Take a Tour of American Regional Cookie Recipes

Assortment of cookies on a cutting board
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Though the word cookie can be traced back to Dutch origins (koekje means "little cake"), there's something distinctly American about these treats. Maybe it's because they're basically a blank canvas just waiting for inspiration, or maybe it's because their palm-sized portability makes them the perfect dessert for parties and get-togethers.

"I think our cookies differ largely in that they’re driven by home cooks," rather than pastry chefs in fancy kitchens, Stella Parks, author of "BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts," told The Washington Post. In a country as varied as the United States, it's no wonder we have a bounty of regionally specific cookies — whether that's biscochitos in New Mexico or fortune cookies from California or New England's whoopie pies, each cookie tells a story of local ingredients, time-honored traditions and, often, a brief history of a certain place and time.

"Cookies can be assembled from whatever you’ve got," adds Anne Byrn, author of "American Cookie." "They are not fussy or fancy, and that's why their recipes have lasted for generations." With that in mind, you'll find that many of these scrumptious treats were born out of necessity, but have stuck around because they're simply delicious. Sometimes, that's just how the cookie crumbles.

Full disclosure: the term "cookie" is used loosely here. Some of these sugary delights might be considered more of a candy or confectionery. Nevertheless, all are welcome on our holiday cookie platter.

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Texas' cowboy cookies

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Legend has it that Former First Lady Laura Bush came up with these chunky cookies during a magazine bake-off for presidential candidates. (She beat out Tipper Gore's ginger snap recipe.) Just like the Lone Star State, these cookies are big and full of flavor; they're stuffed with chocolate chips — natch — but also flake coconut, pecans, rolled oats and, sometimes, corn flakes.

Get the recipe here.

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California's fortune cookies

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Though they're a delightful crunchy treat after a meal at a Chinese restaurant, fortune cookies aren't actually a product of China at all. Their origin is still hotly disputed — in fact, San Francisco's pseudo-legal Court of Historical Review tried to settle the matter in 1983 — but it's believed they began in Japan as "fortune tea cakes." It wasn't until after Word War II, in the aftermath of Japanese-American internment camps, that the cookies became a signature staple at Chinese restaurants.

Get the recipe here.

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Baltimore's Berger Cookies

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In 2013, Smithsonian.com declared the Berger cookie was "Baltimore’s gift to the chocolate world." Indeed, it is almost more frosting than cookie, with a thick layer of dark fudge spread upon a cake-like bottom. The recipe (and namesake) come from a German bakery that opened in East Baltimore in 1835. Charlie DeBaufre, who worked at the bakery for much of his life and became the owner in 1994, says: "Some people say the cookie is just there to hold the chocolate. They eat the chocolate and throw the cookie away."

Get the recipe here.

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New York State's rugelach

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No matter how you spell it, this Jewish pastry has its roots in Poland and Israel. The crescent-shaped cookies are usually made out of a cream cheese or sour cream dough and served as a treat during Hanukkah. Stuff them with nuts and/or fruit, and don't worry about rolling them perfectly; "Rugelach cookies should look rustic and need not be perfectly uniform," says chef Kate Cavotti, a lecturing instructor at the Culinary Institute of America.

Get the recipe here.

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Ohio's buckeyes

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These peanut butter balls dipped in milk chocolate are a love letter to Ohio's state tree and, of course, Ohio State University. Their cute resemblance to the tree's nut make them the perfect tailgating dessert or adding a bit of bonbon flair to a cookie platter. The Miami County Visitors and Convention Bureau recently created an Ohio Buckeye Candy Trail, so you can stop at more than 30 locally owned places to get your fill.

Get the recipe here.

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New England's whoopie pies

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Like many beloved hometown desserts, multiple states have argued over who "owns" this chocolate sandwich-cookie-cake mashup. Some food historians say they were born in Pennsylvania Amish country, while Maine smugly passed a law making it their official state treat (not dessert, that's blueberry pie) in 2011. Whoopies have gone mainstream in the past decade, with The New York Times declaring that "the snacks evoke a more homespun era that seems to provide some comfort amid the economic gloom."

Get the recipe here.

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New Mexico's biscochito cookies

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Spanish colonists get credit for originally bringing the recipe to New Mexico, but it has since been honed and fine-tuned by various Hispanic immigrants moving to the state. Commonly served alongside hot chocolate, the cinnamon- and anise-flavored cookie is traditionally cut into the shapes of crescent moons and stars. It also boasts the distinction of being the first state cookie in U.S. history; the New Mexico legislature officially declared that honor in 1989.

Get the recipe here.

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Southeast's divinity

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If you like your confections super-sweet and light-as-air, consider the old-fashioned divinity. Though the nougat only has five ingredients, it's easy to mess up, due to its pickiness about temperature and just-so egg-beating. A southern sister to meringue, it's popular to add chopped pecans to the mix or a single nut on top. Its less-than-romantic origin story involves an aggressive marketing campaign by corn syrup producers in the early 20th century.

Get the recipe here.

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New Yorker's black-and-white cookies

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To me, the black-and-white cookie is as iconic to New York City as bagels, egg creams and cheesecake. Their iconic silhouette helps them stand out at many a bakery or bodega's counter, though the modern version uses fondant rather than frosting to avoid smearing. If you head to Manhattan's Yorkville neighborhood, you can try one of its forefathers at Glaser's Bake Shop, open since 1902.

Get the recipe here.