'America's favorite cookie': An ode to the chocolate chip

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Carolyn Wyman visiting Famous 4th Street Cookies at Reading Terminal Market, where owner David Auspitz is in the chips.

Carolyn Wyman's books over the years have recounted the histories of America's culinary quirks - primarily processed foods such as Spam and Jell-O, with a jaunty trip across the timeline of the Philadelphia cheesesteak for good measure.

In The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book, the Center City writer tells the story of a most familiar food.

Her favorite food.

"Without a doubt," said Wyman. "I eat all kinds - bakery cookies, specialty cookies, Chips Ahoy." 

Wyman, who will sign copies of her book from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, at Reading Terminal Market, added: "I'm not alone. Clearly."

Chocolate-chip cookies, she points out, account for more than half of all home-baked cookies.

Don't bake? Six billion packages are sold in stores each year. Wyman cites a 2002 Penn study that identifies only fried chicken, french fries, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate chip cookies as foods deemed acceptable to the pickiest eaters. 

TGACCCB is a breezily written but fact-filled history, starting from the cookie's creation only about 75 years ago at a Massachusetts inn. Wyman interviewed Mary Jane Wakefield, daughter of inventor and Toll House owner Ruth Wakefield, who debunks the tired, old chestnut that her mother had run out of nuts for her cookies and substituted chocolate.

The book picks up in the 1980s when entrepreneurs Wally Amos, Debbi Fields and David Liederman opened cookie stores - and eventually lost control of their empires.

The cantankerous Liederman is a wonderful foil in the book, always good for a zinger; he also recounts the story of how John Kerry stole his idea 30 years ago and opened a cookie stand in Boston.

TGACCCB is not a cookbook, though it contains about 75 recipes, including the one attributed to Neiman-Marcus (remember that one?) and a slew of copycats of commercial cookies, including one of Wyman's particular favorites, those from New York's Levain Bakery.

There's also a state-by-state roundup of notable bakeries. Among the locals that Wyman mentions are Famous 4th Street Cookie Co., which will provide the cookies for Saturday's signing; Ela restaurant in Queen Village, whose chef, Jason Cichonski, pours molten cookie batter onto a vanilla semifreddo; Hope's Cookies in Rosemont; Old City Coffee and Tarte's in Old City; and Metropolitan Bakery and Insomnia, which have various locations.

For the baker/experimenter, Wyman provides a guide to achieving the desired results. Want a chewy cookie? Melt the butter. For thin, crispy cookies, use lots more granulated sugar than brown sugar. (Or download an app called Cookulus, which figures it out and adjusts the recipe for you.)

"The beauty of it is that even a 7-year-old with a bag of chips can make a good batch," she said.

Carolyn Wyman will sign books from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16 at the Center Court of Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch Streets. She has another signing scheduled for noon to 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 5, at the Barnes & Noble store at 1805 Walnut St.

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