Or How to Make the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.
If you knew me, you would know that there was period in my life where I was obsessed with creating the perfect chocolate chip cookie. This particular obsession stayed with me for about two years. During that time I continually asked the question, how could one chocolate chip cookie be so different from another? Having eaten my way through scads of cookies at bake sales, restaurants, bakeries and neighbors’ houses, I was struck by why one cookie, be it a cellophane-wrapped one at a nearby deli was so dry, crumbly and flavorless, while just a few doors down at another place they were chewy in the center, crispy on the outside and delicious in every way to the point that you wanted to eat the wax paper it came in. Everyone is basically using the same ingredients: flour, butter, vanilla, salt and chocolate, how could the cookies be so different? Was there a secret ingredient?
If you care about food then you have asked this about lots of things. The English can’t figure out why Americans can’t make proper tea, and that can have as little as three ingredients. Simple black coffee differs from restaurant to restaurant and house to house and from coast to coast. I hypothesized that if the quality of the ingredients was better, the overall end product would be correspondingly better. So I commenced my experimentation by trying out what looked like the best of everything: premium chocolate, eggs that came from chickens within hours, farm milk and butter, expensive flour and premium vanillas. Cooks Illustrated did a vanilla taste test that concluded that McCormick’s (the kind available in most markets) was the best for things that will be cooked at high temperatures (e.g. cookies).
With that, and my anecdotal experience that home bakers routinely turn out better cookies than Whole Foods, I decided to research equipment and techniques. There is a lot to both. King Arthur Flour did an experiment on the complexion of your pan and the difference between parchment, silicon mats and lightly greased pans has been written about extensively. The Cook’s Illustrated recipe recommends periods of rest between beatings to allow the air to infuse properly into the cookies. Epicurious (et al) recommend chilling your cookies, especially if they have a high fat (butter) content.
Ultimately, the right chocolate chip cookie for a person is exactly like the right bed. Everyone’s likes are different, and vary based on age and may continue to evolve. The perfect cookie may not be an objective, achievable thing, but I do believe it is possible to make a great and distinct cookie that will win over most people. After years of experimentation, I finally found one I’m ready to share, though I can hardly take credit for it. Most people I know well enough to ask them about their chocolate chip cookie recipe either use the Toll House recipe (which is fine) or one of the three Cook’s Illustrated recipes. I have made them all repeatedly for years and they turn out predictably good cookies all the time.
But I was not satisfied, and had to continue to experiment. Luckily, even mediocre chocolate chip cookies fresh out of the oven are good to eat, so experimenting was not a hardship. I kept seeing recipes I had to try– there’s even one on the box of baking soda! Finally, I noticed one on the Ghirardelli Chocolate Chip bag (duh) and with a few tweaks, it made the perfect cookie for me (and the people in my immediate circle of friends who are subject to trying such things). It was pronounced “the bingo” and “best.cookie.ever.” So I figured it was time to share with you.
- 2 1/4 cups unsifted flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 HEAPING teaspoon Kosher salt
- 11 .5 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips (use 7 oz chips and 1 bar [4 oz] choppeda semi-sweet bar) or you could use a whole bag of chips, if you’re lazy
- 1 cup butter (I use Kate’s unsalted butter), browned (which comes after simple melting) and cooled.
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
- 2 large eggs
- 1 tablespoon vanilla
- ~Three drops of butterscotch extract (about 1/16th teaspoon).
- Heat oven to 350ºF
- Stir flour with baking soda and salt and chocolate, set aside
- Using a stand mixer, combine sugars, and then add browned butter.
- When completely mixed, add eggs one at a time
- Add vanilla and butterscotch, mix well.
- Add dry ingredient by mixing by hand with a spatula (I have stopped using the mixer to combine wet and dry ingredients, and find that it is significantly important to the final texture)
- Refrigerate for a few hours (but feel free to eat some cookie dough before you put it away).
- When ready, use a 2-oz scooper to make rather large cookies.
- Place 9 to a sheet. (I use parchment paper and a cushion-air baking pan)
- Bake for approximately 15 minutes.
- Let sit for at least 5 minutes, for the cookies to set
So even though this recipe comes from mostly from Ghirardelli, I wanted to discuss the things that make it different from your standard Toll House recipe, including the three tweaks I made, which come from various places.
- The melting of the butter comes from Cook’s Illustrated, who suggest that browning the butter (so that it produces an almost nutty smell) produces a great cookie. They are right.
- Using chopped chocolate instead of all chocolate chips was inspired by an almost perfectly written piece over at Serious Eats, a website you should visit all the time if you care about what you eat. They say you should use ALL chopped chocolate which I agree with, but also like the mixed up texture of using both.
- Not sifting the flour is a counter-intuitive step for a baker, but seems to work wonders, and is in the original recipe.
- Adding Butterscotch is of course, my own obsession. (I recommend Frontier brand, which is available at Amazon and probably your local health food store. Do not use artificial butterscotch flavor).
- More Salt and Vanilla. I’m probably using closer to 3/4 teaspoon of salt than a 1/2, but I use the 1/2 teaspoon and get a big heap on it. When combined with butterscotch and more vanilla, these three ingredients give the cookies a deep and soulful flavor that is intense and satisfying.
- Using 11.5 oz of Chocolate. Standard bag of chips is 12 oz and the Ghirardelli baking bars come in 4-oz sizes (unless you get the massive high-end bars, which come in all kind of sizes). Before this recipe, I used a fat cup (9 oz) of semi-sweet chips, but measuring out 11.5 ounces was a revelation.
- Making them big. It’s a cliche to say go big or go home, but I feel like when I’m making desserts for the crowd, make ’em big. Why make little cookies? It’s more work! Also, if you make ’em big it’s more likely that you can achieve that crispy on the outside soft in the middle perfection that most people love. I end up with a nine to a tray, instead of 12.
Lastly, a great cookie dough is an important part of your arsenal. Not just for baking cookies, but for eating straight, as I love to do. I spent much of my youth eating out of a roll of cookie dough purchased from the supermarket. Only in my thirties did I realize I could make my own which would be better and free of high-fructose corn syrup anytime I wanted, and I could freeze it so I would always have it.
If you are like me, and obsessed with chocolate chip cookies, you may find as I did, that here is so much to read, that it’s hard to know where to start or where to stop. Epicurious, the Huffington Post and Bon Appetit have great articles about what to do and not do and besides my recipe, maybe the only things you need. For now, anyway.