America's favorite cookie didn't even exist 100 years ago.
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The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie
Credit: Ella Marie

A quick Google search for chocolate chip cookie recipes produces 83,000,000 results, but the person who created the recipe isn't even a household name. You may never even have considered how this all-American treat became so popular because it seems to have always been a staple snack to enjoy after school or as a dessert.

Curiously enough, there are plenty of myths and stories surrounding how this cookie came to be — and how the inventor discovered it by accident — but oftentimes the truth isn't as exciting as the stories that abound.

So Who Invented the Chocolate Chip Cookie?

That honor belongs to a woman named Ruth Graves Wakefield. She studied household arts and later worked as a high school home economics teacher and as a hospital dietitian before purchasing a guest house and restaurant, the Toll House Inn, with her husband in Whitman, Mass. Their restaurant slowly expanded and became a destination spot in the region, known for an array of desserts and lobster dishes.

So it's here that the stories begin, about how Wakefield stumbled upon the recipe by accident while making a dessert for her restaurant.

One story goes that she was making Butter Drop Do cookies and had run out of baker's chocolate in the middle of preparing the dough. Instead of scratching her plans, she substituted baker's chocolate for a semi-sweet chocolate bar that she had on hand, first breaking the chocolate into pieces. Supposedly she was surprised when the chocolate didn't melt, and she liked the outcome so much that it became a new recipe.

Other stories say that instead of chocolate, she had run out of nuts. But Wakefield was an experienced chef and had a degree in household arts, so she would know what would to expect when combining different ingredients.

As a chef, Wakefield loved coming up with new recipes for her restaurant patrons. "We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream," she said in an interview with the Boston Herald-American in 1974, explaining her inspiration for coming up with a distinct recipe. "Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different."

Wanting to come up with something new would require patience, practice, and plenty of recipe development.

Wakefield was known to be a perfectionist, too. According to a post-war promotional booklet for the restaurant, "Long-range planning and constantly studied personnel are reflected in an operating teamwork flawless in its unrolled perfection."

Wakefield was a shrewd business owner and careful in how she managed the restaurant and guest house, including who she hired. "Confusion is unknown," the brochure also stated. Improvising a dessert that she planned to serve soon after to guests would be out of character and running out of an ingredient suddenly would be unlike Wakefield as well. So the narrative that she discovered this new cookie recipe by accident isn't likely, although it makes a good story.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Why the Chocolate Chip Cookie Probably Wasn't an Accident

Food historian and recipe developer, Carolyn Wyman, dedicated an entire book to chocolate chip cookies and uncovering the history titled, "The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book: Scrumptious Recipes and Fabled History From Toll House to Cookie Cake Pie." Wyman is quick to discredit the idea that Wakefield created the cookie by accident, but still says what she did was revolutionary. "Nowadays, people love the 'dumb luck' story of the person who wins the lottery, or invents something because they were doing something else," Wyman wrote in her book.

In the 1930s Wakefield wrote a cookbook, Toll House Tried and True Recipes, where she included the Toll House Crunch Cookie, which she named after the Inn.

In 1939, she sold her recipe to Nestlé (supposedly for $1 or $2 but it's purported she never received the money) and agreed to her recipe being printed on the back of chocolate bars and later on chocolate chip packages.

Some may question why she would agree to having her recipe printed on packages, but it was a smart and forward-thinking business move and marketing tactic because in ads, Nestlé would reference that the recipe came from the Toll House Inn, which helped advertise her Toll House Inn and restaurant nationally.

Wakefield was an entrepreneur and continually thinking ahead by marketing herself in ways that weren't typical for her time. For example, she appeared on a national radio program called "Famous Foods From Famous Eating Places," hosted by Marjorie Husted, who was the name behind Betty Crocker.

And we also have Wakefield to thank for the fact that chocolate chips exist. In the original recipe, she used chunks of a semi-sweet chocolate bar, but over the years, Wakefield worked as a consultant for Nestlé and one thing she helped to create were semi-sweet chocolate morsels for easier baking and to standardize the chocolate sized pieces so home bakers wouldn't need to cut up semi-sweet chocolate bars.

Ruth Wakefield may still not be well-known today, but next time you're in the mood for chocolate chip cookies and want to bake up a batch, remember that not that long ago the concept didn't exist — so remember to thank her.

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