Believe it or not, there are people in this world who prefer vanilla to chocolate.
I'm not one of them; but I have to admit, I sometimes waver. Especially when confronted with a dish of homemade Vanilla Ice Cream, flecked with tiny vanilla-bean seeds; or Golden Vanilla Pound Cake, with its tantalizing butter-vanilla aroma, and crunchy vanilla-sugar topping.
That said, vanilla can be a hard flavor to capture. It's ephemeral; elusive; haunting... Unlike chocolate, which is right in your face, vanilla dances around the edge of other flavors, enhancing but not asserting itself; you know that the cookie, piece of cake, or scone you're enjoying tastes good, but you can't lay your finger on just why.
I decided it was high time vanilla took center stage – in cookies.
Who doesn't love chocolate chip cookies, right? Well, how about vanilla chip cookies? Granulated sugar instead of brown, white chocolate instead of dark, an extra hit of vanilla in the dough...
Sounds pretty simple. But, as so often happens with the simplest recipes, it was more complex than I'd imagined.
My first recipes were totally, unrelentingly sweet; without any contrasting flavors (chocolate, nuts, fruit), the vanilla simply got lost in the sugar.
I cut back on the sugar; but that affected the cookies' texture. I tried adding a hint of vanilla-butternut flavor; but it fought with the regular vanilla; and when I lowered the amount, I couldn't detect it.
I stuck some leftover dough in the fridge, deciding to contemplate the situation for awhile. Two days later, having forgotten all about contemplation, I noticed the dough in the fridge and decided to just bake it up and try again with a new batch.
Surprise! That 48-hour rest had added a subtle nuance to the cookies' flavor. Was it a hint of caramelization? A tiny bit of dough fermentation? Whatever it was, it was tasty. So I decided to incorporate it into the recipe directions:
"The recipe calls for the dough to chill for 2 days in the refrigerator; this enhances the cookies' flavor, which can be one-dimensionally sweet without it. You can certainly make them without chilling first, but we highly recommend it."
Further tests showed that a 48-hour chill was optimal; at 24 hours, the cookies' flavor wasn't quite as good; at 72 hours, the texture again started to suffer. Granted, the differences are minimal. If you're in a hurry, bake the cookies right away; if you don't get around to the dough until 3 or 4 days later, go ahead and bake the cookies, they'll still be tasty.
But do give the suggested 2-day rest a try; shy vanilla deserves this special treatment.
One final note: you'll notice this recipe is made with bread flour. Many of you have asked what you can do with bread flour besides make bread, and here's one of the sweet possibilities. But if you want to make this recipe with all-purpose flour, go right ahead; no adjustments are necessary.
Beat together 6 tablespoons (85g) room-temperature butter and 3/4 cup (149g) sugar until smooth.
Add 2 large eggs, beating until smooth.
Beat in the following:
1 tablespoon (14g) vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
Stir in 1 2/3 cups (202g) King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour and 2 cups (340g) white chocolate chips.
Transfer the dough to a covered container, and refrigerate it for 48 hours.
Drop 1" balls of dough onto the prepared baking sheets; a teaspoon cookie scoop works well here. Space the cookies about 1 1/2" apart.
Bake the cookies for 8 to 9 minutes; they might be barely starting to brown on the bottom or around the edges, but don't over-bake; you want them to remain soft.
Remove the cookies from the oven, and cool them right on the pan.
Hint: If you're into appearance, these cookies are quite plain-looking. To give them visual panache, poke a few additional white chips into each of the cookies as soon as they come out of the oven.
I ran out of white chips in one of the test batches, and substituted a mixture of white, butterscotch, and semisweet chocolate. While not "pure vanilla," obviously, they were very tasty indeed!
Please read, bake, and review our recipe for Vanilla White Chocolate Drops.