I’m not calling these chocolate cookies “the first chocolate cookies” because they are the first ones in this cookie project. Rather, I named them as such because they are baked from a very slightly modernized version of a chocolate cookie recipe believed to be the first chocolate cookie recipe ever baked in the United States.
I found the recipe in Nancy Baggett’s book.
It’s the first cookie cookbook that I actually wanted to take to bed with me and read cover to cover. (View on Amazon)
The research put into The All-American Cookie Book is so impressive. Each recipe isn’t headed by a fluffy paragraph about how Aunt Sadie made such-and-such cookie for her basket-weaving class and how much everyone loved them. Instead, the recipes each come with true pieces of history. Here’s an excerpt from the chocolate cookie description:
Prior to the mid-1800’s, chocolate cookies were largely unknown in this country. The first chocolate cookie I’ve found is a sketchy receipt for rich, candy-like, chocolate-almond macaroons in an 1832 cookbook, The Cook’s Own Book, by “A Boston Housekeeper” named Mrs N. K. M. Lee.
Let’s pause there. What — no chocolate cookies before the mid-1800’s? I’m sorry, people of the past! Also, did you know that almond macaroons came before coconut macaroons? I had never even heard of an almond macaroon before reading about these cookies.
In case you want that cookbook from the 1800’s, it’s been reprinted and you can buy it used for under $5. (View on Amazon)
It would be nice to credit Mrs. Lee with a great American cookie breakthrough, but I can’t: she copied her recipe word for word from The Cook’s Dictionary and Housekeeper’s Directory, written by a British author of the same period, Richard Dolby.
And, we thought recipe theft was a modern food blogger problem. :)
Richard Dolby’s book, by the way, is also available for purchase (although slightly more expensive). (View on Amazon)
Nevertheless, Mrs. Lee’s introduction of a chocolate cookie to the American public was the first step in a long “chocolafication” process that has ultimately resulted in a complete cookie paradigm shift. In two hundred years, we have gone from no chocolate cookies to nearly all our favorite cookies containing chocolate.
Chocolate for the win!
Nancy Baggett then goes on to describe the changes she had to make to modernize the chocolate cookie’s ingredients and instructions, replacing melting chocolate on a tin plate with melting chocolate in the microwave and the “sweet almond paste, made as for macaroons” with our modern almond paste. The notes she shares from old cookbooks are one of my favorite parts of her book.
Whenever I think a recipe is tough, I can turn back to her quote from Sarah Josepha Hale’s book and remember that my job is pretty easy. (View on Amazon)
…the flour should be dried before the fire, sifted and weighed; currants washed and dried; raisins stoned; sugar pounded, and rolled fine and sifted; and all spices after being well dried at the fire, pounded and sifted.
Can you imagine having to do all of that just to get the ingredients ready?!
No matter how interesting the tale, in the end it’s important that the cookie tastes great. On that point, these chocolate cookies deliver big time. They are dense, intensely chocolately, and have an almond (marzipan-like) aftertaste.
The First Chocolate Cookie Recipe
This entire recipe is made in the food processor instead of a mixer. I was able to make 24 bite-sized cookies using my mini food processor. If you wanted to double the recipe, you would need a full-sized food processor. (View on Amazon)
The chocolate cookie recipe below is reprinted in my own words with permission from the author.
The First Chocolate Cookie
- 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate
- 3/4 cup about 2 1/4 ounces blanched or unblanched sliced almonds
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 4 ounces almond paste cut into chunks
- 1/3 cup powdered sugar
- 2 large egg whites the original recipe which I halved called for 3 egg whites, so if you do choose to double this, go up to 3 egg whites, not four
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/2 ounces very finely chopped blanched slivered almonds
- Melt the chocolate in the microwave or in a double boiler.
- While the chocolate is cooling off just a little bit, food process the almonds and sugar until the almonds are very finely ground.
- Add the almond paste, powdered sugar, and chocolate to the food processor and process until very well blended. Stop to scrape down the sides of the processor when necessary. (Nancy's instructions say that this step should take 2-3 minutes. Mine was completely blended at about one minute.)
- Add the egg whites and vanilla and process in on/off pulses until the mixture stiffens and the processor motor labors. If it's still not thoroughly mixed (mine was), turn out the dough to a medium-sized bowl and stir until well blended.
- Refrigerate the dough for at least two hours or overnight.
- Preheat the oven to 325 F.
- Roll teaspoon-sized balls of dough in the chopped almonds.
- Place on parchment or Silpat-lined cookie sheets, spacing about one inch apart.
- Bake for 10-14 minutes or until barely firm when pressed in the center.
- Slide the sheet of parchment or the Silpat with the cooked cookies onto a cooling rack (being careful not to burn yourself).
- Once cool, remove cookies and store in an airtight container for up to four days or freeze for up to one month.