The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

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May 9, 2011

chocolate chip cookies

So, are you a Soft & Chewy or Crispy & Crunchy?

An All-American favorite, the chocolate chip cookie was born at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Mass. sometime in the 1930s at the hands of Ruth Graves Wakefield. Wakefield's contribution to the culinary world seems nothing short of legendary - whose childhood didn't include a formative Cookie Moment? As David Leite writes, "Too bad sainthood is not generally conferred on bakers, for there is one who is a possible candidate for canonization. She fulfills most of the requirements: (1) She’s dead. (2) She demonstrated heroic virtue. (3) Cults have been formed around her work. (4) Her invention is considered by many to be a miracle."

Exactly how these illustrious cookies came to be is still a mystery - something about a bar of chocolate falling into the bowl of an electric mixer or perhaps Mrs. Wakefield's own ingenious idea - but they have taken the nation (and world?!) by storm. With thousands of variations, hundreds of secret family recipes and the foundation of countless childhood memories, Mrs. Wakefield certainly stumbled across something exciting.

chocolate chip cookies and milk, a marriage made in heaven

Anyone who has performed serious research on chocolate chip cookie baking knows of the age-old debate between butter (never margarine!) and shortening (okay, let's be straight: lard). Butter is said to promise softer, chewier cookies while shortening claims the best results in some circles, producing crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-at-the-center cookies. Winner? Maybe not.

After interviewing several master bakers, the New York Times seems to have stumbled across the secret: chilling time. Unlike the current Toll House recipe which recommends beating and mixing and then immediate baking, even Mrs. Wakefield put her dough on ice overnight before baking them up for ravenous patrons of the original Toll House Inn.

Here's the skinny on creating baked perfection: "At 12 hours, the dough had become drier and the baked cookies had a pleasant, if not slightly pale, complexion. The 24-hour mark is where..the cookies browned more evenly and... was richer, with more bass notes of caramel and hints of toffee... At 36 hours, the dough was significantly drier [and] baked up the most evenly and were a deeper shade of brown than their predecessors. Surprisingly, they had an even richer, more sophisticated taste, with stronger toffee hints and a definite brown sugar presence. At an informal tasting, made up of a panel of self-described chipper fanatics, these mature cookies won, hands down."

This is not to say that beat-and-bake cookies aren't delicious, it's all in the texture. Tempted? Set aside some time and remember, the longer you can hold out and let the dough chill in the fridge, the better the results!

Not convinced? Neither was Cook's Illustrated. Their editors insist that the key is melted (not softened) butter and chilling is irrelevant. For those midnight homemade-fresh-from-the-oven chocolate chip cookie cravings, this may be the best of both worlds...

Chocolate Chip Cookies
from the New York Times, adapted from Jacques Torres

Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours’ chilling
Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons
(8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content
Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Not into crispy-edged soft-centered goodness? Sunset Magazine offers recipes and cooking suggestions based on your favorite adjectives: thick & chewy, thin & crispy or the best of both - thin, crispy AND chewy!

For something a little bit different and with promises of perfection, try these Best Ever Chocolate Chip Cookies, featuring ground oatmeal for dense and delicious cookies!

Photos by yurilong and idovermani.

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