From the excellent, comprehensive, and highly recommend Oxford Companion to Food

COOKIE the name used in N. America for a small, flat, sweet confection, which approximates to a sweet BISCUIT as eaten in England, although cookies tend to be richer and have a softer, chewy texture. The name first appeared in print as long ago as 1703.

Generations of immigrants from all over Europe have contributed to the American tradition of cookies. Early Dutch settlers introduced their recipes for various types of koekje, Dutch for “little cake” (see BANKETBAKKERI), the name which needed only slight adaptation to become cookie. English, Scandinavian, German, and E. European settlers introduced numerous types of biscuit, including many which could be classed as cookies, and maintained their connection with feast days. Cookies were originally associated, in the USA, with New Year’s Day; references cited by Craigie and Hulbert (1938) from the early part of the 19th century show that cookies and cherry bounce (a cherry cordial) were the correct fare with which to greet visitors on that occasion, although already threatened “by plum-cake and outlandish liqueurs”, as one author put it.

The American habit of making up rolls of cookie dough and keeping them in the refrigerator or freezer may have come from Germany; the doughs for some German biscuits such as Heidesand are made into rolls and chilled before slicing. Pieces are sliced off and baked as required. These are often known as “icebox” cookies, and usually made from a rich creamed mixture. A type of icebox cookie has spread to the Chinese community; made from an almond-flavored creamed mixture, it is known as hsing jen ping. Fortune cookies, twists of plain dough which enclose slips of paper carrying prophecies, are a commercial invention of the Chinese community in N. America.

An alternative to recipes based on creamed doughs is provided by soft mixtures of a dropping consistency, used to make “drop cookies.”

Of the numerous recipes which have evolved in America, one of the best known is that for the chocolate chip, or Toll House cookie, which according to Mariani (1994) did not appear in recipe books until the 1930s; it was created by Mrs. Ruth Wakefield who owned the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts.

In Scotland the term “cookie” has been in use since around 1700, but the original meaning is uncertain. It now refers to a lightly enriched bread bun, which may be split and filled with cream, or ornamented with icing.

CANDY a term derived from the Arabic qandi, meaning a sugar confection. In the USA it is a general term for all SWEETS of all kinds; in Britain it is used in a more restricted range of meanings, notably to indicate sweetmeats coated or glazed with sugar. For candied fruit, peel, and vegetables, see under CANDIED FRUIT etc. There is a separate entry for SUGAR CANDY.

[The entry on CHOCOLATE is far too long to type up.]

CHRISTMAS FOODS [This one’s a long one] include in virtually all Christian countries or communities provision for a main meal on Christmas Day, or Christmas Eve, which in turn incorporates a main dish which is symbolic of Christmas. This main dish is liable to change, the only constant factor being that it is perceived as “special.” Thus, the TURKEY which has during the 20th century provided the main dish for most families in England does not represent an antique tradition, for it was only in the 19th century that it began to replace the GOOSE; and there are signs that the reverse process may now be under way. There is a similar question mark over the traditional CHRISTMAS PUDDING, whose ancestry (as plum POTTAGE or plum PUDDING) can be traced back for many centuries but which in its present configuration and status can also be counted as mainly a product of the 19th century, and which may also yield ground in the coming millennium to lighter alternatives. In other countries it is possible to observe similar gradual evolutions, although what is subject to change may be quite different: a carp, for example, rather than a bird.

What is, however, relatively common ground and relatively unchanging is the seasonal frenzy of baking in most European countries, as households (one used to say housewives, but patterns of activity change) make a stock of special foods for the Christmas period.

Mention of the Christmas period is highly relevant because, although Christmas is often taken to mean Christmas Day plus perhaps Christmas Eve and what is called Boxing Day in England, its more extensive meaning covers a long period, beginning with Advent in early December and continuing to Twelfth Night on 6 January. It is this longer timespan for which the baking frenzy caters.

Many of the bakery products, such as English MINCE PIES, Scandinavian GINGER BISCUITS, and German LEBKUCHEN, are indeed consumed throughout the season. Others are kept for specific days, which vary from country to country. In the Netherlands, Germany, and C. Europe 6 December (St. Nicholas’s Day) is important; as is 13 December (St. Lucy) in Sweden; Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Britain, the USA, France, and S. Europe; New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day in Scotland; and 6 January (Epiphany) in France, Spain, and Portugal.

Although Christmas is supposed to commemorate the birth of Christ, a number of important pagan festival which took place at midwinter have been incorporated. Their echoes still persist in the feasting, especially in the shapes of foods baked for this time of year.

All special breads made for Christmas involve doughs mixed with quantities of butter, eggs, and sugar. Many are spiced, or flavoured with lemon zest, and further embellished with nuts and dried or candied fruit.

