chocolate chip cookies.

chocolate chip cookies.

A few weeks ago, my good friend Hiro wrote to me with a desperate plea for some advice on chocolate chip cookies. She recently moved to Denmark, and is having trouble replicating the crispygooeychewy texture that is so desirable in these enigmatic little mounds of dough and chocolate. Always eager to take on a challenge, I assured her that I would do some research and come up with a good recipe, along with an at least pseudo-scientific explanation of why (and which) things can go wrong when whipping up a batch of these suckers.

My journey into the hows and whys of chocolate chip cookies began with a perusal of several articles and lists dedicated to finding the best chocolate chip cookies, whether in a recipe or from a purveyor of baked goods. From the Times, I got a basic best cookie practices education. I perused a list of “New York’s best” chippy wonders over at New York Mag. And I browsed through countless recipes on Food Network, Epicurious and All Recipes. I came up with a list of things that are necessary for a good cookie, and along the way, I developed my own recipe. Shall we?

chocolate chip science.

flour

1. Chill yer dough. Nearly every article and recipe I read said always to chill cookie dough. The suggested length of time for this chilling out process varied from source to source, with most of them falling in the 10 – 36 hour range. The system I worked out is to at least chill the dough overnight (i.e., around 12 hours), but preferably 24 hours for optimum awesomeness. The chill time allows the flour to absorb all the goodness from the liquid ingredients, particularly the eggs. You see, the liquid in eggs moves particularly slowly, and the butter in cookie dough basically acts as a shield blocking liquid from being absorbed into the flour, so it takes some time for the goodness in the eggs and the other stuff to permeate into the flour. Chilling also allows any gluten that developed in the mixing process to relax, resulting in a less tough cookie. Allowing the dough to rest for a day also creates a better consistency. And finally, chilling hardens the fat in the dough (in this case, butter), and when you bake the dough, the fat releases steam, contributing to puffiness and flakiness (flakiness is more relevant with pastry, but you get the picture). So yes, chilling the dough for so long takes away the instant satisfaction of whipping up a batch of cookies and then enjoying them in the same afternoon, but it seems that in this case, advance planning makes a world of difference. What I’ve done a couple times is make a batch of dough, stick it in the fridge, and then over the course of a week bake off a couple cookies at a time whenever I felt the urge.

2. Flour is your friend. All of the better recipes I looked at, including the Times’ monumental, delicious contribution to the chocolate chip world, called for what might seem like a lot of flour. This goes along with the last point: the more flour, the more the egg is soaked up, the drier and firmer the dough (drier doughs create a better consistency), the more delicious everything becomes in the finished product. The gluten content of the flour you use is also important. I’m not quite sure how, but bread flour allows the cookie to develop a chewier texture without getting cakey. I ended up using mostly bread flour with a little bit of cake flour, to give things a bit more of a softness.

3. Use nice butter. For obvious reasons, using high-quality ingredients always has an effect, but with a dessert that relies so heavily on butter, you need to make sure you’re using the good stuff. After perusing the internet a bit, I found that cultured butter (Organic Valley has a delicious one that I use all the time) is best for baked goods. Cultured butter is made from cream with bacterial culture and lactic acid added. Then the cultured butter develops flavor during an aging process (see wikipedia for more information). Because of the aging process, cultured butter has more of a taste than non-cultured butter. Yes, it’s more expensive, but considering it’s made in smaller batches and actually tastes better than other butter, I would suggest that it’s worth it. Just give it a try, and if you decide you hate it and it’s a total waste of money, you can write me and tell me how wrong I am.

4. Salt and savor. Did you know that salt is awesome? Cause it is. It brings out the flavor of whatever you’re baking; it makes the flavor of certain ingredients, like flour and butter, more pronounced; it slows down chemical reactions, causing fermentation to happen more evenly (this is really only pertinent to bread, but it’s still awesome); and it has a positive effect on texture. Basically, it brings a lot of things together in a very pleasing way. Yes, too much salt is bad, and you should limit your intake of it generally, but in baked goods, it’s delicious, and your basic cookie recipe probably doesn’t call for enough of it.

