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 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 University of Pennsylvania study that identifies only fried chicken, french fries, macaroni and cheese, and chocolate chip cookies as foods deemed acceptable to the pickiest eaters.
The Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book 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.
Wyman's volume 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 and bakery 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.
Author Book Signings
Carolyn Wyman will sign books from noon to 3 p.m. Saturday at the Center Court of Reading Terminal Market, 12th and Arch Streets. In addition to that signing, she is scheduled to sign books from noon to 2 p.m. Dec. 5 at the Barnes & Noble store at 1805 Walnut St.
Levain's Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies
Makes 12 monster cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons molasses (not blackstrap)
3 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 cups (12 ounces) Valrhona or other extra dark bittersweet chocolate, cut into chunks
1 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until well blended and fluffy. Add the eggs and beat until well incorporated, then add the molasses, flour, salt, and baking soda. Gently fold in the chocolate chunks and walnuts.
3. Transfer the dough to a clean work surface, divide into 12 equal portions, and form each portion into a loose ball. Place the balls on two sheet pans lined with parchment paper, six to a pan, and bake 13 to 18 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time, or until the outsides are tan.
Per cookie: 573 calories; 9 grams protein; 66 grams carbohydrates; 36 grams sugar; 31 grams fat; 78 milligrams cholesterol; 444 milligrams sodium; 3 grams dietary fiber.