If the hamburger embodies the quintessential All-American Taste, then only the chocolate chip cookie can answer the cravings of the All-American Sweet Tooth. Like the U.S. flag, the chocolate chip cookie is a powerful national symbol around which all Americans can rally, regardless of their political affiliation. Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist Gary Trudeau (whose comic strips were deemed so political that there were moved from the comics section to the editorial pages of most U.S. newspapers in the 1980s), named his first published cartoon collection Even Revolutionaries Like Chocolate Chip Cookies (1972). His cartoons revealed the power of a single cookie to bring peace to the politicized U.S. college campuses of the day.
But even before Trudeau’s characters Mike Doonesbury and Zonker Harris were advocating the chocolate chip cookie’s powers of national reconciliation at the end of the Vietnam War, Sesame Street’s famous Cookie Monster was making his limited English vocabulary of “Me want cookie!” and “Me eat cookie!” – or just plain “Cooookie!” – house-hold words from the moment the first episode aired on public television in 1969. As a true American, the Cookie Monster’s favorite cookie has always been the chocolate chip. These days, however, the Cookie Monster is much more focused on getting kids to eat healthier food – including vegetables.
But not everything has always been peaceful in the Land of the Chocolate Chip Cookie. To begin with, there are conflicting versions as to the very origins of this most sacred of American culinary icons. Most sources, however, tend to agree that chocolate chip cookies were first popularized by Mrs. Ruth Wakefield at her Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts in 1933 after she started baking them with small pieces of Nestle chocolate. The recipe soon spread like wild-fire across the country – especially when Nestle began using the recipe as a way to sell more of their chocolate which was soon pre-packaged into small chips.
And while it is true that chocolate chip cookies do bring together people of every political stripe, they have also managed to divide America into two other warring camps. Some red-blooded Americans like their chocolate chip cookies soft & chewy. Other proud patriots insist that their chocolate chip cookies must be crisp & crunchy. Beyond the subtle adjustment of ingredients, much of the difference hinges on just how long the chocolate chip cookie is baked – nine minutes for “soft & chewy” versus eleven minutes for “crisp & crunchy.” This might not seem like much of a difference to someone who is not an American, but from such tiny things large conflicts are born, setting family member against family member. In my family, for example, I’m the only member in the true-blue “soft & chewy” camp. Everyone else is a die-hard “crisp & crunchy” fan. And so, each time we bake, disagreement threatens to disrupt our otherwise peaceful household.
The ideal American family portrayed in the TV sitcoms of the 1950s was one where all the kids come home after school to a happy stay-at-home mom, who has just happens to have spent all day working in the kitchen dressed in her frilled and flowery apron in order to serve them warm chocolate chip cookies straight from of the oven. Yeah, right. But, perhaps warm chocolate chip cookies straight from the oven filled with all that warm and gooey chocolate that melts right in your mouth is something that everyone can agree on – even those “crisp & crunchy” schismatics!
And since we are speaking of schisms, those very same kids who were lucky enough to come home to their moms’ fresh baked chocolate chip cookies were often treated to something even more special: they got to lick the bowl and spoon which were used to make the chocolate chip cookie dough. And somewhere along the line, these very same kids started noticing: “Hey, this raw chocolate chip cookie dough tastes almost as good as – or maybe even better than – baked chocolate chip cookies!” As this heretical behavior spread, more and more chocolate chip cookie dough started going straight into kids’ mouths without ever making a trip to the oven. After all, what’s there not to like about butter, brown sugar, chocolate, vanilla, and bit of flour mixed together – even if the eggs are raw?
And so, the ongoing war between the “soft & chewy” and “crisp & crunchy” factions has now become a three-way battle with the arrival of a younger generation of “raw dough” loyalists. This new “raw dough” faction received an enormous – or should I say ginormous – boost not long after two ex-hippies named Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield (who happen to resemble Trudeau’s character Zonker to a startling degree) started making their Ben & Jerry’s ice cream in Burlington, Vermont back in 1978. Because on one fine day in 1986 – after a full five years of intensive research and development, Ben & Jerry introduced their now legendary Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream, a flavor described as “vanilla ice cream with gobs of chocolate chip cookie dough.”
This heretical new ice cream flavor soon swept the nation, forcing even the warring “soft & chewy” and “crisp & crunchy” camps to join together in an uneasy alliance to fight in the all-out defense of the baked rather than raw version of the iconic American chocolate chip cookie. To this day, the battle rages on with no end in sight. Several major companies including Nestle and Pillsbury entered the fray by selling raw chocolate chip cookie dough in supermarkets all across America. And while this dough is intended for baking, I’m convinced that only a tiny fraction of it ever ends up going into an oven. Just try one bit of the raw chocolate chip cookie dough made from the recipe below and perhaps you will see why. But don’t forget to try the baked version as well!
My Estonian “Soft & Chewy” Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Hack:
First, bring all your ingredients at room temperature and then preheat your oven to 200 degrees. When both desired temperatures have been reached, cream together:
300 g Saaremaa butter
200 g white cane sugar
200 g brown cane sugar
Once this is done, you can add and then blend together:
1 tablespoon vanilla extract (or vanilla sugar mixed with a bit of rum)
375 g flour (sifted 550)
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Once this is done, add and blend until just mixed in:
2 large eggs (free range)
You can then finish everything off by adding:
200 g dark chocolate pieces or chunks (try using Lindt or Fazer)
100 g nuts (chopped, toasted walnuts usually work best)
Use a spoon and your finger to drop gobs of raw cookie dough onto a flat baking tray with enough space in between to allow them to spread out. Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes or until the cookies flatten out on their own and start to turn brown. Remove them from the oven and let them sit for a little while. Transfer the cookies to a cooling rack until they reach room temperature. Actually, the cookies are even better while they’re still warm …. Enjoy!
P.S. And if you don’t have time to bake your own chocolate chip cookies and want to buy some instead, your edible choices in Tallinn are rather limited. Try ordering some from Heidi Park Konditeer which come closest to the American original. These days, I prefer the Estonian crisp yet chewy version of the cookie as reinvented by Ristikiheina Kohvik
N.B. An earlier version of this text first appeared in the Russian-language St. Petersburg Times (Санкт-Петербургские ведомости). The recipe, however, was first developed as the result of an appearance on Estonia’s Kanal 2 weekend program Subboteja.
Image: Two Estonian eggs transformed into pysanky by an unknown Ukrainian artist. You should be able to find some at the Labora store on Vene 18 in Tallinn.