Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The Boston Blogger Cookie Challenge: Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Is it possible to improve on a seemingly perfect thing?

I think most of America is familiar with the standard Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe. It's quick, easy, and best of all, impossible to lose since it's printed on the back of every single Nestle chocolate chip bag. The most I ever do to jazz it up is add some almond flavoring (a trick learned from my friend Z).

However, I was tempted into trying a new chocolate chip cookie recipe due to a challenge issued by America's Test Kitchen.  Their recipe's name says it all - "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies" and can be found on their Cook's Illustrated website here

As this challenge was issued specifically to Boston bloggers, I couldn't resist giving this recipe a shot. But as you will soon find out - in true Cook's Illustrated trial-and-error style (you'll know what I mean if you've ever picked up this magazine or its sister publication, Cook's Country) - I had a few missteps before I nailed the perfect recipe at the end! 

Cook's Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies


1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda 14tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces) (fresh, moist sugar is needed!)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (go for some quality chocolate, I used a bag of Ghiradelli semi-sweet morsels I had on hand)
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)

At first glance, the ingredient list doesn't look too different from the typical recipe. The subtle differences, however, all have a purpose. And once we hit the instructions, you'll know right from the start what sets this recipe apart from the ordinary.

1. Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper (Silpat in my case). Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.

2. Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. I followed the advice in the recipe's notes, and deliberately avoided using a non-stick pan so I could keep track of the butter's color.

Here's ordinary melted butter:

And then the magical tipping point when it turns into browned butter (don't be alarmed by the dark specks, that's apparently the milk solids in the butter) and you can smell this rich scent that reminds me of making pralines.

Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.

3. Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute.

So far, so good. I used my microwave to time my resting and whisking intervals (PS - I'm loving the speckled effect you can see in the dough!)

Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.

4. Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)

5. Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.

So this where I noticed things going wrong.  The dough felt too sticky to roll into a ball so I did my best to create balls with my beloved large Oxo cookie scoop (which holds around 1 tablespoon of dough). My sheets were smaller than recommended so I went with around two tablespoons of dough per scoop.

The end result was a bit ugly:

Crispy edges? Yes! Soft center? Yes!

Overly greasy residue? No thank you! 
It was after seeing the first batch that I knew that I must have done something wrong. I re-read the recipe's ingredients and had my doh! moment. In a truly amateur mistake, I had only scooped 1 1/4 cups of flour into the bowl, rather than the 1 3/4 cups needed.  Oops. The recipe explains that cutting back on the flour in the recipe (when compared to the Tollhouse version) helps improve the texture, but I clearly went a little overboard in that area!

The missing flour added and working with the amount of dough I had left, I made standard-sized cookies that were roughly 1/3 of the size that the Cook's Illustrated recipe calls for.

Now this was more like it.

While the smaller size doesn't allow you to enjoy a greater ratio of crispy edge to soft center, they were still the perfect amount of chewy for me:

Not only that, they looked special. If you look real close, you can see specks in the cookies that come from the browned butter. They remind me of the vanilla bean specks you see sometimes in ice cream, and ridiculous or not, are a visual cue indicating that these cookies are full of flavor.

After an official taste taste (ahem), I was thinking hands-down that this recipe had earned a spot in my recipe books for having the best texture and subtle toffee flavor. This picture just calls for a cold glass of milk.
What happened to that initial batch of minimal flour cookies? After they cooled, I stuck them overnight on paper towels to absorb as much excess grease as possible. And when I brought them into work, my coworkers raved about how good they were, even when warned that I had made a slight error in the amount of flour. Which makes me wonder how much better these cookies will get the next time I make them, with the right amount of ingredients from the start and taking care to use three tablespoons of dough to get perfect large cookie (as opposed to the 1-tablespoon-of-dough cookies I ended up with).  

My final conclusion - this recipe is good enough to convince any baker to abandon their rut of doing the same old chocolate chip cookie each time.


Megan said...

It's like you did your own ingredient test... now we know what happens if we cut back on flour. I'm sure those cookies were still fabulous, and the fresh batch looks great as well!

bcallegra said...

Stupid blogger deleted your comments, but I was able to repost from my email.

Foley Monster and Pocket:
"Oh wow, cool. Good luck"

FM&P - thanks for the well wishes!

and Megan:
"It's like you did your own ingredient test... now we know what happens if we cut back on flour. I'm sure those cookies were still fabulous, and the fresh batch looks great as well! "

Megan, it really did feel like I accidently embodied the spirit of America's Test Kitchen by leaving out the flour! I have to say, both versions still tasted great.