concluded in her introduction to the cookbook.
An Epicurean Finnan Haddie???
The cookbook has a lovely range of New England recipes, including lots of seafood served at the restaurant such as Epicurean Finnan Haddie, Oyster Fricassee, and a spread of four different lobster dishes she called Dreams of Lobsters. The book is also chuck full of household and kitchen hints, big batch cooking tips, and even laundering problems solved. Today, she’d give Martha Stewart a run for her money.
The Chocolate “Crunch” Cookie is born
But of all the recipes in the book, the “Chocolate Crunch Cookies” survived the test of time as a standard even today. The cookies became regionally popular, and then nationally they exploded, without the assistance of viral posts on social media. The chocolate bars experienced a great boom in sales in the Boston area because of this woman’s recipe, and Nestlé ended up making a deal with Wakefield that they could print the recipe on their chocolate bars in exchange for chocolate for the Toll House for life. There is much written at the Cooksinfo about her dealings with the company. Since she shipped many care packages to soldiers overseas during WWII, it turned out to be a good deal for Wakefield, and the soldiers.
The company soon streamlined the chopping chocolate part of the recipe by creating the chocolate chips, and the rest is history. A cultural icon invented by a woman, made popular nationally by a woman, and available in every supermarket in the country by a big business.
Little variation in the original
The recipe has changed little over the years. That original recipe was in the form of chopped chunks from two bars of Nestlé yellow label semi-sweet bars. The myth goes that Wakefield ran out of her regular chocolate for her chocolate cookies and chopped up the bar to use instead, thinking the chocolate would melt in the baking. However, the chunks remained intact, and the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie was born. At least, that’s how the story goes, and is likely not true as experienced as Wakefield was in running a restaurant kitchen, but none dispute that Wakefield was the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie.
The recipe also called for the baking soda to be dissolved in a teaspoon of water and added to the batter after the creaming of the butter and sugars. In the modern version, the soda is added to the flour.
How big do you like your cookies?
Aside from ingredients, the original recipe instructions called for dropping the dough onto the cookie sheet in ½ teaspoon measures to make 100 cookies. If I served my family and friends cookies that small, they would revolt! By using a heaping tablespoon, I only make half as much, and they really are not very big!
Choose your chocolate chips wisely
When I make these cookies, I use a fair-trade organic bittersweet chocolate chip, the Nestlé company having had more than its share of consumer/social problems. Plus, we like the darker chocolate! Your choice. I omit the nuts because there are a few severe nut allergies in our family, although if I were making them for just myself, the nuts would definitely go in. I use a cookie scoop rather than a half teaspoon, of course, and toss the vanilla in with the creamed ingredients, but otherwise, I follow Ruth’s instructions and never is there a complaint.
It’s my birthday today, and I’d rather have a little nibble on a chocolate chip cookie than a big slice of cake (I’m one of those who scrapes the frosting off and gives it to someone else). A cookie is just right to satisfy a sweet craving without being too much of a good thing, and if there is chocolate involved, even better! The cookie jar is full, the kids of all ages are now happy.
- 1 cup butter, or vegan butter
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 tsp. vanilla
- 1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in 1 tsp. hot water
- 2 ¼ cups flour, sifted with 1 tsp. salt.
- 1 cup chopped nuts, optional
- 2 cups. bittersweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. and grease a couple of cookie sheets.
Cream together the butter and sugars, then add the eggs.
Dissolve the soda in the water and add alternately with the flour.
Mix in the nuts and chocolate chips. Gently, of course.
Use a cookie scoop or heaping rounded tablespoon to form the cookies.
Bake for 10 to 12 minutes, let cool on a rack until you absolutely have to eat them, still melty.
They will keep for quite a while in the cookie jar, and benefit from a minute in the microwave just before eating. Just sayin’.
Additions: Of course you can use any nut you like, and any percent chocolate chip. Or, chop up a favorite bar into chunks as in the original recipe. Another delicious addition is crystalized ginger. Or, use dark delicious rum instead of the vanilla. My favorite.
From the 1941 edition:
Go ahead, you know you want a nibble!
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79 Comments Add yours
Thank you, Dorothy, lovely!
You are very welcome! They are tasty indeed.
I’m with you on the frosting, though I do like a simple cake very much. (I also like a plain old fashioned sour cream donut much more than the filled yeast variety.) Chocolate chip cookies are a favorite at my house. If I had my way, I’d cut down or omit the chocolate and load up on the nuts, but my kids would revolt. (Well, maybe not my daugher, but definitely my son.)
Happy birthday! 🍪
Thank you! I’ll keep the chocolate and the nuts!
Thank you for this research. The chocolate chip cookie is a classic.
It certainly is a classic for good reason!
Never was there a more perfect cookie! I love all this history, Dorothy, and especially the important event of the day. Happiest of birthdays, my sweet foodie friend!!! 💕🍪 😘
Thank you my friend!
Thank you my friend! I can hear all the singing (no wait, that’s my tinnitus…).
I know that sound well!
Oh what a great post! I had no idea, and never really thought about toll house!
I hadn’t really thought about it in years, but I had the cookbook hanging around and I thought I’d actually look it through for something other than the chocolate chip cookie recipe! Then, I wanted to know more!
I’m so glad you did this. I wrote on this very topic a few years ago, long before you found me. It’s a fascinating story. Plus who doesn’t like a recipe for chocolate chip cookies!
She sounds like such a fascinating women I agree! Quite the business woman, and accomplished restauranteur, marketer, writer…
Only in the US, quite probably nowhere else. I recall making shortbread but never any cookies! Of course, happy to make them now but my favourite recipe is from Christina Tosi https://viewfromtheback.com/2016/12/28/the-musette-probably-the-best-chocolate-chip-cookies-ever/
They look amazing Sheree!
