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October 09, 2007

Consider the Humble Chocolate Chip Cookie


Regan Daley's Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies

After weeks of poring over new cookbooks and testing out new recipes, I suddenly felt the urge to do something simple and familiar. Maybe it's the increasingly nippy fall mornings, the grey clouds trundling across the sky like a soft cuddly blanket being unrolled, but I felt like making something warm and chocolate chip cookies. No fancy twiddling around or exotic ingredients, just fresh, fragrant promises of happiness from the oven.

That was what I intended, anyway. Then I decided I might want to take a look at my tried-and-true cookie recipe and compare to some of the other recipes in my new cookbooks. Maybe do a taste comparison of recipes. And while I was at it, maybe I could see if I could incorporate any of the lessons I'd learned while working in a professional bakery to improve my cookies at home.

What was supposed to be a quick batch of cookies turned into a marathon bakeoff between four cookie recipes, along with a compilation of all the little cookie-making tips I'd accumulated over the years. Although I really (seriously!) wish I could share all the fruits of my oven's labor with you, I figure I could at least share what I discovered (not the least realization being that you really can eat too many cookies in one sitting, no matter how delicious they are). So following I present some of my cookie-baking tips, along with an analysis of how many ways you can make a chocolate chip cookie.

Cookie Basics:

Measure accurately - I'm sure that most home bakers by now know the importance of careful and consistent measurement of ingredients, so I won't dwell on the basics. I will note that I do just about all my measuring on a scale, foregoing the imprecision of measuring cups (I do still use measuring spoons for small amounts). With so many inexpensive digital scales available these days, I would really recommend that anyone who is even a halfway avid baker invest in one - you'll be amazed at how much easier it makes measuring ingredients and how much more confident you'll feel about getting the quantities correct. I'm trying to post all my recipes on Dessert First with both imperial and metric measurements, and I'm also planning on putting up some standard conversions as well, although there are plenty of excellent converters on the internet already if you take a look around.

Have ingredients at the right temperature: It's best for all the ingredients in a recipe to be at around the same temperature (unless otherwise specified) - usually this means having butter and eggs out of the refrigerator and at room temperature. What does room temperature mean, though? For butter, this means between 65 to 70 degrees F: soft enough for you to make an impression in the surface when you press firmly, but not melting, squishy, or oily. If it's too firm, you won't be able to cream it properly because the sugar will be unable to work into the butter and aerate it. If it's too soft, it will be unable to retain as much air and fluff up, leading to heavy, dense, greasy product. Eggs will also incorporate into batter better if they are at room temperature; if you've neglected to take them out of the refrigerator soon enough, you can place them in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes to warm them up.


Sherry Yard's Quintessential Chocolate Chip Cookies

Making cookies

Cream butter and sugar together properly - How can the words "light and fluffy" strike fear into the hearts of so many? If you're practical-minded like me, finding out the science behind light and fluffy will help you figure out what to look for. When you are creaming butter and sugar together, you are cutting the sugar into the butter, creating little pockets of air in the fat - aerating it. It's this incorporation of air into butter that determines if you will get a tender, light cookie or a dense, leaden one. So how do you know if you've done it right? The creamed butter and sugar should increase in volume and lighten in color to almost white. You should not be able to see sugar particles in the butter. It is possible to overcream butter - it will become shiny and eventually break down - but hopefully you won't have neglected the mixer for that long! Also, using butter at the proper temperature as discussed above will ensure you can get your mixture light and fluffy in no time at all.

Practice uniform cookie size - Of course, the size you make your balls of cookie dough will determine how fast they bake, but it's also important to try keep the size as uniform as possible so all the cookies will bake the same. For the truly meticulous, the best method is to weigh out blobs of dough on a scale and aim for the same weight each time - this might be an interesting exercise if you're trying to figure out how much dough goes into your ideal cookie size. If that seems like too much trouble for you, using a cookie scoop works just fine as well.

