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You're doing it wrong: chocolate chip cookies

Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2014 10:48 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Slate photo)
Chocolate chip cookies: Brown sugar confers moisture and a subtle caramel flavor to everything you put it in, and those traits are highly desirable in chocolate chip cookies.

Some chocolate chip cookie questions are easy. Should you put nuts in your chocolate chip cookies? No, obviously. Should your chocolate chip cookies be chewy or crunchy? Chewy, duh.

Others are more difficult. Should you stick with the classic recipe, the one that Ruth Wakefield invented at the Toll House Inn in 1938 and that has adorned packages of Nestle chocolate chips for decades? Or should you choose a newfangled, sophisticated, scientifically refined recipe, like the one The New York Times published in 2008? (The ingredients list for the Times recipe, based on French pastry chef Jacque Torres’ version, begins, “2 cups minus 2 tablespoons [8 1/2 ounces] cake flour, 1 2/3 cups [8 1/2 ounces] bread flour . . . “ 1-2-3-4 cake this is not.)

I have a hard time answering this question. There’s something about the proposition of finding the “perfect” chocolate chip cookie via cold, calculating clinical trials, that smacks of hubris. Surely tradition counts for something. (And surely people should not have to get out their digital scales every time they want to make cookies.) I am also wary of French chefs who think they understand chocolate chip cookies better than Americans do.

Then again, tastes change over time, and some developments – like the idea of sprinkling sea salt over your cookies before baking them – are undeniably very good. (The combination of chocolate and sea salt is far superior to the more traditional combination of caramel and sea salt.)

So I recommend a middle way – a pastiche of old and new that everyone can agree on, like Pharrell’s “Happy.” An updated Toll House cookie that does not require mad-scientist-style meticulousness.

It doesn’t require a trip to a specialty store, either. Contra The New York Times, you do not need “1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content,” nor do you need, as some cookbook authors recommend, to chop up dark chocolate bars by hand. (There are few tasks less pleasant than chopping chocolate: The chocolate dust gets everywhere.) You can get Ghirardelli chocolate chips, or another decent brand, at most grocery stores these days. And the convenience of dumping a bag of chocolate chips into your mixing bowl is priceless.

The ratios in the recipe you find below are quite similar to those of Wakefield’s recipe: I use slightly less flour and baking soda to encourage chewiness, and I use more vanilla, because more vanilla is almost always a good idea. I also strongly endorse using all brown sugar instead of a mix of white and brown: Brown sugar confers moisture and a subtle caramel flavor to everything you put it in, and those traits are highly desirable in chocolate chip cookies.

So what concessions do I make to the Times? There’s that sprinkle of sea salt to offset the sweet richness of the cookie dough. I also tip my hat to the Times for emphasizing the importance of refrigeration. You should always, always refrigerate your cookie dough for at least a couple of hours before baking it – the longer the refrigeration time, the better the consistency of the final product.

But equally important to consistency, keep in mind, is not overbaking: As soon as the edges of the cookies are golden brown, pull them out of the oven. A minute makes the difference between chewy and crunchy – and while a crunchy cookie isn’t bad, exactly, it’s best avoided.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yield: 40 to 45 cookies

Time: 3 hours, mostly unattended (or longer, depending on how long you refrigerate the dough)

1 1/2 cups brown sugar

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

2 large or 3 small eggs

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain salt

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

About 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Beat the brown sugar and butter with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer (or with a handheld mixer in a large bowl). Add eggs and vanilla and beat to combine. Add the baking soda and fine-grain salt and beat to combine, then add the flour and stir just until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Wrap the dough in foil or plastic wrap (or simply cover the bowl) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours and up to 3 days.

Heat oven to 350 degrees F and grease one or two baking sheets (or line them with parchment paper). Drop the dough by the rounded tablespoonful onto the baking sheet(s), leaving 2 inches between cookies. Sprinkle a small pinch of coarse sea salt on each cookie, then bake until the cookies are mostly firm and their edges are golden brown, 9 to 11 minutes. Transfer the cookies to wire racks or paper towels, and repeat with the remaining dough and salt. Serve warm.

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