Reconsidering the Chocolate Chip Cookie

July 24th, 2008

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Remember the massive chocolate chip cookie bakeoff I did last year, all in that elusive, neverending search for the perfect recipe? Well, with the New York Times throwing its formidable hat into the ring, a revisit definitely seemed in order.

If you haven’t read the article yet, it’s certainly worth your time. Although every baker has no doubt realized that everyone’s tastes are different and no recipe will ever satisfy everyone 100% of the time (and likely comforted herself with this knowledge at some point or another), there’s always the thrilling illumination in discovering exactly what makes a recipe work well, in ferreting out the intricacies and subtle byways of deliciousness.

The New York Times does an excellent job of explaining how it developed its recipe (and, before I go any further, it’s a really good recipe). Three of the kitchen discoveries described in the article that author David Leite believes lead to cookie greatness are 1) Sprinkling sea salt on top to further enhance the taste;  2) Making cookies large, about 5″ in diameter, to allow for a progression of textures from crispy to chewy; 3) Chilling the dough for 12-36 hours before baking to improve the depth of flavors .

The exciting thing about all these suggestions are the new dimensions they add to the chocolate chip cookie rubric. In all of the chocolate chip cookie recipes I’ve come across, two of the most common “official” variations involve adding oats or nuts. Beyond that, however, most of the recipes follow the same ingredient lists and formula of assembly, and differentiating between them becomes a matter of 1/3 cup of flour here, 1/2 cup of brown sugar there, and maybe an extra bit of vanilla.

For this second round of testing, I used the New York Times recipe, my own that I’ve been working on, and the one from King Arthur Flour’s blog (they’ve also done an excellent analysis of the Times’ recipe). I also list The Nestle Toll House recipe for reference, although I didn’t make it: I think just about everyone has made that recipe!

Ingredients      NYT*         KAF       Dessert First      Nestle

Butter                5 oz           4 oz            4 oz               4 oz

Shortening                          4 oz   

Eggs                    1               1                   1                   1              

Flour               1 2/3 cup       2 cup      1 1/3 cup      1 1/8 cup  

Sugar                2/3 cup     2/3 cup       1/3 cup         3/8 cup

Brown sugar      2/3 cup    2/3 cup        1/2 cup        3/8 cup

Baking soda      5/8 tsp        1 tsp           1/2 tsp         1/2 tsp

Baking powder  3/4 tsp

Salt                   3/4 tsp       1/2 tsp          1/2 tsp        1/2 tsp

Vanilla               1 tsp           2 tsp            3/4 tsp        1/2 tsp

White vinegar                       1 tsp

Choc. chips       8 oz            12 oz              6 oz            6 oz

Oven temp        350F            375F             350F           375F

* A couple adaptations I’m entirely responsible for: I halved the recipe from the Times for easier comparison to the other recipes, and I used AP flour instead of a combination of bread flour and cake flour as the recipe called for – I sort of think the reason we have AP flour is so we don’t have to mix flours all the time! You can see the recipes in their original format here (NYTimes) and here (King Arthur Flour)

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Clockwise from left: King Arthur Flour, New York Times, mine

Ok, lots of interesting observations and notes here:

First, the recipes for the Times and King Arthur Flour are not too different, with the exception of the 1/2 cup of shortening. While doubling the fat content would seem to lead to very dissimilar results, the cookies I got were pretty close appearance wise: fat, crinkly-surfaced guys with deep brown edges and a lovely golden center.

The Times cookie is undoubtedly very very tasty. Salt, the savory chef’s best friend, is such a subtle and unappreciated player in the baking world. If you’ve ever baked a loaf of bread and forgotten to add salt, you know exactly how important its role is, yet in so many “sweeter” recipes like cakes, tarts, and cookies, it’s easy to forget how a judicious pinch of salt can make highlight flavors, make them bloom to their full potential. I made the cookies both with and without the salt on top, and with the “salted” ones the flavor is definitely more vibrant, along with pleasing crunchy contrast of the salt crystals. Of course, all that salt is probably what helps make them so addictive!

