Nestle’s Toll House teardrop chocolate morsel turns 75

For that simple, crunchy pleasure, you have Ruth Wakefield and Nestle Toll House to thank


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Ask someone about his favorite cookie, and unless his taste runs to the exotic, the answer usually is pretty quick. Chocolate chip!

Seriously: Is there any other cookie that so immediately makes you feel as warm and fuzzy? Or as desperate for seconds, or — come on, fess up — maybe even thirds? Especially if a cold glass of milk is involved.

For that simple, crunchy pleasure, you have Ruth Wakefield and Nestle Toll House to thank.

Seventy-five years ago, the Massachusetts restaurateur made a batch of killer cookies with the food company’s semi-sweet chocolate, and an American tradition was born.

Like a sweet tale of success? This one’s a doozy. Millions of home bakers have stirred together Mrs. Wakefield’s famous recipe, which since 1939 has been printed on every yellow bag of Nestle semi-sweet morsels. Millions more have stuffed cookie after delicious chocolate chip cookie into their hungry mouths after school or before bed — sometimes an entire batch at a sitting. like my son Jack did last week while I was at work, much to the displeasure of his sisters.

Quick and super-easy, Toll House cookies often are the first cookie recipe a child learns to make, usually with Mom or Grandma showing the way. And we keep making them as adults — chocolate chip cookies account for more than half of all cookies baked at home. It’s the cookie that memories are made of.

How’d Mrs. Wakefield come up the ground-breaking recipe? It depending on who’s telling the story.

The romantic version has the trained dietitian, who ran a popular restaurant in Whitman known as the Toll House Inn, doing it quite by accident. While making dessert one day in 1938, the story goes, she did what all home bakers do at some point — she ran out of an ingredient in the midst of baking. Baker’s chocolate, to be exact, which she planned on adding to a batch of Butter Drop Do cookies, a buttery sugar cookie said to date to colonial times. Or maybe it was nuts she couldn’t find in the pantry. Accounts vary.

Not wanting to deprive her patrons, Mrs. Wakefield reached for some Nestle semi-sweet chocolate, which at the time came in blocks. After chipping two 7-ounce bars into pea-sized pieces, she folded the bits into the dough, thinking they’d melt into the batter during baking. They didn’t and the “Toll House Crunch Cookie” was born.

Cookbook author Carolyn Wyman tells a different story. In 1974, she writes in “The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book” (Countryman Press, 2013), Mrs. Wakefield told a Boston reporter that the cookie’s invention was quite deliberate, her chance to try something different for dessert. Forget dumb luck — she’d worked out the recipe “on the way back from a trip to Egypt.”

In addition, Ms. Wyman writes, Mrs. Wakefield was known to run a pretty tight ship at the Toll House Inn. Known for its white-tablecloth fine dining, it was not the kind of place to run out of ingredients. As a post-World War II promotional booklet put it, planning and personnel were “flawless in its unruffled perfection. Confusion is unknown.”

Also worth noting: With a degree in household arts, the veteran baker surely would have known that while the chocolate bits might soften in the oven, they’d retain their shape while baking. “And yet ... the story continues,” Ms. Wyman writes.

Whatever its provenance, guests loved the cookie and clamored for more. No dummy to the marketing potential, Nestle took note and in 1939 struck a deal with Mrs. Wakefield – supposedly for a single dollar -- for the right to use her recipe and the Toll House name. The company also started scoring its semi-sweet chocolate bar’s dozen eating “sections” into 160 tiny pieces. (The package came with a special chopper to break it into chips.)

The following year, the recipe — the one Mrs. Wakefield included in the 1938 edition of her “Toll House Tried and True” cookbook and that also was published in a Boston newspaper — was featured on the Gold Medal Flour bag. Shortly after, Nestle’s ready-to-use teardrop-shaped “morsels” hit the market, making it even easier for bakers to whip up the cookie at home.