Fascinating story!! Enjoyed reading
Vert interesting and your cookies look scrumptious.
Thank you! They were quite tasty!
Happy Birthday! and thanks for the informative blog post.
Thank you so much!
The story is still fascinating, and the cookies are still the best.
Happy Birthday! 🙂
Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!
Happy Birthday. I’m making a batch of these today.
These cookies are like old friends!
Happiest of birthday wishes to you! I love a good chocolate chip cookie-loaded with nuts and dark chocolate. Maybe even a little sea salt for good measure.
I enjoyed reading the history. I believe the chocolate chip cookie is quintessentially American.
Thanks for sharing with us.
Velva-Evening With a Sandwich
Thank you Velva! It’s such a classic and delicious combination. Love the idea of the salt!
Happy Birthday Sweet Dot, may the year ahead be filled with many reasons to smile.
Thank you so much my dear friend!
Happy Birthday, Dorothy – Thank you for sharing your version of this classic recipe, and the history behind it all. I absolutely adore Rabbit Holes like this!
Oh I know! What starts with a little question can wiggle around and around!
I will think of this every time I bake chocolate chip cookies and feel thankful that I do not have to chop up the chocolate! Chocolate chip cookies are my go to when I need a quick batch of cookies. Thank you for sharing!
I think I’ll be doing the same thing Beth! 😘
Wonderful story. And Toll House is the gold standard for chocolate chip cookies.
So good! And so full of memories!
Happy Birthday! I am swooning over this post — practically passing out from the deliciousness. Is there anything better than a warm chocolate chip cookie? I think not. Thanks for the interesting backstory.
Thanks Jana! That merry chocolate is so enticing!
Thanks for the story behind the Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie—I have fond childhood memories of helping my mom bake them and I still love them today! And hope you’re having a very special Birthday! 🙂
Thank you! It was nice!
A very happy birthday and a healthy and productive year to follow! A great story to read even for one who has nit baked or eaten a biscuit (cookie) for about the last fifty years . . .
There’s plenty who will eat your share!
My favorite topic – dessert. 🙂 I don’t believe I’ve ever lived in a house that didn’t have a bag of chocolate chips in the cupboard ready to make cookies. It would just be unAmerican. 🙂 The first thing I have to do is look at the warning to make sure it has nothing to do with nuts because my grandson has nut allergies, and we maintain a nut-free home. I love nuts of all kinds, but we do not cook with them just so there is no crossover. I also use a cookie scoop rather than a spoon. I love chocolate chip cookies and thinking I may need to get that bag out. 🙂
I use either Guittard or Pascha, both are safe, as well as some of the Ghiradelli, just check the bags. Nestles are not safe.
Happy Birthday dear Dorothy! 🤩🎉 Wish you health, happiness and all the best!
Usually the best recipes comes out from some “mistakes” right? I love the chocolate chip cookies! Always a win!
Thank you my friend! I’ve had lots of good wishes from wonderful folks!
Thank you Gail!
I’m not surprised the Toll House cookie won, it tickles most everyone’s memory banks!
Especially childhood memories. 💜🍃
Happy Birthday Dorothy! I love reading about the history of chocolate chip cookies! Wow, she really was an amazing business woman! Fascinating, of course now I’m craving a cookie!
Well, I think you need a nice big chocolate chip cookie!
Dorothy, you just have so many fun facts when it comes to food! This tried and true cookie recipe has been a treasure at our house and I have used it as a guide to create other cookies as well. My husband would rather have cookies over cake too! Happy Birthday!
Thanks Jan! The recipe graces many a recipe box across the country!
Love all the background information. I really covet your recipe book!!
I shall make mine small and crisp. Grew up on crispy cookies and anything soft isn’t baked long enough!! :))
Looking forward to making these.
Hope you had the happiest birthday ever!! :))
That’s one thing I like about these cookies Mary, everyone can bake them the way they like, because a cookie should always be the way you like it!
Belated Happy Birthday wishes.
Thank you! They were really tasty, especially when still warm and melty!
Thank you so much! It was a really fascinating story!
Thank you for sharing the life of Ruth Wakefield! I can picture her going from the hot oven full of cookies to go sign books. Now I want some cookies…
I know Christy! The more I learned about this amazing woman, the more I wanted to! She’d definitely give Martha a run for her money, and without all the social media!
Happy Birthday Dorothy! I enjoyed the history! And well… I am off to find the chocolate chips!
They are right in the cupboard behind the flour!
😃 Found them!
Happy belated birthday to you. Chocolate chip cookies are the best!
Thank you my friend! it was a good day all around.
Happy Belated Birthday Dorothy! I would love the recipe for Epicurean Finnan Haddie. My mom used to cook it every year on Good Friday, but I haven’t been able to find the smoked haddock in years. .
Send me your email Joni and I’ll take a shot of it and send it off to you. email@example.com
Thanks Dorothy, but I can’t source the fish as I’ve tried asking at the fish market and they say they can’t get it anymore although they do get requests around Good Friday. I live in Canada, and some things are just not available here.
Oh, tjhat’s too bad! If you find it, let me know.
I’m battling that old cholesterol rise as well, so i’m pretty careful with most recipes. I’ve actually used a vegan butter with these and they came out fine, but it seems the jury is still out about the saturated fat in coconut oil!
Well I have to say I knew all about this as I had it ready as one of my “Did You Know” posts! Great minds think alike Dorothy!
That’s wonderful! I can’t wait to read yours. That has happened to me several times, I get a post ready to go and wham! I see someone else has beat me to it. But that’s the fun of it i guess. P.S. Finnan Haddie is coming up, if you’ve got one in the banks ready to roll out, better do so soon!