The Real Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie

In December I entered the King Arthur/Historic Deerfield Heritage Cooking Contest. While the judges were sampling all our goodies, Dede Wilson from Bakepedia talked about the history of Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. She also went through the measuring, mixing, and portioning process, but more on that later.

As a food history geek, I of course loved hearing about the history of America’s most popular cookie. The recipe was invented by Ruth Wakefield who owned a restaurant called the Toll House Inn in Whitman, MA. She and her husband opened the restaurant in 1930 in a historic house. Thanks to her cooking, business, and marketing skills, the restaurant was wildly popular.

In 1936, Ruth created the cookie by modifying her butterscotch cookie recipe called Nut Tea Wafers. She added broken bits from two bars of  semi-sweet chocolate from Nestles. This is important – a bar – not chips. The chips we use today didn’t even exist.

The cookies became popular through a number of avenues. In 1930, Ruth published a cookbook entitled, Ruth Wakefield’s Toll-House Tried and True Recipes. The book would go on to have 39 printings attesting to it’s popularity. Her cookie, called Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie, first appeared in the 1938 edition.

Seeing potential, Nestles purchased the rights to the cookies from Ruth for $1.00. In return she received chocolate for life. Initially, the recipe appeared on the back of the semi-sweet chocolate bars. You purchased the bar along with a nifty cutter to break up the bar into appropriate size morsels. Nestle’s first attempt to make things easier was a scored bar that helped you break it into bits. Nestles then invented the chocolate morsel in 1940 to make things easier.

While the cookbook and visitors to her restaurant could have fueled the love of these cookies, it wasn’t until World War II that they became a nation-wide phenomenon. Servicemen from the Boston area begged their mothers and wives to send boxes of this favorite regional specialty. They shared them with their troopmates from throughout the country who in turn begged for more. In short order, every household in America was making Nestle’s Toll House Cookies.

So what’s the fuss? Why blog, or even bake, chocolate chip cookies? How different can they be from the one’s we whip up today? As Dede Wilson pointed out, there’s a big difference!

When you go back to Ruth’s original recipe, there’s some telling differences. First the name – Chocolate Crunch Cookie. So often, today’s cookie is soft and gooey. Not Ruth’s. She intended the cookie to have a crunch to it. The other big difference is size. Today we have nice big cookies. Her’s were meant to be the size  of a quarter!

I was intrigued enough to make these. And let’s remember dear readers, I can’t eat chocolate as it gives me migraines. So my results would only be eaten by Dan. He volunteered to do his part.

Here’s the recipe from my 1948 edition of Toll House Tried and True Recipes with historic notes from Dede Wilson to help create an accurate bake.

  • 1 c. salted butter (2 sticks)
  • 3/4 c. brown sugar (lightly scooped into the measuring cup, not packed)
  • 3/4 c. white sugar
  • 2 eggs, beaten and at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. baking soda dissolved in
  • 1 tsp hot water
  • 2 1/4 c. sifted flour
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 c. chopped nuts
  • 2 packages Nestle’s Semisweet chocolate morsels
  • 1 tsp. vanilla

Heat oven to 375 degrees.

Mix the flour and salt together and set aside

Cream butter with brown and white sugar, mixing for 3 minutes

Add 1 beaten egg to butter mixture

Beat second egg, but only add half of the this egg mixture*

Beat in the vanilla

Dissolve the baking soda in the hot water**

Beat this mixture into the dough

Beat in the flour mixture

Incorporate the chocolate morsels and nuts

Drop by 1/2 teaspoons onto a greased baking sheet 1 ” apart***

Bake for 10-12 minutes until golden brown

Cool baking sheet on a rack for five minutes

Transfer cookies to rack to cool completely

Make sure each baking pan has cooled before putting a new batch on it

Makes 100 itty bitty cookies! Dan said they were great. I have no intention of repeating this grueling process again, however. In fact, after the third batch I gave up and started making them larger. I’d still be rolling tiny little cookies if I hadn’t done that. 


*Modern eggs are larger than those available to Ruth. Dede Wilson figured out what the correct egg measurement would be.

** The baking soda in hot water step is unusual today. Dede wasn’t quite sure why Ruth added this step, but baking sodas were not as standardized as they are today. Perhaps that would help ensure the baking soda was properly dissolved and not found in the cookie as a big lump? Or it was a way of ensuring that the baking soda was still good?

*** If you want to make these right, use a 1/2 teaspoon measuring spoon to ensure that your cookies are the accurate size. Oh, this is agonizing!



One Response to “The Real Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie”

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  1. Bev says:

    I bet you had to twist Dan’s arm really hard for him to sample these! They do look good! If I made them like that recipe they’d be bigger. I mean 1/2 tsp.-you’d be baking until Christmas!

    I love to read about the history that you put on this site!

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