In the years since, Toll House cookies have become a cookie jar staple loved by young and old alike. Sweet without being overly saccharine, indulgent but at the same time democratic (they can be cheap or expensive), it’s cookie perfection.

Today’s recipe is bit different than Mrs.Wakefield’s original confection. For starters, she used Crisco instead of butter and refrigerated the batter overnight. And because her cookies were much smaller — just 1 teaspoon of batter per cookie, yielding about 100 per batch — they were much crisper than today’s ooey-gooey version.

But that’s the great thing about chocolate chip cookies. Each baker can put his or her spin own on it and still come up with something delicious. My mother, for example, who also favors Crisco over butter, always stirs crunched corn flakes and a bit of peanut butter into her batter. They’re the best cookies on earth!

Nestle chips have found their way into hundreds of other recipes, too.

Now available in more than a dozen sizes and flavors, including the just-introduced Toll House DelightFulls filled morsels (milk chocolate with caramel or peanut butter filling, dark chocolate with cherry or mint), Nestle chips add chocolate-y goodness to everything from brownies, cakes, bar and candy bark to pies, sauces, pancakes, trail mix and even milkshakes.

At the company’s first-ever Nestle Toll House Morsels Camp for a small group of food writers (me included) last month, four of the country’s top pastry chefs demonstrated just how versatile a chocolate morsel can be. (And yes, Nestle’s state-of-the-art culinary center in Solon, Ohio, is as glamorous as you might think.)

Celebrated pastry chef Sherry Yard, who for years has wowed Hollywood A-listers with her decadent desserts at Wolfgang Puck’s Academy Awards after party, made chocolate haystacks with rice noodles, almonds and coconut, and mini lava cakes filled with salted caramel. Pastry chef Richard Capizzi of Lincoln Ristorante in New York City crafted several varieties of chocolate bark, including a Mediterranean version with Sicilian pistachios, orange oil and fennel. Chef/spice blender Lior Lev Sercarz delighted with cocoa-and-orange blossom macarons filled with orchid Szechuan ganache.

We also tasted Chicago pastry chef Amanda Rockman’s rye whiskey-infused Manhattan Cupcakes, topped with local cherries and gooey marshmallow.

All before lunch, mind you, and just hours after Nestle culinary director Lucien Vendome’s decadent welcome dinner of Mini Spring Rolls with Chocolate and Peanut Sauce; Grilled Cocoa-Dusted Prawns; Wood-Fired Roasted Beef Filet drizzled with Chocolate and Port Sauce; and Toll House Chocolate Souffle.

We got a chance to try our hand at coming up with a new recipe, too, in a friendly cooking competition. My group, Team Sherry Yard, collaborated on chip-studded Lunch-box Granola Bars. The result was fabulous, even though it was nerve-wracking working alongside one of America’s most famous pastry chefs.

With school soon starting, you, too, might be thinking about chocolate-y treats that can be tucked into lunch boxes, wrapped in plastic for an after-school snack or made en masse for a school bake sale.

The recipes below will help get you started while helping Nestle celebrate 75 years of the chocolate morsel.

DelightFulls PB & J Bars

PG tested

2¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1/4 cup strawberry or seedless raspberry jam

1¾ cup Nestle peanut butter-filled DelightFulls

1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 15-by-10-inch baking pan with foil.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Spread into prepared pan, reserving about 1/2 cup of batter.

Bake for 15 minutes. Cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes. 

Stir jam to loosen and spread jam over cookie base. Sprinkle morsels over jam layer. Crumble reserved cookie batter into a small bowl. Add flour and mix until crumbly. Sprinkle over morsels.

Bake for 20 minutes, or until top is golden brown. Cool completely in pan on wire rack. Lift out by foil edges to cutting board. Carefully remove foil. Cut into bars. Store in tightly covered container.

Makes 48 bars.

-- Adapted from verybestbaking.com

 ■

Caramel-Filled DelightFulls Chocolate Chip Cookies

PG tested

In case you thought you couldn’t improve on America’s favorite cookie -- much to his sisters’ displeasure,  my son Jack ate the entire batch, or more than 40 cookies, in one day.

