I’ve never been fully satisfied with any chocolate chip cookie recipe I’ve ever tried. My search for a perfect homemade chocolate chip cookie has been going on for years. My mother-in-law made excellent chocolate chip cookies. I remember fondly the care packages she sent to Dave filled with these thick, chewy, beautiful cookies, both because I never received care packages myself (I was so deprived!) and because her cookies were so good. I wonder if she knew that the reason I had tried them is because I stayed in Dave’s room a lot of the time (scandalous!)? When I asked her for the recipe, she said she used the Nestle Toll House recipe on the back of bags of Nestle morsels. However, when I tried that recipe, it did not yield her cookies. I tried probing to see if she did anything special that she wasn’t spilling and she insisted she just followed the recipe.
Since then I’ve done some research and have tried various other recipes. While I’m not going to say that the cookies I made were bad (most chocolate chip cookies are pretty tasty, but we’re talking about finding “the one” here), the recipes I tried weren’t yielding what I wanted, a rich and chewy cookie. It’s also important to me that the cookies have some heft to them, that they don’t spread out and get too thin.
One recipe that seemed very promising was Alton Brown’s “The Chewy.” While the chewy was good, it wasn’t my perfect cookie. While people seem to agree that melted butter is a key to chewy cookies, these cookies came out very greasy to the touch. They were also flatter than I wanted.
The next really promising recipe came from David Leite’s 2008 NY Times article. I was very excited about this recipe. Leite was essentially doing the same thing I was doing, searching for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, but he had access to all kinds of resources (well-known and accomplished bakers) I didn’t have. The fact that he published a recipe must have meant he’d found the perfect cookie, right? Well, they weren’t the perfect cookies for me. These cookies were good right out of the oven, but were nothing special at all once they had cooled. By the next day, they were dry and lacking in flavor. They actually weren’t even worth the calories (looking back on the recipe in my disappointment, I realized that Leite himself had essentially said as much in the recipe–”eat warm”). The cookies were better if you reheated them a bit, but I didn’t feel that they were worth making again. I hadn’t found the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
It has been a couple of years since I tried making chocolate chip cookies. Then two weekends ago we saw an America’s Test Kitchen episode with the rather pompously named “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies.” A lot of what I had already learned matched their recipe, with a few new twists. It seemed worth a try. Four things caused me some concern:
1. the melted butter would yield greasy cookies (a la the chewy),
2. browning the butter would be a pain and would make the cookies taste burnt (on the show they were so busy discussing the depth of flavor browned butter adds that I think they weren’t paying enough attention because all I was seeing was burnt butter…I actually think they made a mistake on the show, because the picture on their website doesn’t show butter that dark)
3. the recommended chocolate chip wouldn’t appeal to my tastes
4. the enormous size/ridiculously low yield
I don’t care how big a cookie is, a yield of 16 cookies isn’t worth my time. Also, their insistence on having to make monstrously-sized cookies in order to obtain that elusive chewiness seemed like a cop-out to me. It implied to me that they had not actually perfected a technique that yields chewy cookies. If they had a perfect chewy cookie technique, why couldn’t you use that technique to make normal sized cookies that would be chewy?
Last weekend, I made these cookies. I solved concerns 3 and 4 by doubling the recipe. Doubling the recipe meant I’d get a non-laughable yield and it meant I could use their recommended chocolate chips in half of the dough and good old Nestle Toll House morsels in the other half (Just like the Test Kitchen, I’m a little bit of a chocolate snob too, but I started wondering if the missing link in duplicating my mother-in-law’s cookies was actually the chip. I usually use fancier chocolate chips and I’m sure she just used Nestle-so that seemed worth a try). So there would be a chocolate chip competition thrown in too.
The first step was the dreaded browning of the butter. I was very worried that their instructions would yield burnt, unusable butter but as it turned out I had trouble getting any color on the butter whatsoever. Even though Dave is a fabulous chef, we don’t actually have the pan they suggest for this task (10 inch skillet that is not dark or nonstick), so I ended up having to use a saucepan. The saucepan provided less surface area for cooking. That, plus having double the amount of butter (since I was doubling the recipe), seemed to stop the butter from browning. After going a couple of minutes over their maximum suggested time for the browning, I freaked out and just stopped because I had this vague recollection from watching the show that they had said the reason they stir a few more tablespoons of solid butter into the stuff that has been melted is due to evaporation during the melting. I worried that I wasn’t going to have the right amount of butter if I kept it on the heat any longer. So check out this flavorful browned butter…
Other than that, everything went fine. I thought the added steps of waiting for the sugar to dissolve might be annoying, but it didn’t take long and seemed necessary (the batter certainly didn’t look ready for the dry ingredients after the first whisk). The next two pictures are of the result of the first whisk of butter and sugar and then what the mixture looked like right before adding the dry ingredients.
