Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Classic (but better) Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies: deceptively simple, utterly ubiquitous--yet loaded with mystery. I love reading recipes for these cookie jar favorites, but I rarely come across a version that's truly new or different. With these treats, its the little things that count. You may have been making the same chocolate chip cookies for years with good results, but then you use a different technique, try out one new tip or somehow alter an ingredient and suddenly your cookies go from good (let's face it, even mediocre chocolate chip cookies--especially hot from the oven--are still pretty good) to WOW.

These cookies are descended from the classic Tollhouse style--not too big, not too cakey, and not too crisp. As intriguing as other gussied-up recipes might be, I didn't want to stray too far from this basic DNA. What I did want were cookies that did not spread out flat, stayed very soft in the center (to achieve this, don't overbake; and actually, underbake) and had superior flavor.

Last year, the New York Times published a long and intricate exploration of chocolate chip cookies in which the author, David Leite, determined that resting the dough in the refrigerator for 36 hours creates complex, toffee-like flavors and nice-looking, even browning. Another key point in the article was that a smidge of sea salt sprinkled onto the scoops of dough right before baking was a very good idea. I had no doubts about the salt, but I was dubious about the waiting period.

I did not make the exact NYT cookie, mostly because it's for an enormous, commercial-style cookie rather than the modest homey type. I also disagree with their preference for shards of chopped chocolate versus chips (I love biting into a melting pocket of chocolate--I don't want it marbled throughout the dough). After making my dough as written below, I baked a sheet of cookies immediately, after 24 hours and after 36+ hours.

This is a good cookie anytime, but we did indeed notice a difference. Compared to the cookies baked immediately, the 36 hour batch had better browning and deeper "cookie dough" flavor, whereas that initial cookie was pale and slightly one-note. The 24 hour batch was only a little better than the initial batch, so I'd advise waiting the full 36. For the science lovers in the room, to paraphrase Shirley O. Corriher in the article, this long resting period allows the dry ingredients to fully soak up the wet ingredients, resulting in a firmer dough and better consistency when baked. It also seems that 36 hours of "stewing time," as I like to think of it, brings out maximum flavor from the simple ingredients.

Does this matter? I don't know, but it's a fun experiment to try. Bake a dozen for instant gratification, then wait and see what happens after a day or two. Here's the other thing about chilling your dough: you should do it all the time (speed it up with the freezer if you must). I think it prevents the cookies from spreading, so do it even if you want to bake a batch without a long resting period.

There is no perfect chocolate chip cookie because everyone has his or her unique ideal. I like nuts, but only if they're chopped very small. As I said, I dislike crisp or flat cookies, and I don't want mine to turn into hard little hockey pucks once cool. So, if my current favorite appeals to you, give it a try! If not, tell me about your ideal chocolate chip cookie in the comments. I wonder how many of us are CCC soulmates...?

Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Art and Soul of Baking by Cindy Mushet

The original recipe has one quirk that (for me) led to good results: it calls for 1/2 stick of butter less than most Tollhouse-style recipes. Perhaps this helps prevent the cookies from spreading. It also calls for a mix of dark and milk chocolate. In most cases, I consider milk chocolate to be a waste of time (yeah, I said it), so I used all dark, specifically a bag of Ghirardelli 60% cocao bittersweet chips, which aren't particularly bitter at 60%, so they're nice for cookies. Cutting up a good chocolate bar works too (you'll need about 2 cups). I know you hear this a lot, but the quality of the chocolate really makes a difference. Ghirardelli is affordable and easy to find, but it's leagues better than supermarket staples, Nestle and Hershey's. The chocolate aficionado's out there will have their own favorites, I'm sure:)

Makes about 40 cookies

1 1/2 sticks (6 oz) unsalted butter, softened
3/4 cup (5 1/4 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (6 oz) firmly packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups (11 1/4 oz) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
12 oz dark chocolate chips, such as Ghirardelli bittersweet (see headnote)
3/4 cup (3 1/4 oz) chopped, toasted walnuts
Sea salt, for sprinkling

Equipment Note: To prevent the bottoms of cookies from over-browning, I LOVE insulated cookie sheets. If you like a soft center and cookies that don't harden as they cool, they're a must. Check them out here and here.

1) In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Set aside.

2) Beat the butter, granulated sugar and brown sugar with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth and blended, about 2 minutes (longer for handheld mixers). Add one of the eggs and beat just until blended; add the other egg and vanilla and beat until blended.

3) Turn mixer on lowest speed and add the flour mixture. Beat until no patches of flour remain, scraping down the bowl as needed.

4) With mixer off, add the chocolate chips and nuts. Turn the mixer to lowest speed and beat until just combined.

5) Chill the dough for 1 to 2 hours minimum (30 minutes in the freezer), and up to 36 hours.

6) When you're ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Scoop out rounded tablespoon-sized balls of dough and place on parchment about 2 inches apart. Sprinkle a few grains of sea salt (or to taste) over each ball of dough. Bake one sheet at a time (to promote more precise, even baking) in the center of the oven for 10 to 12 minutes. Quickly open the oven and rotate baking sheet halfway through. Cookies are done when just lightly browned at the edges and still a bit soft in the center; the bottoms should be light golden brown. Let cookies rest on the baking sheet for 3 to 5 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool. Parchment paper may be reused for several batches. If reusing baking sheet, allow to cool to room temperature before scooping dough.


Megan said...

I JUST made a batch of the NY Times cookie dough but with chopped up Reese's PB cups. I've made this recipe so many times now that I play around with it each time. I started using Ghirardelli bittersweet chips and I've since changed to chopping up blocks of whatever chocolate I feel like. I also sometimes add a teaspoon or so of cinnamon. Tonight I made a few mini cookies with fresh batter, but the rest is sitting in the fridge for the full 36. Also... Art and Soul of baking is on the couch next to me -- I've been flipping through it this evening. Too funny.

Cheryl Arkison said...

I still haven't tried the technique, I am way too impatient to wait the time. One of these days. In the meantime, I am addicted to the chocolate chip cookies from One Smart Cookie, also found here:

Anonymous said...

Chocolate Chip Cookies are my absolute favorite and this sounds so good. Thanks for sharing this.

Shandy said...

I just bought Art and Soul of Baking and have been marking 1st to try recipes. The cookbook is wonderful! I read the article in the NYT's about these cookies but I have never made it to the 36 hour period. Now I am intrigued. Maybe Thanksgiving will have chocolate added to the dessert list after all =)

Babette said...

Love this, Julie--I like Guittard (I think that is it) and I'm one of the pedestrians that: love milk chocolate (very un-sophisticated) AND I love cold choc. chip cookies because I like biting into the hard chocolate...totally agree w you about shards: No. No marbeling, please.

As you say, it's a choc. chip cookie--it can't possibly be bad. I am def. going to do the wait 36 hours from now on, though (okay, except for the dozen must haves...) Good post.

Judy said...

I clipped this article, but never made the cookies because I've made so many different ones, including Jacques Torres and Levain Bakery, etc., etc. I will have to try your version. Lovely notes to help us along. Thanks so much.

Macey R said...

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