I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies. That means there’s a lot of celebrating that might happen on Sunday; August 4th is our official National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day. Considering that this cookie is a pure American classic (created by accident, no less), you might want to get your baking done early, so your kitchen remains cool throughout the day.

For those who don’t know the history, here’s a brief rundown: in 1930, Ruth Graves Wakefield and her husband, Kenneth, purchased a Cape Cod-style house in Whitman. The house, which was built in 1709, had once been a place for travelers to rest, change horses, have a meal, and pay any tolls necessary for using the road.

The Wakefields turned their house into a lodge, which they called The Toll House Inn. Ruth was a dietitian who was particularly skillful at baking desserts. She drew in visitors from all over the Northeast, often serving them one of her favorite recipes, dating back to Colonial days. This was the Butter Drop Do cookie, a version of which called for Baker’s chocolate.

One day, finding herself with only a bar of Nestlé’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate, she chopped it up and added it to the dough. It was supposed to melt and spread through the dough—but it didn’t. That day, in 1937, the history of the chocolate chip cookie began. These new cookies became extremely popular, and sales of the Nestlé Semi-Sweet Bar took off.

In 1939, the cookie was featured on the radio in “Famous Foods from Famous Eating Places.” Ruth approached Nestlé and struck a deal: Nestlé got to publish her recipe on their packaging, and Ruth got free chocolate for the rest of her life. To make it easier for consumers, Nestlé introduced a scored semi-sweet bar that included a chopper, but they soon abandoned that in favor of the “morsel.” And the chocolate chip was born.

During the 1940s Ruth sold the rights to the Toll House name to Nestlé. In 1983, however, Nestlé lost the trademark rights to the name: Toll house is now, legally, a generic word for a chocolate chip cookie.

The delicious cookie has gone on to become the most popular cookie worldwide, and it is the official cookie of its home state, Massachusetts.

The Wakefields sold the Toll House Inn in 1966; in 1984, it burned down on New Year’s Eve. There is now a Wendy’s where it used to be. Authorities in Whitman required the fast food restaurant to include a small museum to Ruth Wakefield and the Toll House on its premises. Ruth went on to publish cookbooks, including “Ruth Wakefield’s Recipes: Tried and True” (which made it through 39 printings). There is a revised paperback copy still in print, which is called “Toll House Tried and True Recipes.”

From Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery,” published in 1796, we have this recipe: “Butter Drop Do No. 3. Rub one quarter pound of butter, one pound sugar, sprinkle with mace, into one pound and a quarter flour, add four eggs, one glass rose water, bake as No. 1. [Bake 15 Minutes].”

In 2013, the New Yorker magazine wrote about this cookie: “Wakefield’s cookie was the perfect antidote to the Great Depression. In a single inexpensive hand-held serving, it contained the very richness and comfort that millions of people were forced to live without in the late nineteen-thirties…America’s entry into the Second World War only enhanced the popularity of Wakefield’s creation. Toll House cookies were a common constituent in care packages shipped to American soldiers overseas…Before the war they were a largely East Coast based fad; after Toll House cookies rivaled apple pie as the most popular dessert in the country.”

We now have many different chocolate “morsels” from which to bake our chocolate cookies. Almost all of them include a recipe on the back of the package. It seems to me that most home cooks use the original one from the Nestlé package. I am including that one here, as well as one from Maida Heatter. “Positively the Absolutely Best Chocolate Chip Cookies” are based on the original, with a few changes: 2 teaspoons of vanilla instead of 1, 16 ounces of chocolate instead of 12, and instead of using morsels, use cut up semisweet or bittersweet chocolate bars.

I like to use Nestlé chunks in my cookies; my mother-in-law, Esther Ramsdell, used to bake with the morsels. She passed down one of the all-time best (in my humble opinion) recipes to me; she called them Elephant Ear cookies, as they spread more than usual. Family members have debated this recipe for years, but we all agree it is superb. To commemorate this Sunday, try any of these recipes—preferably along with a glass of cold milk.

Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chunk Cookies

2¼ cups AP flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp salt

1 cup butter, softened

¾ cup each: white sugar and packed brown sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1¾ cup (11.5 oz) Nestlé semi-sweet chocolate chunks

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Combine the flour, soda and salt in a bowl; cream the butter with the sugars and vanilla in another bowl. Add the eggs, one at a time, then gradually beat in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate and the nuts, if using, and drop by the rounded tablespoon onto an ungreased baking sheet. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes in a preheated 375°F oven, until golden brown; let stand for 2 minutes before removing to a rack to finish cooling. Makes 60

Positively The Absolutely
Best Chocolate Chip Cookie

8 oz unsalted butter

1 tsp salt

2 tsp vanilla

¾ cup each: granulated and firmly packed light brown sugar

2 large eggs

2¼ cups unsifted AP unbleached flour

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp hot water

8 oz walnuts, chopped or broken into medium-sized pieced

16 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate bars, chopped into pieces

Line cookie sheets with baking parchment or aluminum foil, shiny side up; preheat the oven to 375°F and arrange the racks to divide the oven into thirds.

Beat the butter until soft; add salt, vanilla and both sugars and beat to mix. Add the eggs and beat to mix; on low speed, add half the flour. With mixer on low, beat until the flour is incorporated, scraping the bowl with a rubber spatula; stir the baking soda into the water in a small cup, then mix that into the dough. Add the remaining flour and beat only until incorporated; stir in the walnuts and the chocolate. Spread out a large piece of aluminum foil next to the sink; use a rounded tablespoon full of the dough for each cookie and place the mounds any which way on the foil.

Wet your hands with cold water and shake off excess (do not dry your hands); pick up a mound of dough, roll it between your wet hands into a ball, then press it between your hands to flatten it to about a half-inch thickness. Place the cookies on the lined baking sheets about 2 inches apart, and bake two sheets at a time, reversing the sheets top to bottom and front to back as necessary to ensure even browning (if you bake one sheet alone, bake it on the upper rack). Bake for about 12 minutes, until the cookies are browned all over; the cookies must be crisp—do not underbake. Let the cookies stand for a few seconds, then transfer to a rack to cool; store in an airtight container. Makes 50 3-inch cookies

Elephant Ear Chocolate Chip Cookies

¾ cup AP flour (bleached is better than unbleached, but either works)

½ tsp each: baking soda and fine salt

8 TBSP butter, melted and cooled

6 TBSP white sugar

6 TBSP brown sugar

½ tsp vanilla

¼ tsp water

1 egg, beaten

1 cup chocolate chips (or chunks)

Whisk flour, soda and salt together and set aside; mix butter with both sugars, vanilla and water; stir in egg. Add the flour mixture, then fold in the chocolate. Drop by the teaspoonful onto parchment lined baking sheets; bake in a preheated 375°F oven for 7 minutes, until the outside edges are brown and crisp. Cookies will be large, thin and flat; let cool for 5 minutes or so on the sheets; then remove to a rack to finish cooling. Store in an airtight tin, with wax paper between the layers as the cookies are fragile (if they’re not eaten right away!) Makes 24

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