Know the difference between your baking pans - Sometimes when I'm short of sheets I want to grab any flat surface in the kitchen. But it helps to know how different types of pans affect the baking of cookies. Cookie sheets, or baking sheets, are rimless on two or three sides and allow excellent circulation of air around the dough. Jelly roll pans are rimmed and work nicely for cookie baking, but you should be aware that baking time might be longer because the rim will block some of the heat from the cookie dough. I have some professional grade half-sheet pans made of heavy-gauge aluminum that are 12"x18" in size; they work wonderfully as cookie sheets. Regardless of what you use, it's best if it is as sturdy and durable as possible; flimsy lightweight cookie sheets may warp in the oven and lead to uneven baking. Also avoid dark colored surfaces as they may overcook the bottoms of your cookies before the tops are done. Aluminum sheets are ideal.


Dorie Greenspan's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies


Know your oven - Every oven is different, so get to know yours and its lovable or not so lovable idiosyncrasies. Does the temperature run high or low? Where are the hot spots? In order to ensure even baking of all cookies, I usually rotate my sheets halfway through the baking time, both from back and from top to bottom rack so all the cookies get even heating.

Always check before the specified time - Even if I think I've figured out my oven's quirks, I still look in on my cookies a minute or so before they're supposed to be done. This is to account for any variances on my part in making the batter; after working in a bakery and making cookies day after day, it's surprising how you may think you're making the same recipe in exactly the same way each time, but a little change in the temperature of the ingredients, how long you beat the batter, how big you shape the cookies, can lead to very different results. It's tempting to just set the timer and forget about it, but I like to err on the side of caution and check in to see how the cookies are doing. Don't open the oven during the first few minutes of baking though, and don't open the oven too many times or you'll lower the temperature of the interior too much and prevent the cookies from baking properly.

Pull out cookies before they are completely done - This was the hardest lesson for me to learn back when I first started making cookies in the kitchen. I would pull out a sheet of golden brown cookies, nice and firm to the touch, only to have them turn into rock-hard pucks as they cooled down. Since cookies will continue to bake as they sit on the sheets, if it's that soft chewiness you're looking for, you'll need to pull them out when the edges are just turning brown at the edges and are lightly golden on top. They shouldn't look raw in the center, but if they still soft to the touch they will stay soft after cooling. If you're looking for crisp cookies, you can leave them in the oven for a few minutes longer, but I've found that some recipes work better for thin crispy cookies than others - see below.

Don't reuse hot sheets - I know it's tempting, especially because most of us only have a few cookie sheets and usually a lot of dough, but reusing hot sheets right out of the oven will melt the dough before it can bake properly. Instead, rinse the sheets off in the sink with cold water to cool them down before reusing them.


Kate Zuckerman's Crispy, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

All right, now that I've gotten past general tips on perfecting your cookie-baking technique, on to the specifics. I compared chocolate chip cookie recipes from four of my favorite cookbook authors: Kate Zuckerman, Dorie Greenspan, Sherry Yard, and Regan Daley. Since the amounts of butter, eggs, baking soda, and salt were pretty much the same, as well as the methods of making and baking the dough, I used these similarities as a baseline to see the difference varying amounts of sugar and flour would make.

Ingredients      Kate      Dorie       Sherry      Regan

Butter               4 oz      4 oz          4 oz           4 oz

                       (113g)  (113g)       (113g)        (113g)

Eggs                 1/2*      1              1               1

Flour                 7/8 cup  1 cup       3/4 cup      1 1/2 cup + 1


                        (120g)    (140g)     (100g)        (222g)

Sugar                none       1/2 cup    3/8 cup     1/4 cup

                                      (100g)      (74g)         (52g)      

Brown sugar      3/4 cup    1/3 cup    1/8 cup    1/2 cup

                        (170g)     (72g)        (28g)        (110g)

Baking soda      1/2 tsp    1/2 tsp     1/4 tsp      1/2 tsp

Salt                  1/8 tsp    1/2 tsp     1/8 tsp    1/4 tsp

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

Choc. chips       4 oz          6 oz         4 oz           8 oz

                        (116g)     (174g)      (116g)        (232g)

* plus 1/2 egg white

How were the results? Well, the first and most noticeable difference is that Daley's recipe uses almost twice as much flour as any of the other recipes. This led to a firmer, cakey texture and a cookie that held its shape the best of all four - it hardly spread at all in the oven and retained its roundness and heft (see top photo). This is definitely for those who like to bite into a thick and substantial cookie. I've used this cookie several times before and it was always well received.

