I smiled to myself as I flipped through the 5 recipes contained in the first chapter of Elizabeth Falkner’s Demolition Desserts, taking delight in her notation that her “favorite” recipe for chocolate chip cookies strait-up was temporary. It’s a life long obsession for many pastry chefs, that of chasing the perfect chocolate chip cookie, one I like Falkner have been pursuing for years.
While I don’t make chocolate chip cookies with the once-a-week frequency Falkner admits to, I have been remaking these ubiquitous treats since I was but a wee thing. For many of us with a passion for baking, chocolate chip cookies are the first recipe we mastered. I remember at the tender age of 12, beaming with pride as a batch of cookies was in the oven. Not at the dough on the worn sheetpans in the oven, successfully melting into golden disks, the aroma teasing my little sisters as they licked the beaters clean of raw dough. I was looking at the dirty dishes in the sink. I had honed my process to dirty the absolute minimal amount of dishes; the two beaters and bowl of my mom’s aging sunbeam mixmaster, the white sifter with a red triggered handle and daisy decal chipping from the side, a bowl to sift the flour into, a rubber spatula, 2 measuring cups, a teaspoon, and a spoon from the silverware drawer for dropping. And if my sisters did their jobs well, the beaters would be clean before they hit the suds!
Perhaps a glimpse at the pastry chef I was to become, I was as interested in the entire process as I was the results, which I watched carefully.
My recipe at the time was taken from the back of the tollhouse package, which I learned to tear carefully lest I rip important information from sight as I snuck a few chips from the bag. It served me, and millions of other cookie baking Americans, well. However, as soon as I began pursuing my career in desserts seriously, I began to stray. I have tried more recipes than I can remember, resulting in good, bad, and ugly. However, the most important result I have experienced is finding my preferences.
Preferred by myself is a cookie thick with chips, half milk, half very dark. At home this means Ghiridelli, in the restaurant it’s chunks from what ever I have on hand, Valrhona at the moment, Cacao Barry and Callabeaut at other times. I enjoy a flatter cookie, with a crackly crisp shell, that yields between the teeth easily to a dense chewy center. My cookies have a smidge of extra salt, the zest of an orange, or if I am feeling frisky, lemon, and I love the flavor of brown sugar, as dark as I can find. If there are to be nuts, I like them to be toasted cashews. Good vanilla extract, real vanilla extract, is a must, and I have long since allowed gold medal brand flour near my baked goods, trading that bitter flour for the better tasting King Arthur.
But like Falkner said, her favorite chocolate chip cookie is a transient friend, and my current favorite is just that, current. Two years ago I couldn’t be bothered to make anything but the recipe I pulled from Claudia Fleming’s The Last Course, scented with orange zest and rich with ground cashew flour. Chewy, yes. Double chips, absolutely. A little salty, check. And it introduced me to the addition of orange zest.
This year, however, my favorite is a recipe found online, from one of those homey recipe sharing sites, titled simply “bakery style chocolate chip cookies.” What caught my eye was the small amount of butter used in the recipe. Melted butter. What the heck I thought, I’ll give it a shot. I haven’t looked back.
This recipe uses the concept that liquid fat coats the flour molecules much more efficiently, making for a more tender product. And because the fat isn’t aerated by creaming the granulated sugar with it, there are very few air pockets for the chemical leavener to expand during the baking process, leaving a denser cookie. I also use granulated sugar with larger crystals, not that superfine bakers stuff, which dissolves at a slower rate and migrates to the surface of the cookie during the baking process for that crackly crisp shell I love so much.
I simply added the orange zest and double chocolate I love so much, cashews if they are around, and presto a new favorite was born. I have to say, with the ease of melting the butter rather than tempering and creaming it to a specific stage, this recipe might just stick around for a while.
As for you, are you the cakey cookie type? Do you like them tall and fluffy? Under baked and raw in the center? Baked firm and crunchy? Milk chocolate? Semisweet? Dark? Peanut butter chocolate chip, or perhaps oatmeal chocolate chip? Maybe you even like the variations with the box of vanilla pudding in them, or from a tub of premade dough! (No judgement from me!!) Does anyone else miss the mint chocolate chips they used to sell?
Here’s my current favorite recipe, for you to try along your own quest for your perfect chocolate chip cookie. Current, fleeting, and sitting on my counter cooling while I write and ponder what the addition of ground oats might do to them. You know what the kids are saying these days, best friends forever for now!
For the best results, use a scale and use my gram measurements. I will provide approximate cup/spoon measurements, but it won’t be exactly the same.
300 grams King Arthur all purpose flour (2 cups plus 2 tablespoons)
3 grams baking soda (1/2 teaspoon)
7 grams kosher salt (1 1/3 tsp)
170 grams melted butter, cooled (3/4 cup)
225 grams dark brown sugar ( 1 cup)
100 grams larger crystal white sugar (1/2 cup)
5 grams neilsen massey Madagascar vanilla extract (1 tsp)
200 grams dark chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)
200 grams milk chocolate chips (1 1/2 cup)
( optional 100 grams chopped toasted cashews) (3/4 cup)
1. Place the flour and baking powder in a bowl and whisk together until even. Do not sift through a sifter as it will aerate the flour too much. Set aside.
2. Place the sugars in the bowl of a kitchen aid mixer (or prepare to use a large work bowl, a firm spoon, and your arm muscles). Using a microplane zester, grate the zest from the orange directly over the sugars, which will collect every last drop of orange oil that is released. Use your fingers to mix the sugars and orange zest, making sure to break up any lumps of brown sugar.
3. Add the egg, yolk, melted butter, salt, and vanilla and paddle until smooth and even.
4. Scrape the sides of the bowl well, working any uneven bits back into the mixture until even.
5. Add the flour and mix on low until the dough comes together. Add the chips and optional nuts and mix until even.
6. Drop cookies onto cookie sheets and bake at 325 until done. I use a portion scoop with an ejection button found at kitchen supply shops or on amazon, often used as ice cream scoops or sometimes conveniently labeled as cookie scoops. This will not only provide equally sized cookies which will bake evenly, but it will make perfectly round cookies as well. Scoop 12 balls of cookie dough onto your sheet pan, which I always line with parchment, and press them down with your hand to a thickness just under half an inch. This promotes the cookie to spread and be flat and even on top, just like you see in bakeries.
7. Bake for 6 minutes, turn the pan around front to back and rotate it from the top of the oven to the bottom, or vice versa, and bake for 3 to 6 more minutes. The top will crackle and will start to hint at golden brown when they are done. Let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet until they are firm enough to transfer without breaking, then transfer them to a cooling rack.