5. Don’t overdo it. This goes for most things, as far as cookies are concerned. Don’t overmix, don’t add too much sugar or vanilla, and (I think) most importantly, don’t overbake your cookies. When they’re done, they’ll actually look like they might be a bit underbaked: the top should be puffy and slightly sticky looking and golden brown, but not dry. Overcooked cookies will still taste awesome, but they won’t maintain that chewy texture after they’ve cooled down. As long as you’re not terrified of raw eggs, I would err on the side of underbaking, rather than overbaking.

happy tummies, happy hearts.

doughballs

I did my cookies this weekend, excited to bake my own guys after weeks of testing and tasting and tweaking. My recipe is pretty standard, with a few little flourishes: I used a tiny bit of almond extract (less than a quarter of a teaspoon) in addition to vanilla, because I adore almond; and I browned a little bit of the butter (it adds a bit of nuttiness) and added it along with the vanilla and almond. But essentially, the above points are what I found to be most important: chilling, flour content, butter quality, salt, and not overbaking. So I did all of those things: I sifted together the drying ingredients, creamed the butter with the sugars (mostly dark brown and a little bit of white), added the eggs, the vanilla and almond, and the brown butter. Then I gently folded in the flour. The dough might look a little more dry than you’re used to, but as I mentioned above, that’s a good thing. Then I mixed in the chips, zipped everything up in a bag, and put it in the fridge until the following day.

When I was ready to bake the cookies off, I heated up the oven and plopped those puppies onto a baking sheet. Then, after a little time sunning themselves, the cookies were ready. And I was really happy with them: they’re sweet, but not too sweet, buttery, chewy, a bit crispy around the edges, and happy all around. Boots came over and ate two on the spot. Most importantly, they maintain their chewiness even after they’ve cooled down. I took most of the guys to work and ate one with a cup of tea: fabulous.

And that’s the that. Hooray!

girlcate’s best ever chocolate chip cookies oh my goodness hooray.

sea of cookies

chocolate chip cookies.

bread flour 2 1/4 cups
cake flour 3/4 cup
salt 1 teaspoon
baking soda 1 teaspoon

baking powder 1 1/4 teaspoon
unsalted butter, pliable but still cool 1 cup plus 3 tablespoons
dark brown sugar 1 1/2 cup
granulated sugar 1/4 cup
large eggs, at room temperature 2
vanilla extract 3/4 teaspoon
almond extract 1/4 teaspoon
bittersweet chocolate chips (60%+ cocoa) 2 heaping cups

for the brown butter: In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, heat the butter until it melts and the liquid turns a medium-brown, caramel-ish color. Watch the butter really closely, because it can go very easily and quickly from brown butter to black butter. Remove immediately from the pan and set aside to cool.

for the cookies: In a medium bowl, sift together the flours, salt, baking soda and baking powder and set aside. Place the remaining butter and the sugars in the work bowl of a standing mixer and mix with the paddle attachment at medium-high speed until lighter in color and creamy, 1-2 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Add the vanilla, almond and brown butter and beat until light and fluffy, 1-2 minutes. On the lowest speed, add the dry ingredients gradually and mix until just incorporated, being careful not to overmix. Remove the bowl from the mixer and stir in the chocolate chips.

Scoop the dough into an extra-large zip-lock bag and refrigerate overnight (at least 12 hours, preferably 24).

to bake: When you’re ready to bake off the cookies, preheat the oven to 375. Place a rack in the middle of the oven. Using an ice cream scoop or large spoon, drop the cookies on an ungreased baking sheet and bake until golden brown around the edges, puffy, and slightly sticky-looking on top, about 12 minutes (I usually set the timer for 10 minutes and then check the cookies often until they’re done). Transfer immediately to wire racks to cool. Enjoy with a cup of tea and a purring kitten on your lap.

sassycookie

Photos by the outrageously awesome Kenan. Beautiful Canon 5D (and the attendant dramatic increase in photographic quality) generously furnished by Smash Camera.

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6 notes

  1. Hiro says:

    Dear Girlcate(Cake!),
    I set out to make these today, but then realised that none of your ingredients are listed in weight, only by volume. Is it at all possible that you could give me a gram measurement of the butter and flour?

    Love,
    Hiro
    (Who loves all biscuits, but especially, you.)

  2. Hiro says:

    Um, also, eggles. How many? In addition to that, the eggles I use here are my neighbour’s, so they aren’t all the same size. Did you use the super huge american market eggs? Because two of those are about three of mine. (And these eggs are delicious they will make you cry.)

  3. Annie says:

    YUMMM! Those cookies look perfect and amazing. We really should have done some baking when you were here last fall!
    Hope you’re doing good, Catie!

    • girlcate says:

      Hey, Annie!

      Thanks! You should give them a try and let me know what you think :). You’re right, we really should have done some baking – next time, for sure.

      I’m doing great – just waiting for law school news and getting ready to start school again in the fall – yikes!

      Love you,
      cate

  4. […] we would have wound our way over to afternoons in tablespoons, where girlcate has illuminated the science of chocolate chip cookies. but then we would again have found ourselves longing for superior foodstuffs, and right back where […]

  5. […] recipe for the chocolate chip cookies in the last panel can be found, along with those for countless other confections, over at […]

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