I almost forgot to split the finished dough in half to mix different chocolate chips in, but remembered just in time. We had the right size scoop (3 tablespoon) so portioning the dough was super easy. I ended up making the appropriate number of what I started calling “Dave’s cookies,” but only got 15 of “my cookies.” Dave’s cookies had the dark Ghirardelli chips mixed in and mine had the Nestle morsels. The next two pictures are a batch of my cookies waiting to go into the oven and a cute singleton of Dave’s dough. I started calling the cookies “mine” versus “Dave’s” because I know Dave likes dark chocolate and I generally don’t and I confirmed that through sampling some chips during the whisking and waiting steps. I really wasn’t wild about the dark chips, while the Nestle just tasted like normal chocolate chips to me.
I baked each sheet of cookies for about 11 minutes, which seemed perfect. I also got them the hell off the cookie sheets to cool immediately because I didn’t want them to continue baking. Here is a batch baking in the oven and what they looked like after I moved them to the cooking racks.
So what was the verdict?
I ate one of my cookies when they were still pretty warm. It tasted good, but was pretty greasy (like the chewy). A few hours later I had another and it was just lovely. The butter must have solidified or reabsorbed or something because they weren’t greasy any longer. I was saying to Dave that they reminded me of something when it hit me–his Mom’s cookies! Strange, because I know she didn’t melt her butter or use dark brown sugar or any of these other recipe changes. But they are the closest thing I’ve found to her cookies. Maybe the size mattered; my memory of her cookies is that they were pretty large. I froze most of the cookies the first night. We ate some of what I hadn’t frozen the next night and they were still very good at room temperature. The next night they were starting to get a little dry but were still good. Since then, we have reheated a couple from frozen and they are about as good as freshly baked that way (it is key to use a low power level on the microwave otherwise the cookie regains that fresh out of the oven greasy quality, you want the cookie thawed and maybe a little warm, but not hot).
What about the chip test?
Dave strongly preferred the Ghirardelli dark chips. While I liked the dark chips better in the finished product than when I tried them raw, I strongly preferred the Nestle. I’m sure there are better chips than Nestle, but I just don’t care for dark chocolate. I prefer semi-sweet or even milk chocolate. After deciding for myself, I checked the Test Kitchen’s website and read their chocolate chip reviews. I could tell just from the first line of their review of the “highly recommended” Ghirardelli that they are not for me: “Distinct “wine,” “fruit,” and “smoke” flavors made this “adult chocolate” a clear winner.” The Test Kitchen tasters hated the Nestle chips and rated them as “not recommended.” They noted the high sugar content and said they were “unpleasantly sweet.” I guess this is just further confirmation that I have the palate of a 5-year old, because a.) I’m not sure I’ve ever tasted anything “unpleasantly” sweet; sweet is an inherently pleasant flavor to me and b.) if having an “adult” palate means I have to want my chocolate to taste like wine, fruit, and smoke (I mean, smoke…really?), I’ll just stick to being childlike.
But in reading their reviews of other chips, I think the Hershey’s semi-sweet might be a good option for me to try next time. While the description doesn’t make it sound like the tasters liked them, they did rate them as “recommended.” Their biggest concerns were that they were “too sweet” and had “a distinct “milky” flavor…more similar to milk chocolate than semisweet chocolate.” But the tasters thought they had “good cocoa flavor in cookies.” Those chips totally sound like a good fit for me.
Summary: I wanted to shove my face in the dough the whole time I was making these cookies. Writing this post and looking at these pictures again makes me want to go get another cookie out of the freezer. Not sure that they are “perfect,” but they are the closest I’ve found so far. I will totally make these cookies again. Next time, I think I’ll use Hershey’s chips in my batch and that I will brown the butter for the two batches separately to try to get the browning the recipe calls for.
“Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies” From Cook’s Illustrated.
Makes 16 cookies.
Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter; the dark color of the nonstick coating makes it difficult to gauge when the butter is browned. Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry. This recipe works with light brown sugar, but the cookies will be less full-flavored.
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces) (see note)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (they recommend Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)
1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.
LOGY EXPRESS NOTE: I slid the cookies, parchment and all, off the cookie sheets onto cooling racks immediately on taking them out of the oven, because I didn’t want them to keep baking and because I only have two appropriately sized cookie sheets and needed to reuse each for the second batch of dough. After a few minutes, they were set enough to GENTLY slide them off of the parchment if you want to reuse your parchment.