There is a long discussion in the Times article about why a big cookie is essential because it allows for the development of different textural “zones” – from crispy edges to a chewy middle ring to a soft, just-baked center. It would seem that this cookie intends to cover all the bases for preferences! The recipe calls for 3 1/2 ounce balls of dough, which bake into a good 5 inches across – dear readers, that is large. Marion Nestle calculated that one cookie would contain about 500 calories!

I’m all for cookies that can encompass the entire range of textures, but I typically make my cookies about 44 g, which is about 1 1/2 ounces (yes, I use a scale to weigh them out!) Even one of these 1 1/2 ounce cookies leave me completely full and satisfied, so I suppose a 5″ diameter cookie would sadly be wasted on me.  I do appreciate the sensory satisfaction of biting into a crispy-edged cookie and working your way to the soft and chewy center, and I think it’s possible to achieve that in a smaller cookie – the ones I made definitely showed such transitions and were thoroughly enjoyable. It depends on your recipe: my cookie recipe bakes up with a much more even and fluffy quality throughout; I might tweak it to let it spread out more and develop a more heterogeneous texture.

As for the chilling tip: in the interests of performing a thorough and rigorous study, I baked some of the batches of dough immediately after making them, then refrigerated the rest for 36 hours and baked them off. There was an increased richness of flavor in all three doughs, so I really think the Times is on to something here. However, the cookies that I baked right away were also quite delicious and by no means “bad”. So for those of you that need your cookie fix and can’t imagine waiting 36 hours to bake them, I think the lesson to take away is that cookie dough can keep quite well. The ideal scenario is to have a batch of dough, bake off the amount you need, and save the rest to bake over the next couple of days. Then, instead of having a large batch of cookies slowly going stale, you can have fresh-baked cookies every day for 2 to 3 days. Note the Times recipe does say to use the dough within 72 hours; cookie dough will start drying out if you keep it for too long, and it’s better to freeze it if you don’t intend to use it within a few days.

The King Arthur Flour recipe is also a very good one: for those of you who believe in the virtues of the sadly unfashionable shortening, this cookie has a combination of soft, almost-chewy interior and light crisp exterior that only shortening can provide. To me, the Times and King Arthur Flour cookies tasted pretty similar right after baking, but after a day or so King Arthur Flour cookies had a more generally soft texture while the Times cookies had a firmer, chewier texture. They’re really both fabulous cookies and I wish they’d been around for my first bakeoff.

If you compare the recipes to the ones I tested before, from Dorie Greenspan’s, Kate Zuckerman’s, Sherry Yard’s, and Regan Daley’s cookbooks, you’ll also notice an interesting progression in cookie trends. Like anything else, chocolate chip cookies evolve and change to reflect current trends. Last year, there was a definite trend towards thin, chewy cookies with deep brown sugar-caramelly notes. My cookie is more of an old-school, classic style, that is thicker, cakier, and not as sweet. It seems like this new breed of chocolate chip cookie is kind of a supersized, “have-it-all” ultra cookie – it’s chewy and crisp, sugar-sweet and vanilla-rich, punched up with salt, and uber-chocolately. If you look at the venerable Nestle Toll House recipe and compare ingredient amounts, there’s just more of everything  – very fitting for today’s bigger-better-faster world.

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With this second testing go-round I think you all now have a full library of chocolate chip cookie recipes to play around with. Big, small, thick, thin, intense, subtle – they’re all part of the ever expanding galaxy of cookies, each with their own mysteries and charms. And there’s no knowing how many more cookies are out there waiting to be discovered. Who knows – perhaps in another year there will be another chocolate chip cookie update, as the quest continues on and on…

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36 Comments so far ↓

  • Tivona #1

    Wow! That is a lot of research to do for just a simple chocolate chip cookie! I am always so intrigued to learn something new from your blog, and this time is no exception! The time, effort and care that you put into perfecting everything you make is just so inspiring!

  • Karen #2

    That chocolate chip cookie again! It’s everywhere. Your’s does look wonderful. Interesting stats. And yes, I have noticed trends in cookies. Interesting.

  • kat #3

    what an analysis! I’ll definitely have to reconsider the chocolate chip cookie :)

  • Rosa #4

    Those cookies look delicious! Very interesting! I personally love the “Afternoon Delights” (McNair & Moore)one…

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  • Clumbsy Cookie #5

    I loved the shart! I’ve also made the NY Times cookies last week, as I think half of the bloggers out there. I did enjoy my huge cookies. I might try your recipe next time I want a CCC!

