Monday, August 11, 2008

The cookie heard 'round the world!

As usual, I am a bit behind the bandwagon on this one, but today we shall explore the infamous New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie that has been burning up these internets since the article was published a mere month ago. Typically, one chocolate chip cookie recipe is fairly similar to the next in terms of ingredients and proportions, but a tweak here and there can change the character of the resulting cookie, as can differences in technique. What makes this recipe unique can be reduced to six bullet points (if you don't want to take the time to read the article--though I highly recommend it):

1) using a combination of flours (bread and cake)
2) using high-quality chocolate disks rather than chips
3) letting the dough rest and chill for 24-36 hours
4) making the cookies large (up to six ounces!)
5) sprinkling them with a little salt before baking
6) serving them warm

Let's discuss each item in more detail, shall we? First of all, though I did use both bread and cake flours as directed when I made the cookies, I can't see why all-purpose wouldn't work just as well, saving you a trip the store for specialized ingredients. After all, that's pretty much what all-purpose is, right? Bread plus cake flour! I truly believe that you won't notice any difference in texture using your old friend, AP. Secondly, we all know that using better chocolate makes a better chocolate chip cookie. If you don't live in some podunk town, and you have access to and the means for Jacques Torres disks or Valrhona fèves, then knock yourselves out! But the rest of us in the real world will be using Ghiradelli 60% chips like normal human beings, and the cookies will still be DARN GOOD.

Now letting the dough rest for up to a day and a half is probably this cookie's claim to fame and what has everyone's lips a-flappin' or keyboards a-bangin'. Is it necessary? Well, the cookies would still be good if baked straight away. But when you let them rest at least overnight, the dry goods have a chance to absorb the wet ingredients fully, thus improving the texture. And if you can hold out for 24 or even 36 hours, the dough develops some butterscotch or caramel undertones that are truly outstanding. I highly recommend this step, regardless of what recipe you use.

The fourth point concerns the size of the cookie. The recipe below advocates 3 1/2 ounces, though some bakers make them almost double that size! Personally, I find a six-ouncer to be excessive as I boldly proclaimed when making the Levain Bakery knock-offs awhile back. I prefer four ounces, which is still quite large, and certainly big enough to maintain a variety of textures--from near doughiness in the middle to chewiness on the outer edges. This is the point of making them large, but I don't think we need to go overboard and have a whole day's calories in one cookie! Though the NYT article does not come right out and say so, another important method in making superlative chocolate chip cookies (as the Levain ladies taught us) is to underbake them a bit to get that wonderful texture in the middle. Also, in the Levain tradition, I suggest shaping the cookies into tall, shaggy haystacks rather than round golfballs. That will also give you a softer inner texture.

The fifth recommendation comes from our dear friend, Dorie Greenspan. Remember, this is the woman who gave us the transcendent World Peace Cookies, whose magic comes from the blissful pairing of dark chocolate and salt. I am always a fan of salty and sweet, so I stand by this recommendation. Just make sure to use unsalted butter in the recipe and a light hand in sprinkling or the cookies will be TOO salty! