What the Heck Is a Cookie Anyway?

Cookie!

Cookies. Now there’s a treat that can bring a smile to a tearing toddler’s face, a word that harks back to the childhood memories in all of us. Those carefree days spent stuffing ourselves full of cookies, smearing semi-molten chocolate all over our faces, getting our hands stuck in cookie jars, refusing to let go of the five cookies in our hand despite knowing full well that the only way we could get our hand (and those cookies) out of the jar is by removing them one at a time.

Being the defining treat of our youth, we should all technically know what cookies are. But do we really..? Think about it, what makes a cookie a cookie? It’s such a simple question, and yet I struggled so hard in answering this, as you will soon find out. (Spoiler alert: there's no sure definition.) So may I present to you, my cookie musings: 

  • So is it the shape that makes a cookie a cookie? Must all cookies be round? Is there such a thing as a square cookie / sqookie(!?)?
  • If it isn't the shape, is it the texture then? But there's a myriad of textures a cookie can have - crispy, chewy, flaky, gooey, crumbly...
  • Or is it the taste then? It's gotta be the taste. All cookies are sweet... right..? Wait, no. How about peanut butter cookies, or salted caramel ones, or dark chocolate + sea salt cookies? I'd say they're more savoury than sweet, and last I checked they're definitely still cookies.
  • AH, maybe it's the topping then? All cookies must have a topping, yes? Consider a chocolate chip cookie without the chocolate chips, would it still be a cookie? Or are we more inclined to call it a biscuit? Ya I think I've cracked it, it's gotta be the toppings.
  • Oh hmm... But how about shortbread cookies though? There aren't any toppings on them and yet we call them cookies instead of biscuits or bread (as their name confusingly implies)... Damnit I guess it isn't toppings. -_-
  • Also, more importantly, can all cookies be trusted? (I got my eyes on you, you shifty cookie hiding in my browser background, asking for my permission to allow you in. The answer is no.)

SO. MANY. QUESTIONS.

In resolving such important life issues, I turned to Google, as one does. But here’s Google’s definition of a cookie: a sweet biscuit. Yup, that’s it. Thanks a bunch Google, that wasn’t helpful at all. And so the barrage of questions continue...

  • Okay Google, if cookies are just sweet biscuits, do Oreos, Digestives, Tiger biscuits, and Jaffa Cakes all count as cookies!? Didn't think so, eh?
  • (Ooh there’s this whole other is-Jaffa-Cake-a-biscuit-or-a-cake argument too, involving a couple of lawsuits and a human-sized Jaffa Cake baked just to prove a point. Have a read, it’s good stuff.)
  • But okay, if cookies are definitely sweet, as Google's definition implies (but I disagree upon as explained above), what if I take a non-sweet biscuit, say a savoury Hup Seng cracker, dunk it in some Milo/coffee (thus making it sweet), does it then become a cookie..?
  • Also where does the cookie label end?? Can I call anything and everything that is basically a sweet biscuit, a cookie? Does this mean NY cheesecakes with a sweet biscuit base can be renamed as an oddly-delicious sounding cheese-cookie-cake?
  • And can the eponymous English tea and biscuits be replaced with… tea and cookies!? 

Alas, after much research, I came up with even more questions that would fill up this whole post and then some. Ah well, maybe this is just one of life’s many unanswerable questions.

So instead of pigeonholing cookies into a particular definition, I guess I’ll have to make do with leaving the definition wide open. But for as long as cookies exist, in whatever shape or form, sweet or savoury, chocolate-chipped or not, trustworthy or otherwise, I will be content, for as the Cookie Monster says:

"Today me will live in the moment unless it’s unpleasant in which case me will eat a cookie." - Cookie Monster

Cookie dough
Cookies on a sheetpan

I know, you've just wasted 5 minutes of your life reading my nonsense musings on the definition of a cookie. I'm sorry. But to possibly make up for it, here’s a deceptively-basic-but-actually-well-researched cookie recipe, combining the wisdom of my three personal cookie gods - Kenji-Alt Lopez of science-y Food Lab fame, Butter & Brioche’s Thalia Ho for her oozy, messy, enviously gooey cookies, and the queen of cookies, Dorie Greenspan herself. It’s more chewy than crispy (because imo chewy > crispy every time), and is based off Dorie’s classic best cookie recipe, with some science-backed twists from Kenji and a sprinkle of aesthetic magic from Thalia. Or at least an attempt at the latter, because sadly the aesthetic part didn’t work out all that well since I didn't have chocolate bars at my disposal. (I did use decent Callebaut nibs though). Ah well, still a real solid recipe otherwise! 

Cookies!

Chocolate Chip Cookies

makes 30-35 cookies

Ingredients

260g all-purpose flour
5g salt
3g baking soda
220g butter, softened at room temperature
150g caster sugar
150g brown sugar
5g espresso/ground coffee beans
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 eggs
300g dark chocolate, chips or broken into chunks from a bar, preferably the latter for better aesthetics
150g walnuts/almonds/pecans, finely chopped

Method

  1. In a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high until fluffy (about a minute or two). Add the caster and brown sugar and continue beating for another minute to incorporate it. Turn the mixer down to medium-low, and add in the vanilla extract and the eggs and continue beating for a minute or so until they all combines.
  2. Sift and mix the flour salt, and baking soda, and ground coffee beans together. Then add this to the wet ingredients in the mixer in 3 batches, mixing in between each addition.
  3. Finally, add the chocolate and nuts and mix them in on low for about 10 seconds.
  4. Chill the dough in the fridge overnight (or up to three days) to develop the gluten and bring out more flavour, Or as Kenji Alt-Lopez puts it: “An overnight rest allows enzymes to break down large carbohydrates, enhancing the caramelisation and browning process the next day to help the cookies develop deeper flavor.”
  5. The next day, weigh ~40g of dough per cookie, roll them up into rough balls, and place them onto a lined baking sheet, leaving about 5cm (2 inches) of space in between each dough-ball.
  6. Bake the cookies in an oven preheated to 190°C for 12 to 15 minutes, until nicely browned on the edges but still golden and soft in the centre.
  7. When the cookies are done, remove from the oven and place them on a wire rack to cool down. 
  8. Blissfully relive your childhood memories through them. :D
Science, SweetJunComment