Sugar, flour, eggs, vanilla, and baking powder or baking soda. By themselves, these humble ingredients are the main parts of infinite recipes, but when combined in a certain way, they compose one of the most traditional, well known and well loved cookies in the whole world: The Sugar Cookie.
History of the Sugar Cookie
The modern incarnation of this popular cookie can be traced back to the mid 1700s in Nazareth Pennsylvania. There, German Protestant settlers created the round, crumbly, buttery cookie that came to be known as the Nazareth Cookie.
The Nazareth Cookie was adopted as Pennsylvania’s official cookie by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (House Bill 219,) though there has been some ambiguity concerning this issue after a 4th grade class at Caln Elementary School in Coatesville lobbied for a resolution that would designate chocolate chip cookies as Pennsylvania’s official cookie.
I side with the Nazareth Sugar Cookie for historical reasons despite her own personal preference for chocolate chip cookies.
Ancient History or How the Cookie Jumbles.
That’s right. Jumbles. Arguably, the precursor to the Nazareth Sugar Cookie is the Jumble, a biscuit that gained popularity in the 17th and 18th century in Europe chiefly because of the fact that, as a non-leavened food, it could be dried and stored for many months.
Jumbles were known by many different names including gemmel, jambal and jumbal. They were often savory rather than sweet, flavored with rosewater or anniseed. They were traditionally shaped in knots and other intricate shapes and baked until crispy in order to withstand the test of time.
These cookies were introduced to Europe by the Moors of Spain and probably had their origins in the middle east where sugar figured heavily into the daily diet. These very early middle eastern cookies probably also included nuts and fruits such as dates.
Early Jumbles probably looked more like these middle eastern cookies than the mixture of ingredients that we see today.
Modern Cookie Traditions
The modern Nazareth-style sugar cookie has gained enormous popularity in America. Sometime in the 1930s it became traditional for children to leave sugar cookies and milk out for Santa Clause on Christmas Eve. Because of how easy it is to cut and shape the sugar cookie dough, custom cookies have become wildly popular.