Cookies and Christmas are inseparable
. This association dates back to the ancient Germanic Julfest, when animals were sacrificed to ensure a mild winter. Those who couldn’t afford to slaughter their animals made a symbolic sacrifice by eating springerle, cookies imprinted with animal pictures.
The ur-cookie — unaffiliated with any holiday — probably began B.C. as a test cake. In what is now Persia, small bits of dough were routinely baked to assess the batch’s quality before it was worked into a cake. The dough was sweetened with sugar, and the growth of sugar cultivation in the ancient Near East paralleled the evolution of cake — and thus, cookie -— making.
In early English cookbooks, cookies were referred to as “small cakes”; now, Brits call them “biscuits,” which like the Italian “biscotti,” means “twice cooked.”
These biscuit-like cookies are pre-cooked, given time to rest, then cooked one final time to achieve characteristic crunchiness.
For some reason, however, the cookie — perhaps the greatest of all treats — has largely vanished from American menus.
Some restaurants, of course, still serve cookies. I’ve enjoyed Western Electric Butter Cookies at La Madia (59 W. Grand) and several types of cookies at Nightwood (2119 S. Halsted), where Jason Vincent tells us they’re “the only dessert that has been on the menu since day one.”