Zuckerman's recipe is the only one made with just brown sugar, and it baked up exactly as she described: flat, chewy, with strong, addictive caramelly-butterscotchy flavor. All that brown sugar also means this cookie will stay moist for a while in the cookie jar. Greenspan's cookie is pretty similar to Zuckerman's but not quite as thin or chewy - these two cookies were the most similar to each other of the four, and most like what I consider the current trend for chocolate chip cookies: flattish, craggy-surfaced with chips, crisp at the edges and chewy to very slightly underbaked at the center. In short, delicious. It was very interesting to see how varying proportions of sugar affected the texture of the cookie.

Yard's cookie is an interesting middle road between the other three: it uses the least flour and sugar, and the resulting cookie is very light and airy, almost like a madeleine. It also uses the least amount of brown sugar, so it has the least caramel flavor; compared to the other three it tasted more of vanilla cookie laced with chocolate chips. This is lovely, delicate little cookie - I don't think I've ever had a chocolate chip cookie like this one before.

Using the same ingredients for four seemingly similar recipes, it was amazing to compare how differently they came out. So what's the conclusion? That there is room out there for many fabulous chocolate chip cookies, and plenty of freedom for you to experiment in your kitchen and find your perfect recipe. I liked all four of the cookies, but I'm thinking of tweaking the proportions of flour and sugar a little more to get the cookie I'm envisioning. Fortunately for me, there appears to quite the eager audience for the also-rans; otherwise I'd be awash in all the cookies from my experiments!

Oh, I almost forgot one last cookie-making tip: chocolate chip cookie dough freezes beautifully. So if you don't think you'll be able to finish off a batch of cookies in one day, scoop the leftover dough into balls, place securely in a plastic bag, and store in the freezer. You can then enjoy fresh-baked cookies whenever you desire!

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If you can bear one more round, I have a recipe that I have tweaked for years, combining hints from Yard, Alton Brown, and Shirley Corriher, and also adding the secret, revelatory ingredient of cashew butter, and I swear it is mindblowing. The cashew butter lends it an incredible chewiness in the center. The dough is also not quite so sweet, so you can really taste the chocolate (break out the Callebaut for these!!) PLEASE try it out, I think you'll be amazed:

-- 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled to tepid
-- scant 2/3 cup cashew butter (grind salted cashews until they're like peanut butter)
-- 1 egg plus 1 yolk
-- 3/4 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
-- 1/3 cup white sugar
-- 2 Tablespoons light corn syrup
-- 2 tsp vanilla
-- 1/2 tsp salt (use a bit more if you used unsalted cashews)
-- 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour (measured using dip and sweep method)
-- 1/2 tsp baking soda
-- 1 1/2 cups chocolate chunks (chunks are WAY better than chips, use more if you're a chocolate addict
-- optional : 1 cup walnut hunks

Preheat to 375. Sift together dry ingredients. Stir the sugars, corn syrup, and vanilla into the melted and cooled butter until well blended. Add the cashew butter, then the eggs and yolk, mixing after each addition. Lastly, add the dry ingredients, mix until almost incorporated, then add the chips and nuts. Mix just until incorporated (by the way, I find this recipe comes together much better with a wooden spoon than a mixer. Overmixing does not suit this recipe well). Let the dough sit about 10 minutes to let the flour fully absorb the water in the butter. Then make LARGE, rough, craggy lumps (I can usually only fit 9 or 10 per sheet) and bake until just turning golden brown (probably around 14 minutes, but everyone's oven is different so just look for that golden brown hue, which is enhanced by the corn syrup. I'm a big fan of doing one "test cookie" to nail down the right baking time before you risk a whole batch).

Hi Anita! We must be on the same brain waves as I had done some marathon bakeoff with macarons. I also mentioned measuring ingredients carefully. I love that you did the comparisons and describe how one cookie turned out against the other. I think I like Kate's flat chewy cookies too. Now I wanna make me a batch!

I just made and blogged about chocolate chip cookies as well, but your post has so much information in it!! I have decided that the Original Toll House cookie recipe is the one for me, but how interesting it is to see how these recipes compare to each other!

What a wonderful, extraordinarily thorough post. And in passing you've given us 4 cookie recipes! I think I love you.

"happiness from the oven"...all look lovely!

What an incredibly awesome and informative post! Much appreciated. I've been trying to find the perfect cookie recipes (ie. the best oatmeal cookie, the best shortbread, the best choco chip, etc). It's so hard to find a "best" when there are so many variations on one type of cookie, especially the chocolate chip cookie. Now I feel the need to try out all the cookies you just mentioned! The cookies in that first picture are my favourite.

Thank you for taking the time to write and post this. It answers many questions I've had over the years about baking cookies but I don't get to do it all that often so this was a great read.

Thank you so much for such an informative post. You answered a lot of questions that I have had for years, but felt stupid asking. I never could figure out when my butter and sugar was light and fluffy!

I just put up a chocolate chip cookie post as well, I used an Anna Olson recipe! There's always room for another chocolate chip cookie...

I am going to bookmark this post, because it's like a cookie reference guide! I know all too well the temptation to use hot cookie sheets, but know that you're right...just don't do it! For the sake of the cookies!

Wow, I am impressed with all the information provided in that post ! Now, no more excuses for making bad cookies !!

Now that was a very cool/helpful post for the home baker! I'm sure it will be greatly appreciated.

Love the tips and information. And of course love the pictures of the delicious cookies. What a yummy experiment.

There is nothing better than a warm chocolate chip cookie! Thanks for testing out four different recipes, they all sound great! Also, thanks for the basic tips, great reminders!

I have a recipe I've come up with over the years (which I'm sure I'll post at some point) that is closest to Dorie's but slightly different. However, I've *always* wanted to make Regan Daley's because the huge amount of flour intrigued me. They look just like the cookies I used to get at a local bakery as a kid! Thanks for the inspiration -- I'll have to try them!

I loved this post! I am such a chocolate chip cookie snob that I was actually fascinated by the differences. I searched for years for the perfect recipe and ended up settling on Cook's Illustrated's version. But I think the Greenspan one here might be exactly the kind I love. Can I just follow the ingredient amounts in your chart with the standard methods, or are there weird steps?

Terrific post -- I love seeing the differences between these undoubtedly delicious chocolate chip cookies.

i'm in awe! this is amazing! a much appreciated guide to baking! i'm a novice baker, and was astonished to read some of the above! i didn't even know how important it is to have the right cookie sheet...

You've pegged the amazingness of chocolate chip cookies in this post. Thanks for the compilation!

well done! thank you for a wonderful cookie checklist!

thank you for bringing the best of chocolate chip cookies amongst the cooks, Anita. sometimes we need this type of post once in a while :)

This is so exciting.....enormous!

It must just be the time of year. I also made chocolate chip cookies last night and posted about it. :)
I'm happy it's the time of year to fire up the oven again.

Beautiful photographs...I'm such a sucker for desserts tied in pretty ribbon :)

One of the best blog posts ever. Period.

So do you have a favorite cookie recipe? I agree - this is a terrific post. I've been hunting for the perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe too!

Excellent post. I'm always surprised to see the differences in similar recipes. I even did one of these on macarons and had the same sort of revelations.

It's nice to see the results and be able to more accurately come up with your own recipes from experiments like this one. Keep up the good work!

this is the best article ever. Makes me want to do bake-offs more often on my blog. Hmmm, don't know what I'm going to start with...

Love xxx
- fanny

ps. thanks for the get-well wishes. I really appreciate it.

A very impressive project. Keep up the good work. Nothing seems to warm the heart like a hot, fresh from the oven, chocolate chip cookie.

Wow - thanks! This is huge! Wonderful!

What a fabulous post! I will be saving this for future reference!

Thank you so much for the recipe - it sounds enticing and I can't wait to try it out!

I loved your macaron marathon too! The lengths we go to in pursuit of the perfect recipe!

Chocolate chip cookies is something I can never get tired of! The Toll House recipe is definitely a classic!

Thank you! I totally believe everyone has their own personal best cookie; you can try them out and find your own!

Thank you! There was a lot of happiness coming from my oven!

Thank you! It is true, there are so many things to consider - I didn't even do things like adding oatmeal or other nuts to the recipe. I think sometimes we need a "wardrobe" of cookies to pick out the best one for our mood!

Thank you! I'm glad you enjoyed it; I thought it would be helpful for myself as well to compile all the lessons I've learned!

Thanks! It took me the longest time to figure out light and fluffy too - such a vague term!

Your recipe sounds great! There are always more recipes to try- the quest never ends!