2¼ cups plus 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour, divided

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened

3/4 cup granulated sugar

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 large eggs

1½ cups caramel-filled DelightFulls

1 cup chopped nuts (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 15-by-10-inch baking pan with foil.

Combine flour, baking soda and salt in small bowl. Beat butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract in large mixer bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Gradually beat in flour mixture. Stir in morsels and nuts, if using.

Drop by rounded tablespoon onto ungreased baking sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown. Cool on baking sheets for 2 minutes; remove to wire rack to cool completely.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies.

-- verybestbaking.com

Toll House Cookie Milkshake

PG tested

Why bother dunking and chewing chocolate chip cookies when you can drink them? 

1 quart vanilla ice cream

2 cups (about 8) freshly baked and crumbled Toll House cookies

1¼ cups milk

Place ice cream, cookies and milk in a blender; blend until smooth.

 -- verybestbaking.com

Nestle Toll House Spicy Party Mix

PG tested

1½ quarts water

1 pound pecan halves

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoon plus 1½ teaspoons canola oil

1 vanilla bean (optional)

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon chili powder

1/2 teaspoon curry powder

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon garlic salt

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 cups pretzel nuggets

1 3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chunks

6 ounces dried cranberries

Bring water to boil in large saucepan. Pour nuts into boiling water and boil for 1 minute; strain. Pour nuts into large bowl. Add sugar and oil; stir to coat. Let stand for 10 minutes.

Split vanilla bean in half lengthwise and with edge of knife, scrape inside of bean into a large bowl. Add spices to bowl; combine and set aside.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Bake nuts, stirring often, for 30 to 35 minutes or until nuts are light brown and crisp. While still warm, carefully pour nuts into spice mixture and toss. Spread spiced nuts in a single layer on clean, large baking sheet with sides. Cool completely. 

Pour cooled nuts into large bowl. Add pretzel nuggets, chunks and cranberries. Mix well. Store in airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 weeks.

Makes 10 cups.

-- “Nestle Best-Loved Recipe (Publications International, 2013)

 Espresso and Chocolate Morsel Brownie Pie with Toasted Almonds

PG tested

I think I just said a mouthful. I was inspired to make this recipe after attending Nestle's Morsels Camp. When I got home, I found myself looking at bagful of Nestles Dark Chocolate Morsels and thinking of the taste of a chocolate chip cookie (you'd think I'd eaten enough cookies!). Did you know you can make a batch of cookie dough and spread it out in a rimmed baking sheet, instead of dropping individual cookies? That’s what I tried first, but it made a ton, too many of which I ate, and it wasn’t soft and meltingly tender, like this is. With the sophisticated touch of espresso. They’re best warm and freshly baked.

-- Miriam Rubin (mmmrubin@gmail.com)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1 cup plus all-purpose flour, spooned into cup and leveled off

1/4 cup instant espresso powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened

1/4 cup packed dark-brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup dark or semi-sweet chocolate morsels

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter 9-inch glass pie plate.

Put almonds in small baking pan. Bake 10 to 12 minutes, while oven heats, stirring once, until lightly browned. Tip out of pan and let cool. Chop coarsely.

In medium bowl, whisk flour, espresso powder, baking soda and salt. In large bowl of electric mixer, at medium speed, beat butter until creamy. Beat in sugars until fluffy; scrape sides. Beat in egg until blended. Beat in extracts (mixture may look curdled).

Add flour mixture all at once, mixing at low speed until almost blended. By hand, with rubber spatula, fold in chocolate morsels and toasted almonds. Scrape into prepared pie plate and smooth top.

Bake 20 to 22 minutes, until just springy to the touch. You want to underbake this a little. Transfer to wire rack to cool a few minutes. Serve warm.

Makes 6 servings, maybe.

-- Miriam Rubin


Gretchen McKay: gmckay@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1419 or on Twitter @gtmckay.

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