The New York Times is at it again. Yesterday, their Dining and Wine section included a lengthy treatise on one of my favorite subjects: Chocolate chip cookies. Beginning with a short history of this American icon's birth at the Toll House restaurant in Whitman, Massachusetts (where, serendipitously for a baker, I had my engagement dinner 32 years ago), author David Leite takes us on a tour of New York City's best chocolate chip cookie sources.
Leite writes, "...a journey began that included stops at some of New York City’s best bakeries as well as conversations with some doyens of baking. The result was a recipe for a consummate cookie, if you will: one built upon decades of acquired knowledge, experience and secrets; one that, quite frankly, would have Mrs. Wakefield worshipping at its altar."
Can you believe the Times? I mean, there aren't many daily papers that can get away with writing like that. I only read the online version of this paper, and then only when someone sends me a link. But every food article I read, I have the same reaction: You have GOT to be kidding. People really take food this seriously? Is it a New York thing, or...?
I mean, don't get me wrong. I love to eat. And sometimes I even wax poetic about the way a baguette audibly crackles as it comes out of the oven. Still, I'd rather enjoy my chocolate chip cookie with a dash of fun, rather than a pinch of pretension. (Though to give the Times their due, maybe their food writers ALL have tongues firmly implanted in bulging cheeks.)
At any rate, after reading Jacques Torres' recipe adapted by the Times, and several key techniques the various bakers interviewed suggested to create the ultimate cc cookie, I had to run right out to the kitchen and bake. I compared my favorite King Arthur recipe with Jacques'—who, by the way, is a really nice guy; King Arthur Flour used to sponsor his TV show.
Anyway, Jacques' and our recipes are remarkably similar in some ways, vastly different in others. He uses bread flour and cake flour; we use all-purpose (uh, that's why they call it all-purpose, so you don't have to use a bunch of different flours...?) He uses all butter. We use butter and shortening; we prefer the bit of extra crispness shortening imparts. Beyond that—we're a pretty good match.
Then I took our recipe, and applied the Times' suggested techniques to it. And WOW—yeah, what they suggest does make a difference. A big, tasty difference. First, a sprinkle of sea salt on top, before baking. Fantastic. And second, chilling the dough for 12 to 36 hours before baking, to deepen and heighten the flavor. Yes, the chilled-dough version did have a richer flavor.
So I owe the Times a debt of gratitude. Thanks, guys—I'll never quite understand your affection for the finest detail and most subtle nuances of food and eating. But we agree: a good chocolate chip cookie recipe is something to treasure.
First step: Put everything except the egg, flour, and chips into a bowl.
Then beat in the egg, and add the flour and chips, mixing till thoroughly combined. As you can see, the dough is pretty moist; typical cookie dough.
For big, 5” cookies, scoop 3 3/8- to 3 1/2-ounce balls of dough, a very slightly heaped 1/3 cup. Our muffin scoop works well here; this is what it'll look like.
Space them well apart from one another on lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheets, especially if the dough has been chilled. These cookies WILL spread.
And here's the first secret: sprinkle a tiny bit of sea salt atop each ball of cookie dough.
We're not talking pouring salt on your popcorn here. Just a minimalist's sprinkle is what you're after.
Bake the cookies anywhere from 13 to 14 minutes (if the dough hasn't been refrigerated), to about 17 to 18 minutes (if it's been chilled). The cookies should remain quite pale in the center.
Here's one of my first cookies, made with unchilled dough. Notice the shiny streaks in the center; you'd think this cookie wasn't quite baked enough, wouldn't you?
But here's what it looks like once it cools completely. Perfect! the cookie continues to bake just a tad as it cools.
Now, here's the dough after having chilled for 16 hours. (I would have let it chill for just 12 hours, but that would have meant coming to work at 2:30 a.m., like our King Arthur Bakery bakers do. No thanks!) Can you see that it's a bit dry? Certainly drier than the moist dough of 16 hours earlier.
...bake, and WHOOPS. Guess I didn't space them very well. So, one lopsided cookie—it's the price you pay when you're experimenting.
I also over-baked these a bit, giving them 22 minutes instead of the called-for 18 to 20 minutes. Notice there are no shiny streaks in the center, and the center is more golden than pale tan, too.
Now, here's the dough after 24 hours in the fridge. Drier still.
But the cookies baked up beautifully. Here's one right out of the oven. Again, note the shiny surface.
And here it is once it's cooled.
I plan on baking off the remainder of the dough early tomorrow morning, once it's chilled for 36 hours. I'm betting the result will look much like today's cookies. And the flavor may be even a tad more complex. I'll report back when I get a chance!
OK, it's later... I just baked the remainder of the cookies. The dough was a tiny bit drier, but results much the same. I think chilling the dough even as little as 12 hours makes the difference. And the optimal baking time for these large, 5” cookies, chilled dough, seems to be 17 minutes - at least in our test kitchen oven here at King Arthur.
Finally, here's what this recipe looks like baked “straight”—normal 2 1/2” cookies, baked without refrigerating the dough. You know what? You just can't go wrong with chocolate chip cookies. They're always a case of "good... better... best!"
Read, review, and rate (please!) our recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies.