Cookie of the Month: ‘Testing’ chocolate chip recipes

I’m pretty sure my baking life began with chocolate chip cookies. They (and their M&M variation) are the first I remember my mom making, my sister and I lying on the kitchen linoleum to take in that distinctive warm, vanilla-toffee aroma as my mother fanned the giant cookie sheet back and forth to cool it, the room rumbling with aluminum thunder. They were the first cookies I learned to make, too, as a seven-year-old who asked if she could make a batch, and soon her world was changed as she worked from the back of a yellow bag to the big yellow Tupperware bowl where the cookies were both stirred up and stored.

The lure of going back to simpler days, to crawl back into that cookie bowl, in times like these, is understandable. Baking has always provided me that comfort, and while my emotions rose, then settled (and would occasionally flare up again) with this pandemic, comfort — and cookies — were always calling. There was time, the mood was right. I mean, I didn’t really need to bake cookies, but it’s what I did (creatively speaking), had done, for most of my life — whether it was right or not, important or not, needed or not.

But in part to justify my time/ingredients/calories spent, I approached my cookie-pf-the-month for April from a research/recipe-testing standpoint. Some highly touted, quite famous chocolate chip cookie recipes existed out there. Probably more than a dozen claimed to be THE best. I’ve made some of these — still not quite finding the holy chocolate chip grail — and I had still not tried more than a few left on my “to-do” list. So this past month, a month of separation and isolation (which is a large theme in my life, anyway, so not too terrible an adjustment), I settled into my comfort zone to test three lauded chocolate chip cookie recipes.

A note on taste/texture preferences: Everyone has a favored style of chocolate chip cookie. Some like them thin and crispy others, chewy, others, cake-y. Some like them with extra chocolate; some like the addition of oats and nuts. For me, a good chocolate chip cookie is soft, chewy and slightly cake-y, not thin or crunchy. It is also distinctively salty (which, with baking soda and salt in most recipes is one signature flavor in these cookies…a chocolate chip cookie should never be too sweet). Another key flavor I think necessary  for good chocolate chip cookies is a somewhat toffee-type flavor that comes from a good amount of brown sugar and vanilla extract.

I’ll confess I liked all three of the cookie recipes I tried, but I’ll describe below how they were made and some pros and cons for each. I have provided either a link to the recipe or the recipe itself (if the link required a subscription).

What’s up, Jacques?

I came to famed pastry chef and chocolatier Jacques Torres’ chocolate chip cookie recipe through word-of-mouth, in the form of Internet comments. Nearly every other chocolate chip cookie recipe I looked at (and I’ve looked at a lot) mentioned Torres’ recipe as the one-and-only that anyone needed. I found an adapted version of the recipe on The New York Times website and decided it was time to give it a try.

One thing to consider when making this recipe is that you will likely need to buy flour…not even just regular all-purpose flour (which is seemingly in short supply lately), but both bread flour and cake flour. I happened to have bread flour and scored a box of cake flour. I’m not exactly sure why these two in particular, combined, are the base of this recipe.  One would think that regular all-purpose flour would be the happy medium between light-as-air cake flour and the more protein-filled and glutenous bread flour. I’m not all that scientific with baking, so I’m not one to judge or illuminate here. Sometimes it does seem things are made deliberately varied in recipes to be different or “original,” but I was willing to give this one a go to see how it all turned out.

This recipe, like so many in the chocolate chip family, stirs up similarly. Dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt) are combined, while softened butter, brown and white sugars are “creamed” in the bowl of a stand mixer. Eggs and vanilla are added to the creamed mixture, then the dry ingredients are blended in until just mixed. 

Chocolate chips (I have no preference for chips…using everything from Nestle Tollhouse Semisweet to Guittard) are added to the mixture,  and for this recipe, the bowl is then covered with plastic wrap and placed in the refrigerator for a looooonnnnng chilling time (at least 24 to 36 hours). This step did not deter me at all. I understand a thing or two now about dough-chilling and successful cookies. The dry ingredients have more time to completely absorb the wet to improve the cookies’ texture and, I believe, even the flavor. The dough is also more solidified when chilled, keeping it from spreading to fast and too thin.

A hefty ice cream scoop was needed to dole out the cookie dough. I reluctantly added the instructed finish of flaky sea salt (most chocolate chip cookies are salty anyway, due to having both salt and baking soda). It seems these days, everything — sweet or salty — is given a sea-salt sprinkling, but I went along with this step, anyway.

The cookies were done in about 20 minutes. The instructions said to leave the cookies on the sheet for an additional 10 minutes once removed from the oven. I understood this after noticing the cookies were decidedly pale in their centers right out of the oven, but as they sat, they developed a nice, even golden-brown as they continued to bake a little while still on the sheet (good to know!).

These made beautiful. picture-perfect, uniform, nearly cookbook photo-worthy cookies! So pretty, these 5-inch beauties also lived up to the ideal in a chewy texture and thick, but not too thick, with all the salty/toffee tastes beloved in a chocolate chip cookie.

Pros: 

—These match the  perfect chocolate chip cookie “look,” with ideal shape and thickness.

—The balance of dough-to-chip ratio seems just right.

—The cookies are chewy and fudge-y all at once in a texture that celebrates that sought-after toffee taste.

Cons: 

—The recipe requires two types of flour that aren’t common pantry staples.

—The dough has a long chilling time (which, in the end, may have led to their success, but isn’t friendly for the impatient cookie bakers out there).

—It’s a salty cookie that becomes too salty with the sea-salt finish…I’d recommend leaving this out.

For the recipe: go to: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/1015819-chocolate-chip-cookies

The ‘Tree’ that keeps on giving

The Internet was abuzz a few weeks into our pandemic stay-at-home orders with the announcement that DoubleTree by Hilton was releasing its famous chocolate chip cookie recipe. The cookies have been the dealbreaker for many deciding on a hotel…one gets a fresh warm cookie upon check-in, and you can buy canisters of them to take home. So some joy amid all the sad news that we could now make these delights ourselves.

I seem to recall a number of years ago looking for this recipe and running across a copycat version. One unusual ingredient, in that recipe and in this one officially released by the hotel chain, is a wee (as in 1/4 teaspoon) of lemon juice. Not really sure what this might provide, except maybe a little brightening flavor lift to make the cookie a standout.

These cookies also include oats (always a nice way to add health and heft to cookie recipes), a  pinch of cinnamon and walnuts. 

The dough, stirred up easily and in the similar chocolate-chip cookie method. was a thick one and does not call for chilling.

These, too, made large cookies, portioned out in a three-tablespoon scoop.

These baked at an unusually low temp for cookies — 300°.They also baked for about 20 to 23 minutes or until golden brown. These end up slightly thick and puffy — which was perfectly OK with me, but a head’s up to those who like thinner cookies.

The oats, cinnamon and walnuts, with a soft, but heartier texture, gave these cookies a more wholesome stance…a cookie you could have for breakfast, perhaps. I think mine ended up thicker than  those found at the hotel, but the taste was the same. Full of melting chocolate, they do give one the feel of being pampered and comforted, even if not in a hotel setting.

Pros:

—Oats, cinnamon and walnuts vary up the texture and flavor to these cookies and almost make them seem healthy.

—They stir up quickly, with no chilling time.

—One large cookie is enough to satisfy you.

Cons:

—Slightly drier texture might not be ideal to those who like chewier, fudgier flavors.

—Cookies do not spread and puff up to a thick, almost scone-like shape.

Recipe: https://newsroom.hilton.com/static-doubletree-reveals-cookie-recipe.htm

A Neiman Marcus ‘markup’

I’ve long read about the $250 cookie recipe, a myth in the baking world that has exalted the oatmeal-chocolate chip cookie that came out of it to near cult status. The legend goes that a lady was having lunch at Neiman Marcus in Dallas and liked the chocolate chip cookies so much, she asked the waitress if she could have the recipe. She was told she could have it for “two-fifty,” and thought that meant $2.50, but later discovered her Neiman Marcus account was billed nearly $300. Of course, none of this was true, but it made for a great story and a marked-up cookie recipe has some sort of exclusivity and mystique to it, even though it is now completely free and available to everyone.

I’d heard lots of good things about this cookie and had printed out the recipe awhile ago for when the time would come that I could test out some chocolate chip cookie recipes…and that time came (have to look at some sort of silver lining, right?).

This cookie also includes oats — a hefty amount of them, which are ground to a near-flour consistency in the blender or food processor. 

The ground oats are blended with the other dry ingredients, and by the volume of all of these (2-1/2 cups oats and 2 cups of flour), it looked to make a considerable amount of cookies.

Butter and the requisite brown and white sugars are creamed and then mixed with eggs and vanilla.

To those the dry ingredients were added to make a thick dough.

An unusual step in these cookies was the addition of grated Hershey bar (milk chocolate). My grater shaved the chocolate into fairly fine flecks, which would likely melt into the cookies as they baked.

Chocolate chips and nuts (for these, I decided on chopped pecans) were added to the dough to finish.

These cookies were portioned into more  “regular” size, about a heaping tablespoonful scoop. One could argue about the glass half full or empty with this…either you could look at it like you would be getting more cookies (and smaller cookies seem more harmless) or that you would be baking longer. I didn’t mind either way…I had three big cookie sheets I swapped in and out of the oven and re-filled (no fanning the sheets over anyone…that was my privileged memory).

These were also a puffier cookie. I ended up flattening the dough balls a little to make the final cookie a little less rounded. No matter what shape, they were delicious. I do believe the oats ground into flour really elevated the taste and texture. They were soft, but chewy with enough chocolate per bite, the pecans adding extra buttery richness to my final chocolate chip cookie (for now), worth, at the least, my time.

Pros:

—The ground oats (into almost-oat flour) provided a boost to both flavor and texture.

—Great rendition of the salty toffee tastes in an ideal chocolate chip cookie.

—Recipe makes a large quantity (almost six dozen)  of smaller cookies

Cons:

—Two countertop appliances (blender/foodprocessor and stand mixer) must be employed for the cookies.

—The cookies don’t spread or flatten out much…I ended up flattening the dough balls by hand a bit before baking to get a slightly flatter cookie.

—Grating the Hershey milk chocolate bar into the cookie dough seemed a bit tedious and didn’t seem to add much to the flavor (to me).

The $250 Cookie Recipe

From The New York Tiimes

 (https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/9465-the-250-cookie-recipe)

Makes about 5 to 6 dozen cookies

  • 1 cup butter
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 ½ cups oatmeal
  • 2 cups flour
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 12 ounces chocolate chips
  • 1 4-ounce milk chocolate bar
  • 1 ½ cups chopped nuts

Heat oven to 375°.

Cream together butter and both sugars. Stir in eggs and vanilla.

Finely grind oatmeal in a blender or food processor. Combine the oatmeal, flour, salt, baking powder and soda in a medium bowl, and slowly add it to the wet ingredients. Beat just until combined. Grate chocolate bar using a microplane grater and add it, along with chocolate chips and nuts to the batter.

Mix just to combine.

Drop by heaping tablespoonfuls, 2 inches apart, on a greased cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes.

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