Regan Daley’s Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies
After weeks of poring over new cookbooks and testing out new recipes, I suddenly felt the urge to do something simple and familiar. Maybe it’s the increasingly nippy fall mornings, the grey clouds trundling across the sky like a soft cuddly blanket being unrolled, but I felt like making something warm and comforting…like chocolate chip cookies. No fancy twiddling around or exotic ingredients, just fresh, fragrant promises of happiness from the oven.
That was what I intended, anyway. Then I decided I might want to take a look at my tried-and-true cookie recipe and compare to some of the other recipes in my new cookbooks. Maybe do a taste comparison of recipes. And while I was at it, maybe I could see if I could incorporate any of the lessons I’d learned while working in a professional bakery to improve my cookies at home.
What was supposed to be a quick batch of cookies turned into a marathon bakeoff between four cookie recipes, along with a compilation of all the little cookie-making tips I’d accumulated over the years. Although I really (seriously!) wish I could share all the fruits of my oven’s labor with you, I figure I could at least share what I discovered (not the least realization being that you really can eat too many cookies in one sitting, no matter how delicious they are). So following I present some of my cookie-baking tips, along with an analysis of how many ways you can make a chocolate chip cookie.
Measure accurately – I’m sure that most home bakers by now know the importance of careful and consistent measurement of ingredients, so I won’t dwell on the basics. I will note that I do just about all my measuring on a scale, foregoing the imprecision of measuring cups (I do still use measuring spoons for small amounts). With so many inexpensive digital scales available these days, I would really recommend that anyone who is even a halfway avid baker invest in one – you’ll be amazed at how much easier it makes measuring ingredients and how much more confident you’ll feel about getting the quantities correct. I’m trying to post all my recipes on Dessert First with both imperial and metric measurements, and I’m also planning on putting up some standard conversions as well, although there are plenty of excellent converters on the internet already if you take a look around.
Have ingredients at the right temperature: It’s best for all the ingredients in a recipe to be at around the same temperature (unless otherwise specified) – usually this means having butter and eggs out of the refrigerator and at room temperature. What does room temperature mean, though? For butter, this means between 65 to 70 degrees F: soft enough for you to make an impression in the surface when you press firmly, but not melting, squishy, or oily. If it’s too firm, you won’t be able to cream it properly because the sugar will be unable to work into the butter and aerate it. If it’s too soft, it will be unable to retain as much air and fluff up, leading to heavy, dense, greasy product. Eggs will also incorporate into batter better if they are at room temperature; if you’ve neglected to take them out of the refrigerator soon enough, you can place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to warm them up.
Sherry Yard’s Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cream butter and sugar together properly – How can the words "light and fluffy" strike fear into the hearts of so many? If you’re practical-minded like me, finding out the science behind light and fluffy will help you figure out what to look for. When you are creaming butter and sugar together, you are cutting the sugar into the butter, creating little pockets of air in the fat – aerating it. It’s this incorporation of air into butter that determines if you will get a tender, light cookie or a dense, leaden one. So how do you know if you’ve done it right? The creamed butter and sugar should increase in volume and lighten in color to almost white. You should not be able to see sugar particles in the butter. It is possible to overcream butter – it will become shiny and eventually break down – but hopefully you won’t have neglected the mixer for that long! Also, using butter at the proper temperature as discussed above will ensure you can get your mixture light and fluffy in no time at all.
Practice uniform cookie size - Of course, the size you make your balls of cookie dough will determine how fast they bake, but it’s also important to try keep the size as uniform as possible so all the cookies will bake the same. For the truly meticulous, the best method is to weigh out blobs of dough on a scale and aim for the same weight each time – this might be an interesting exercise if you’re trying to figure out how much dough goes into your ideal cookie size. If that seems like too much trouble for you, using a cookie scoop works just fine as well.
Know the difference between your baking pans - Sometimes when I’m short of sheets I want to grab any flat surface in the kitchen. But it helps to know how different types of pans affect the baking of cookies. Cookie sheets, or baking sheets, are rimless on two or three sides and allow excellent circulation of air around the dough. Jelly roll pans are rimmed and work nicely for cookie baking, but you should be aware that baking time might be longer because the rim will block some of the heat from the cookie dough. I have some professional grade half-sheet pans made of heavy-gauge aluminum that are 12"x18" in size; they work wonderfully as cookie sheets. Regardless of what you use, it’s best if it is as sturdy and durable as possible; flimsy lightweight cookie sheets may warp in the oven and lead to uneven baking. Also avoid dark colored surfaces as they may overcook the bottoms of your cookies before the tops are done. Aluminum sheets are ideal.
Dorie Greenspan’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Know your oven – Every oven is different, so get to know yours and its lovable or not so lovable idiosyncrasies. Does the temperature run high or low? Where are the hot spots? In order to ensure even baking of all cookies, I usually rotate my sheets halfway through the baking time, both from back and from top to bottom rack so all the cookies get even heating.