  • Y #6

    Great post. Loved reading about the comparisons. I’ve never really thought about the finer points of the humble choc chip cookie, but everything you said certainly makes sense.

  • Patricia Scarpin #7

    Anita, I have always dreamed about the choc chip cookies I saw on movies my whole life (they are not part of our food history here). To this day, I have tried a couple of recipes, and they tasted great, but did not look like the ones I wanted to. Yours do – and I’ll be trying them, thank you very much for sharing!

  • Katie #8

    Very Interesting, you make me want to do a test of my own. I don’t have any plans for Tomorrow maybe a choc. chip cookie test is in order.

  • S for Kitchen Confit #9

    Yum – those cookies look perfect.

  • Cathy C #10

    What a great comparison – I make the toll house version but do not use butter instead I use shortening – It does help to put dough in the fridge for a bit as well – The other thing I do is use a vanilla bean infused sugar – I put my sugar in a container with vanilla beans so they can be “married” and the flavor they create is terrific.

    Cheers
    Cathy
    http://www.wheresmydamnanswer.com

  • Heidi #11

    I love the side-by-side comparison of the recipes. I’m with you on the smaller cookies – I don’t think I could get through a 5″ cookie unless it was my entire meal!

  • Katrina #12

    Great study and reading. Thanks, very informative info. I made the Times cookie the day after the article came out. LOVED them. You can see them on recent blogs, if you want. Haven’t made KA’s before, dont’ like using shortening. But now I want to try yours.
    Great news about a cookbook for you. Sounds like a great Christmas gift for me! ;)

  • Maria #13

    I really don’t think you can go wrong with a hot fresh choc. chip cookie from the oven!

  • My Sweet and Suacy #14

    Great post! Loved reading about each cookie!

  • Mel #15

    Have you tried Norstorms Chocolate chip cookie recipe?

  • PJ Hamel #16

    Hey, thanks for including us in the side by side by side comparison. You did a lot of work for this, I know, but how sweet it is… Awesome post – PJ Hamel, King Arthur Flour baker/blogger

  • Jen Yu #17

    Fantastic work here! I am so loving your analysis :) Will definitely reference this when I start tweaking my chocolate chip cookie recipe for altitude!

  • Julie #18

    This is a great post. I’ve also been obsessed with the humble chocolate chip cookie and have done a number of bake offs. I have used KAF and Regan, but also threw in Alton Brown (his science-based baking book) and Cooks Illustrated/ATK. I’m after a cakey cook (of the variety found at Specialty’s Cafe in SF area), and I find melting the butter to be working best. I must say your cookies are gorgeous, which is inspiring me to revisit the creaming method. I took a 6 week baking class at Tante Marie, which was fabulous, but we focused on cakes. You should see about teaching a similar course at TM for cookies. It would be a great companion for your cookbook. Congratulations on that!

  • snooky doodle #19

    these look delicious :-) yummy Nice photos

  • Kristin at The Kitchen Sink #20

    Fascinating! Great post. I loved the NYT recipe and I agree about the size: the larger cookies are superior (I used 1/2 the dough for 5-inchers and the other 1/2 for tablespoon-sized scoops), but they come at the expense of having decadently-sized cookies.

  • Asianmommy #21

    Interesting comparison testing. What fun!

  • Kevin #22

    What a tasty and worthwhile effort! All of those cookies look really good!

  • valentina #23

    Loved every line of this post. i know someone who would also just love this read- patricia from technicolourkitchen. she is also such a huge cookie fan.

  • Garrett #24

    Honestly, I’m still a fan of the tollhouse. Though I have adapted it to sprinkling a bit of salt on top and chilling the dough for a long while.

  • ms recipe #25

    Hi,

    Those choclate chip cookies look very good. I am a big choclate lover. I have a new food blog, would you like to exchange links.

    Have a good day.

  • Madam Chow #26

    Great post. I like them thick and chewy, but not huge. I can see I’m going to be doing even MORE baking!

  • RecipeGirl #27

    What a great blog post. I love it when bloggers do comparison sorts of experiments. Great info!

