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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