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story.lead_photo.caption Salted butter and chocolate chunk shortbread cookies made by Dan Neman. (Colter Peterson/St. Louis Post-Dispatch/TNS)

The year 2020 has finally come to its decaying, putrescent end. So now is a good moment to look back and contemplate just what it was that helped get us through this most abhorrent of times.

In a word, it was: cookies.

I'm a little surprised, too. I would have guessed the answer would have been deep reserves of resourcefulness and imagination, or perhaps mankind's indomitable spirit, or possibly alcohol.

But according to an organization called Top Data, the year 2020 has been the year of the cookie.

Ordinarily, I pay little or no attention to pseudo-scientific surveys that aim to do little more than light up the pop-culture synapses in our brains' parietal lobes.

But this one is different. This one is about cookies.

Top Data is an international marketing company (they have an office in St. Louis) that tracked data of shoppers in cookie stores and online shoppers, and it also surveyed 1,000 Americans to determine their cookie-eating habits. And what they found was, frankly, a little shocking.

During our current COVID crisis, demand for cookies has risen a full 25 percent. Ninety-five percent of all Americans say they eat at least one cookie a month, and one out of every five of us eats at least three cookies a day.

That's nearly 1,100 cookies a year. No wonder we have a problem with obesity.

Admittedly, some of the numbers on this survey are kind of cockeyed. The part about one out of five of us eating at least three cookies a day is somewhat contradicted by the survey's own figure of 16.1 percent eating that many cookies.

That's one out of six of us, not one out of five. Perhaps we should not place too much faith in a marketing company, even one with an office in St. Louis.

Still, the study is compelling in other respects. For instance, American cookie consumption turns out to be a function of geography.

The states leading the nation in cookie eating are generally in the west: Utah leads the country, followed by Idaho, Oregon and Montana. Meanwhile, the states that eat the fewest cookies are all in the south: Louisiana is the least cookie-crazed, followed by South Carolina, Florida, Georgia and Mississippi.

Missouri ranks 18th in cookie consumption; Illinois is No. 26.

Incidentally, the person who drew the study's map is no more accurate than the person who did their math. North Carolina has taken the shape of a crazed sea monster, a giant chasm has mysteriously erupted between otherwise adjoining parts of Maryland and Delaware, Long Island has become freakishly large, Connecticut has disappeared and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan does not seem to be part of any state at all. And don't ask when the Potomac River became so wide, because I don't know.

The study also noted which states are fondest of a number of different varieties of cookies.

Chocolate-chip cookies are the favorites in Maine, followed by Alaska, South Dakota, Iowa and Kansas.

Snickerdoodles are craved most in Oregon, Hawaii is tops for shortbread, and Vermont is the top state for both oatmeal raisin and butter cookies. You'll find biscotti eaters in Rhode Island, and the residents of Delaware are fondest in the nation of both wafer cookies and macaroons — which Top Data naturally illustrates with a picture of a macaron, which is not remotely the same thing.

Neither Illinois nor Missouri was listed in the top five consumers of any of the 10 varieties listed. That just shows that when a pandemic hits, we don't play favorites.

Please pass the milk.

——

SALTED BUTTER AND CHOCOLATE CHUNK SHORTBREAD COOKIES

Yield: About 32 cookies

18 tablespoons (2 1/4 sticks) salted butter, cut into -inch pieces

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/4 cup light brown sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

8 ounces semi- or bittersweet dark chocolate, chopped into chunks (do not chop too fine)

1 large egg, beaten

Demerara or turbinado sugar, for rolling

Flaky sea salt, or kosher salt

1. Line one or two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

2. Using an electric mixer and a medium bowl or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, both sugars and vanilla on medium-high until it's very light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl. With the mixer on low, add the flour, followed by the chocolate chunks, and beat just to blend.

3. Divide the dough in half, placing each half on a large piece of plastic wrap. Fold the plastic over so that it covers the dough (this will protect your hands from getting sticky). Use your hands to form the dough into a log shape about 2 to 2 inches in diameter. Rolling it on the counter will help smooth it out; it does not have to be perfect. Refrigerate until very firm, about 2 hours.

4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Brush the outside of the logs with the beaten egg and roll them in the demerara or turbinado sugar.

5. Slice each log into -inch-thick rounds, place them on the prepared baking sheets about 1 inch apart and sprinkle with flaky or kosher salt. Bake until the edges are just beginning to brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack.

Per cookie: 147 calories; 9 g fat; 5 g saturated fat; 23 mg cholesterol; 1 g protein; 17 g carbohydrate; 9 g sugar; 1 g fiber; 55 mg sodium; 8 mg calcium

Recipe from "Dining In," by Alison Roman

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