  • Michelle G #28

    Yes, the salt is definitely key to any great dessert in terms of my palate! Thanks for sharing the portion of your taste test, Anita. You have begun a new love affair for me with this recipe. It has become a staple.

  • Carolyn Jung #29

    I’m glad you said you could make the NY Times cookies in smaller sizes. When I read the original story and recipe, I, too, thought, “My gawd, these are huge!” Not that I don’t love a big cookie. It’s just that big cookies love my hips too much, if you know what I mean. Call me crazy, but I agree that a 1 1/2- to 2-inch cookie is plenty to satisfy. Plus, at that size, there’s far less guilt, too. ;)

  • Aimei #30

    Wow, I really have to salute you for making this great post with such fine analysis! Yeah I agree everyone have their preferences. For me, I love my cookies small and crispy. :) Would definitely love to try this out one day.

  • vj #31

    chocolate chip cookies…are almost a religion :)

  • dorothyfoster #32

    Hi:

    Chocolate chip cookies are my favourte, so I don’t make them very often. I have made many over my time. A friend of mine, who is now deceased, so I cannot get ther recipe from her. She gave me the recipe, I put it away for safe keeping and now I can’t find. The cookies she made were thick and chewy, they were always a hit. I have made other one’s but they are not the same. Do you have a recipe that I am looking for.
    Sincerely,
    Dorothy Foster, Bancroft, Ontario, Canada

  • Marc #33

    Great post. I appreciate the effort you’ve made to explain the variations in chocolate chip cookies. I was a rapid convert to the Torres/Leite recipe and make it frequently (often, unfortunately, forgetting about the sprinkle of salt in the rush of baking). I also did some quantitative analysis of cookie recipes: link to marcsala.blogspot.com

    Although probably not of everyday practical importance, but interesting from a scientific point, I’d like to quibble about this statement: “I used AP flour instead of a combination of bread flour and cake flour as the recipe called for – I sort of think the reason we have AP flour is so we don’t have to mix flours all the time!”

    AP flour is not the same as cake + bread flour. Cake flour is different because it is usually bleached (unless, of course, it is labeled “unbleached”). By bleaching with chlorine dioxide or chlorine gas, the starch granules in the flour are transformed, making them absorb more water, and also increases the acidity of the flour (which might explain the presence of baking soda in the Torres/Leite recipe as a basic component). The recipe has bread flour to increase the gluten content back to the AP level. Does this make any difference to the home baker? Probably not, as the chocolate, butter and variations in baking will overwhelm the subtle effect of the flours.

    Based on your recommendation in another post, I’m going to try the Korova Cookies this weekend.

  • Pierre #34

    No, smaller is better imo as really big cookies develops a hard crust. I like 2oz of the NYT cookies. BTW I compared 10 cookie recipes here: link to TheGrinningGourmet.com. Great post, thanks for all the work.

  • Shan #35

    How long should your cookies be baked for?

  • Sandy #36

    Have you tried Cook’s Illustrated chocolate chip cookie? They go for a toffee flavor (which to me is better as a Heath Bar cookie) but it’s a delicious cookie none-the-less. Here’s the recipe in case you haven’t run into it yet:
    1 3/4 cup AP flour
    1/2 tsp. baking soda
    14 Tbsp. unsalted butter
    3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
    1/2 cup granulated sugar
    1 tsp. salt
    2 tsp. vanilla extract
    1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk
    1 1/4 c. semisweet chocolate cihps

    Preheat oven to 375.
    Whisk flour & baking soda; set aside.
    Melt 10 T. butter in 10″ skillet over med-high heat. swirl pan constantly until butter is browned. Transfer to heat-safe bowl & add remaining 4 T. butter and stir until completely melted.
    Add sugars, salt & vanilla; whisk to incorporate. Add egg & yolk; whisk until smooth. Let stand 3 min then whisk for 30 sec. (repeat 2 more times until shiny,, thick & smooth). Foldin flour until just combined. Stir in choc chips.
    Work with 3 T. dough at a time, roll inot balls & place 2″ apart on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake for 10 – 14 min. until edges have begun to set but middle is soft. Cool on wire rack.
    Bon apetit!

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