Thank you! I'm glad you found the post helpful, it's the result of many batches of cookies - some good, some burned!

foodie froggy,
Thank you! Well, hopefully no completely messed up cookies - I've just learned to keep a better watch on mine!

Thank you! I'm glad you thought it was helpful! It sure was a big project though - might be a while before I tackle another "comprehensive" post like that!

Thank you! I do love that in baking, your experiments are so delicious!

Thank you! I hope you enjoying tetsing them out yourself and choosing your favorite!

Thank you! Both Dorie's and Regan's are great - I used Regan's for years but now I think I might decrease the flour a bit to make it a little chewier. The perfect recipe is always changing!

Thanks! And you keep reminding me that there are all these other recipes I didn't get to try! The method for all them is pretty much the same: cream butter, add sugar, then eggs and vanilla, and then sifted dries and chips. Baking is 325 degrees F for about 10 minutes. You can e-mail me for more specifics if you like!

Thank you! it is amazing how many different ways a chocolate chip cookie can come out and still be delicious!

Thank you and I'm glad you found it helpful! I learned a lot of this over the years through trial and error!

Thank you! Chocolate chip cookies are indeed something I will never get tired of!

Thank you! I had fun researching and documenting the results, glad you found it useful!

Thank you! Sometimes the simplest baked good can become the most challenging! I'd love to do another post like this - maybe in a while after I recover from all the cookie baking:)

Big Boys,
Thank you! It was a enormous baking effort to test all those recipes!

I think chocolate chip cookie moods do go around - glad your batch came out so beautifully!

Thank you! It was an interesting challenge to think up four different ways to present the cookies!

Aw, thanks! It makes all that marathon baking session all worthwhile:)

I think my favorite depends on my mood. Right now I think it's Dorie's, although I'm aiming to create a cross between hers and Regan's - more experimenting to come!

Thanks so much! Macarons are a great one to experiment with too - I've seen a lot of amazing posts on them in the blogosphere!

I wish I had time to do more bake-offs too, I love the experimenting and refining of recipes. Can't wait to see what you'll do:) Hope you are feeling better too and all recovered:)

Thank you! It was a fun project, got a little out of control, but results were well worth it!

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it, I had fun doing it!

Thanks, I'm glad you found it helpful! Happy baking to you!

After reading this post i felt like eating cookies!!! i just couldn't wait to get home to bake some!!!
And after reading alll this tips of you the cookies where great! (used original Toll House chocolate chips cookies)

I'm about to post on chocolate chip cookies... And it's interested to see your 'experiment'. I'm sure all were worth eating, if for no other reason than to compare.

I use a recipe that uses melted butter and a 2:1 brown sugar to white sugar ratio. Most parts are similar, but it's interesting how the same ingredients in different ratios and states can make such a difference.

Hooray for the great cookie comparison! I love this post, and all the results look so fabulous. I've been testing chocolate chip cookie recipes for a long time, but never all at once. I've just sort of taken what I liked from here and there. At one point, I had what I thought was my favorite recipe, then I tried one with aspects I liked even better. Thank you for such a good description of how these batches came out!

Hi Anita,
I've just made Dorie's cookies and they sooo good. Very different from my usual choc chip cookie recipes but equally yummy.
Just love how thin and chewy they get.

Great analysis. I did something like that on sugar cookies once. I have discovered that shortening will also produce cookies that don't go flat. But I'm a die-hard butter lover, and I like my cookies flat and chewy. I didn't realize that using just brown sugar would make the cookie chewier. I'm keen to make Kate's and Dorie's versions.

I'm so glad you got some great chocolate chip cookies out of this!

I think I might have tried a recipe with melted butter before but I forgot how it turned out. Can't wait to see how your experiments turn out!

thank you! The cookie quest seems neverending- I find a recipe I like and then I try another one and it's good too. I guess that's the fun part!

So glad to hear you liked the cookies! I think it's great to have many different recipes for different moods:)

Wow, it's great to hear what others have discovered about cookies too! I'd love to hear what you think of Kate and Dorie's cookies!

I'm a little late commenting here, but I wanted to say what a great, informative post this is. I've always wanted to do a comparison with CC cookies, but never have. You organized it so well. Thanks for all the tips too!

Just discovered this...well done. I have a question regarding mailing chocolate chip cookies and which type of plastic bag works best. I use cello bags but they often arrive too soft and crumbly. Any suggestions? Thanks.

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