A scientific approach to chocolate chip cookies
|February 17, 2010||Posted by ameliaps under any season, chocolate, cookies, dessert, sweets|
Ok, so first of all I have only lived in the US for 12 years so I did not grow up on chocolate chip cookies. When I first came here I just could not understand what the fuss was about these simple and rather ugly cookies. Then I baked my own batch and ate them right out of the oven (the ONLY way to eat them)…and that changed my views. And I started looking for the best recipe after a few average attempts.
Recently I have also started reading about food chemistry and how changing the ingredient composition, temperature and baking time changes the final result in chocolate chip cookies.
As far as my tips and observations:
There’s the whole discussion about chip versus chunk. Me, personally, I am a chunky kind of girl. I like REAL chocolate, chopped by hand into uneven chunks. I can’t stand Hersheys (too sweet, too grainy, too greasy). So I use a bar of great quality organic 60-70% chocolate and if I can even two different kinds of chocolate to add layers of flavor. I even like adding a tad of coffee powder (instant espresso) to add extra kick to the cookies. I also like to use dark brown sugar not light, for a richer, deeper, molasse-y taste and extra chew. I use kosher salt or whatever best salt I have around (and I even go s far as to sprinkling some sea salt, such as fleur de sel, on top of the cookies right as they come out of the oven). I use cold, unsalted organic butter (I find that melted butter makes them greasy). I like mine thick and chewy almost cakey NOT thin and crispy (which resemble more pralines than cookies) so I add a little extra flour (of course, unbleached) and underbake. I recommend chilling the dough (whatever recipe you use) a few hours before baking. I usually do not add nuts to my dough and if ever I do, I like chopped walnuts. There’s a trick I read about recently from Thomas Keller: “If you like softer cookies, don’t underbake them, just mist them with water before baking“
I approached this project like a scientist comparing a few classic versions side by side to see what the difference was. In the end, I like Alton Brown’s version the best (see below). If you have extra time to brown the butter, the Cooks’ Illustrated recipe is delicious too. If you want to skip using bread flour, want to avoid using “parts” of eggs, and don’t feel like adding extra steps such as browing the butter, Not-without-Salt has a great recipe.
A few observations from my “research”:
1. To make a soft and chewy cookie: increase the moisture content by a) binding the water in butter, eggs, and brown sugar with flour which slows evaporation b) adding extra flour to make it stiffer and thicker by spreading less c) make them bigger to help keep them moist inside d) baking for a shorter time at a high temperature helps firm quickly and minimize spreading
2. To make a more cake-like cookie: add extra liquid in the cookie dough from water, egg, or milk to make the dough more elastic and to allow more steam so they puff up.
3. To make a thin, crisp, crunchy cookie: a) reduce the amount of moisture-holding ingredients (flour, egg, and brown sugar) which makes for easier evaporation hence more crispy cookies b) increase the amount of fat since fat gets hotter than water and drives out moisture plus fat makes the dough softer and melts when hot, making the cookies spread c) bake them longer at a lower temperature to give them more time to spread.
Here are the recipes I reviewed:
Classic: Toll-House (buttery, a bit greasy)
Food Star Alton Brown (chewy)
Designer: Jaques Torres (soft with crisp edges)
Test-kitchen: Cooks’ Illustrated (buttery, chewy)
Blogger: Not-without-salt (crispy outside, chewy inside)
Magazine: Sunset (2 versions: thick & chewy, thin & crisp)
Wiki: Allrecipes (big, fat, chewy, sweet)
And here is how they compare, side by side (click on image to view large text):
Do not place too many cookies on one sheet and allow to refrigerate, if you can, before baking.
Yield: 2 1/2 dozen cookies
2 sticks unsalted butter
2 1/4 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tablespoons milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Heat oven to 375 degrees F.
Melt the butter in a heavy-bottom medium saucepan over low heat. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.
Pour the melted butter in the mixer’s work bowl. Add the sugar and brown sugar. Cream the butter and sugars on medium speed. Add the egg, yolk, 2 tablespoons milk and vanilla extract and mix until well combined. Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Chill the dough, then scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 14 minutes or until golden brown, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for even browning. Cool completely and store in an airtight container.