Always check before the specified time - Even if I think I’ve figured out my oven’s quirks, I still look in on my cookies a minute or so before they’re supposed to be done. This is to account for any variances on my part in making the batter; after working in a bakery and making cookies day after day, it’s surprising how you may think you’re making the same recipe in exactly the same way each time, but a little change in the temperature of the ingredients, how long you beat the batter, how big you shape the cookies, can lead to very different results. It’s tempting to just set the timer and forget about it, but I like to err on the side of caution and check in to see how the cookies are doing. Don’t open the oven during the first few minutes of baking though, and don’t open the oven too many times or you’ll lower the temperature of the interior too much and prevent the cookies from baking properly.
Pull out cookies before they are completely done - This was the hardest lesson for me to learn back when I first started making cookies in the kitchen. I would pull out a sheet of golden brown cookies, nice and firm to the touch, only to have them turn into rock-hard pucks as they cooled down. Since cookies will continue to bake as they sit on the sheets, if it’s that soft chewiness you’re looking for, you’ll need to pull them out when the edges are just turning brown at the edges and are lightly golden on top. They shouldn’t look raw in the center, but if they still soft to the touch they will stay soft after cooling. If you’re looking for crisp cookies, you can leave them in the oven for a few minutes longer, but I’ve found that some recipes work better for thin crispy cookies than others – see below.
Don’t reuse hot sheets - I know it’s tempting, especially because most of us only have a few cookie sheets and usually a lot of dough, but reusing hot sheets right out of the oven will melt the dough before it can bake properly. Instead, rinse the sheets off in the sink with cold water to cool them down before reusing them.
Kate Zuckerman’s Crispy, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
All right, now that I’ve gotten past general tips on perfecting your cookie-baking technique, on to the specifics. I compared chocolate chip cookie recipes from four of my favorite cookbook authors: Kate Zuckerman, Dorie Greenspan, Sherry Yard, and Regan Daley. Since the amounts of butter, eggs, baking soda, and salt were pretty much the same, as well as the methods of making and baking the dough, I used these similarities as a baseline to see the difference varying amounts of sugar and flour would make.
Ingredients Kate Dorie Sherry Regan
Butter 4 oz 4 oz 4 oz 4 oz
(113g) (113g) (113g) (113g)
Eggs 1/2* 1 1 1
Flour 7/8 cup 1 cup 3/4 cup 1 1/2 cup + 1
(120g) (140g) (100g) (222g)
Sugar none 1/2 cup 3/8 cup 1/4 cup
(100g) (74g) (52g)
Brown sugar 3/4 cup 1/3 cup 1/8 cup 1/2 cup
(170g) (72g) (28g) (110g)
Baking soda 1/2 tsp 1/2 tsp 1/4 tsp 1/2 tsp
Salt   ; 1/8 tsp 1/2 tsp 1/8 tsp 1/4 tsp
Vanilla 1/4 tsp 1 tsp 1/2 tsp 3/4 tsp
Choc. chips 4 oz 6 oz 4 oz 8 oz
(116g) (174g) (116g) (232g)
* plus 1/2 egg white
How were the results? Well, the first and most noticeable difference is that Daley’s recipe uses almost twice as much flour as any of the other recipes. This led to a firmer, cakey texture and a cookie that held its shape the best of all four – it hardly spread at all in the oven and retained its roundness and heft (see top photo). This is definitely for those who like to bite into a thick and substantial cookie. I’ve used this cookie several times before and it was always well received.
Zuckerman’s recipe is the only one made with just brown sugar, and it baked up exactly as she described: flat, chewy, with strong, addictive caramelly-butterscotchy flavor. All that brown sugar also means this cookie will stay moist for a while in the cookie jar. Greenspan’s cookie is pretty similar to Zuckerman’s but not quite as thin or chewy – these two cookies were the most similar to each other of the four, and most like what I consider the current trend for chocolate chip cookies: flattish, craggy-surfaced with chips, crisp at the edges and chewy to very slightly underbaked at the center. In short, delicious. It was very interesting to see how varying proportions of sugar affected the texture of the cookie.
Yard’s cookie is an interesting middle road between the other three: it uses the least flour and sugar, and the resulting cookie is very light and airy, almost like a madeleine. It also uses the least amount of brown sugar, so it has the least caramel flavor; compared to the other three it tasted more of vanilla cookie laced with chocolate chips. This is lovely, delicate little cookie – I don’t think I’ve ever had a chocolate chip cookie like this one before.
Using the same ingredients for four seemingly similar recipes, it was amazing to compare how differently they came out. So what’s the conclusion? That there is room out there for many fabulous chocolate chip cookies, and plenty of freedom for you to experiment in your kitchen and find your perfect recipe. I liked all four of the cookies, but I’m thinking of tweaking the proportions of flour and sugar a little more to get the cookie I’m envisioning. Fortunately for me, there appears to quite the eager audience for the also-rans; otherwise I’d be awash in all the cookies from my experiments!
Oh, I almost forgot one last cookie-making tip: chocolate chip cookie dough freezes beautifully. So if you don’t think you’ll be able to finish off a batch of cookies in one day, scoop the leftover dough into balls, place securely in a plastic bag, and store in the freezer. You can then enjoy fresh-baked cookies whenever you desire!