In Switzerland and Germany on St. Nicholas’s Day the saint is thought to reward good children with sweets but punish bad ones with a switch. In the Netherlands his role is to deliver presents to children. For this day Swiss bakers make Weihnachtsmanner, Father Christmases, and Grittibanzen, dough men. Shaped from lightly enriched dough, they range from simple figures with currant eyes to ones carefully dressed in fringed scarves and jackets, carrying walking sticks. Gingerbread and honey cake mixtures are also made into men for autumn and midwinter festivals over most of N. Europe, including Britain. There are no records of these having been made in the Middle Ages, but Bachmann (1955) conjectures that they represent a winter god, and refers to gods modelled in dough, mentioned in the Norse sagas.

On the day of the Immaculate Conception (8 December) the inhabitants of Madeira bake their bolo de mel for the coming Christmas. This honey cake (now sweetened with molasses), heavy with walnuts, almonds, and candied peel, is leavened by a piece of dough from bread-baking. Any honey cakes left from the previous year are eaten up on this day.

In Sweden St Lucy’s Day is celebrated with rich saffron flavored buns. The dough is mixed with fruit, candied peel, and almonds, and shaped into plaits, crosses, and buns called Lussekatter, St. Lucy’s cats. Traditionally, one of the daughters of the house gets up to prepare a breakfast of these buns, and dresses in a long white robe with a crown of lingonberry twigs and lighted candles on her head to serve them.

As the season progresses other breads make their appearance especially on Christmas Day. In England, the “traditional” Christmas cake, a rich FRUIT CAKE, has largely usurped the place of sweet spiced and decorated fruit breads. These cakes, round and covered in marzipan and a thick layer of royal icing, are made well in advance.

Breads have also been replaced by rich cakes in France, where the bûche de Nöel, a roll of light SPONGE CAKE, is covered in chocolate or coffee buttercream textured to resemble bark. The conceit is carried further by mounding the cream over small pieces of cake stuck to the main roll, to represent the trimmed branches. The ends of the roll and the cut faces of the “branches” are finished with a vanilla cream, imitating pale newly cut wood, and the whole is decorated with leaves made from icing, or meringue mushrooms.

Christmas breads are part of the celebrations of Scandinavia. The Danish jukelage is a Christmas fruit loaf, lightly enriched, kneaded with candied fruit, and flavoured with lemon peel and cardamom, and candied fruit; julbröd is the Swedish name for a similar loaf. Various kinds of coffee bread and Wienerbrød (DANISH PASTRIES) are baked in special Christmas shapes such as stars. These share the table with a plethora of Christmas biscuits such as pepperkaker (ginger snaps) and peppernotter (ginger nuts). The Norwegian kransekake (garland cake) is made from a marzipan-like mixture of ground almonds, icing sugar, and egg white, gently heated, and made into rings in graduated sizes; up to 14 rings may be made, for which special tins are available.

C. Europe provides a wealth of breads. Some, such as KUGELHOPF (an Austrian favourite), are made throughout the year. Hutzelbrot, a heavily fruited and spiced bread, is sold at all the Advent markets which are a popular feature of Christmas in Germany. Swiss Christmas Birnbrot includes kirsch in its spiced pear filling, which is encased in a lightly sweetened and enriched dough. Tannenzapfen, “pine cone cake,” a Swiss Christmas speciality, is made from thin layers of sponge built up into the shape of a pine cone lying on its side, covered in coffee-flavoured buttercream, and stuck all over with split toasted almonds to resemble the scales on the cone. Dresden STOLLEN is one of the most famous German Christmas breads; plainer Stollen are also made, some aniseed flavoured, as are SPRINGERLE biscuits. German and Swiss bakers make lightly enriched doughs into intricate plaited shapes such as the Weinachtszopf, a straight plait with dried fruit; or crowns, wreaths, and stars for Christmas and New Year displays. The plaits are said originally to represent women’s hair cut off in sacrifice as part of mourning ritual (a custom observed through much of ancient Europe by the inhabitants of Greece and Rome, as well as the Germanic tribes). They are also very decorative shapes which show off a baker’s skill.

Baking is somewhat less important in Mediterranean countries, where nut and sugar confections such as nougat sustain the sweet toothed. However, the principal Italian festive bread, PANETTONE, is on sale everywhere at Christmas. Christopsomo, Greek Christmas bread, is rich, sweet, aniseed flavoured, and marked with a Greek (equal-armed) cross.

The Church celebrates 6 January as Epiphany, the day on which the Christ child was shown to the three Kings. This date is also Twelfth Night, the last of the twelve days of Christmas. It has inherited some of the pagan customs associated with Roman Saturnalia, and its cakes are of such interest that they have separate entries; see TWELFTH NIGHT CAKE and (for France and other Latin countries) galette des rois, see GALETTE.

So I hand-typed that. And it was a lot of typing. This is roughly one page worth of a roughly 900-page book, all of which is fantastic. I couldn’t recommend it more highly. I tend to bust it out when we have company over, to read the entry on FENNEL, or BRAISE, but it’s fun to just sit and read.

Really, it’s fantastic. And reading about all these spiced breads makes me hungry.  Mmmm.

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