Can you believe that I’ve never made these before?
Its true. I set out this week to tackle the “chocolate chip cookie thing” and realized that I had never actually made one before. Weird, huh? I’ve made lots of cookies. Just not this kind. Lots of people make lots of chocolate chip cookies, they are fairly ubiquitous, and everyone seems to have a differing opinion on what makes a good one. Can you blame me for avoiding them until now? But then I read around the blogs and saw this quote from a New York Times article: “Like the omelet, which many believe to be the true test of a chef, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the baker’s crucible.” I knew I could avoid it no longer. I’d already tackled the omelet and so I knew what was meant here. Just read the reviews on any recipe site and you will see how widely the results can be for bakers working the exact same recipe! For a cookie where there are only a few universal ingredients it is in the subtleties –the nuance of technique — that the “good enough” is made into the “truly great”. We live in a world after all, where the question of “chewy”, “cakey”, or “thin” can pit worker against co-worker and split families. This is what one is up against when one decides to bake this American classic for the very first time. Can you blame me for waiting so long?
So I offer this recipe up after what was only my first try. It is the recipe that is that good, not me. However, not exactly being a novice in the kitchen, I did know enough to do a bit of reading and research before cracking an egg. I sleuthed my way through a few recipe books, blogs and websites, reading comments and reviews on dozens of different recipes all the while trying to determine which comments came from experienced bakers and which came from “newbies”. “I didn’t have butter so I used margarine and boy were these disappointing!” No duh! Also, while I’m at it, if a reviewer says a particular cookie recipe makes lousy cookies and you can see they are living in the Sierra Nevada, move along and pay no attention. It is probably the baker and not the recipe at fault since so few “mountain people” know how to adjust a recipe. I like chewy chocolate chip cookies with just a enough firm to hold together but will still keep moist inside after a day or two. I settled on this recipe here from Alton Brown who usually does a really good job with classic recipes. I only changed it slightly in that I specified a 65% cacao chocolate chip and he doesn’t tell you how long to chill the dough. (2 hours minimum.) Remember how I said it was the small things? Well then, splurge on the chocolate and use good quality and the best butter you can get. The bread flour will help the cookies keep some rise and shape while baking but these will still be good if AP is all you have. Being the purist I gather, Alton left out the walnuts and so did I. I wanted to evaluate the base cookie itself before I adding anything. These definitely have the strong flavor needed to support walnuts (by special request of my husband) or (gulp) pecans.
Be sure to consider these tips I think are critical to this recipe. The dough must be chilled thoroughly. At least 2 hours. Since you melt the butter rather than mix it in solid like in most recipes, the dough needs to be chilled back up or the cookies will end up flat and oily. Part of the reason these are good is that the warm butter starts in on the sugar so don’t shortcut this part or you will be sorry. If you don’t have the time to fully chill it, leave it in the refrigerator overnight and scoop and bake the next day. In fact, if you can, plan on leaving it in overnight. Cookie dough is a lot like soup in that it gets better the next day. That is a little cookie secret you don’t often see spelled out in recipes but I will share it with you here. The flavors will get just a bit more intense and the bake will get more evenly golden without drying out. If you like, you could scoop this dough into balls and flash freeze them in a freezer bag to bake out individual portions on demand. (Bake at 375 for 15 min). Also, before I forget, be sure to melt the butter slowly, in a broad saucepan over low heat. DO NOT LET IT BUBBLE or it will separate and cause you to have oily cookies.
Chocolate Chip Cookies (“Chewy Style”)