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December 19th, 2008
Recipe Corner: The Toll House Cookie

Mercury Food Writer

It’s hard to believe that 75 years ago, no one had tasted a chocolate chip cookie. The recipe was created in 1937 by Ruth Graves Wakefield at her restaurant in Massachusetts called The Toll House. She was born on June 17, a date that should probably be a national holiday because it’s hard to think of something more truly American than this most popular of all cookies.

Even more astonishing is that Ruth really invented the chocolate chip, although it was purely by accident. She needed baking chocolate for a cookie recipe, was out of it and used a chopped up bar of semi-sweet Nestlé chocolate instead. She hoped the pieces would melt into the batter as it baked. They didn’t, which proved to be a happy accident. The recipe was so popular that Nestlé started making the chocolate into chips.

Nestlé and Wakefield had an agreement to publish the Toll House recipe on bags of chocolate chips (this is still upheld today). Ever since then, folks have been making their own versions.

Wakefield’s original recipe, printed in her book, The Toll House Cookbook, says to dissolve a teaspoon of baking soda in a teaspoon of hot water, and she further mentions to let the dough sit in the refrigerator overnight before baking. She suggests rolling the dough into small balls, then pressing them down on the cookie sheet with the fingers. She tells us that the recipe (with the ¾ cups of brown and white sugar and the 2 ¼ cups of flour-the familiar ratio) makes 100 cookies! So she made a cookie a bit smaller than most cooks do when following the recipe today.

There are many kinds of chips and nuts that work well in Wakefield’s recipe, not to mention other candy treats like M&Ms, Sno-caps and Raisinettes. I like a ½ cup to a full cup of pine nuts added to my chocolate chip cookies, when I can afford them. I only use one stick of butter (or margarine) in my chocolate chip cookies and use a ½ cup of cooking oil to replace the second stick.

Many cooks say that the addition of a tablespoon or two of whole milk makes a more tender cookie and, while I’ve never tried it, I know that whole milk is the secret to making a good baking powder biscuit, so it may stand to reason that it will improve a cookie.

A recipe for a baked good calling for baking soda, to my way of thinking, needs the addition of an equal amount of cream of tartar. If it is not present in the list of ingredients in a recipe, I add it. When I’m out of cream of tartar (which happens a lot) I use white vinegar instead. Whenever a recipe calls for cream of tartar, the same amount of white vinegar will do just as well.

I like the taste of the plain basic caramel refrigerator cookie that is an heir of Wakefield’s recipe and I usually split the finished dough in half, keeping one part plain and the other part augmented with a cup and a half of chocolate chips. I admit that I originally did this because I didn’t have enough chips for a whole batch, but I have come to do this as custom now. The plain cookies make an excellent “dunker,” to use an old phrase.

Ever since Ruth Wakefield made her cookie recipe public, there have been variations galore. Most cooks adapt recipes to suit the ingredients they have on hand, and many like to experiment with the chemistry of baking. I am no exception to this and what follows is my variation. As you can see from the picture, I like the cookie part as well as I like the chocolate chip part, so I do not load my cookies down with a lot of chips. My recipe will take a good load of add-ins but I’m very fond of the plainer sister cookie.

The reason I played around with Wakefield’s fine original recipe is twofold. First, I never had enough butter or margarine to spare for cookies and secondly, because no matter what I did with the recipe, my cookies turned out flat. They were still tasty, but flat. So I played around with some of the ratios to get a more substantial cookie.

Remember that your eggs and margarine or butter should be at room temperature before using, and that your cookies will turn out better if you refrigerate the dough for a half an hour before using it. Also, it’s wise, to continue returning the dough to the refrigerator when it is not in use. The dough should be dropped onto cold or room temperature baking sheets.

Chocolate Chip/Caramel Dunkers


2 ¾ cup of flour
1 teaspoon of baking soda
1 teaspoon of cream of tartar
(If you are going to replace the cream of tartar with vinegar, then add a teaspoon of white vinegar to the wet ingredients before adding the dry)
1 ¼ teaspoon of salt
½ cup butter or margarine
½ cup vegetable or cooking oil
1 cup white sugar
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 Tablespoon of vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 and ½ cups chocolate chips (or half of a 12 ounce bag)
1 cup of chopped nuts (this is optional)


1. Preheat oven to 350. Turn oven up to 375 just before putting cookies on a baking sheet to bake them.

2. Sift flour, baking soda, salt and cream of tartar into a medium sized mixing bowl. Set aside. Cream white sugar, brown sugar, one stick of margarine, ½ cup of oil and the vanilla in a large mixing bowl (small electric hand mixer highly recommended for this). After mixture is creamy, add eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. If you are using vinegar instead of cream of tartar, you would add it now and beat well. Gradually add flour mixture, beating well after each bit added. This is where I split the dough into two bowls, leaving one half of the dough plain, stirring chocolate chips and other add-ins into the remaining half.

3. Drop by rounded tablespoon (the measuring spoon, not the spoon you put in the mashed potatoes for serving) onto ungreased baking sheet.

4. Bake for 8 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.  Allow the cookies to sit on the baking sheet for 30 seconds before removing.

If you can’t get your chips to adhere to the dough properly, try placing them in a plastic bag with a tablespoon of flour and shaking them up in the bag to coat them before putting them in the batter. The flour will allow the chips to stick to the batter more successfully.

It makes mysteriously good cookies if you can cool them on brown paper grocery bags folded inside out. Well, it’s not such mystery, I suppose, since its clear that the paper makes the cookie crisper and dryer by absorbing the excess oil. You can buy the brown paper at a stationery store, if you like.

I like the caramel half of the mixture to be a little less brown and chewier but that’s a personal preference. They are very good when they are crisp, too.

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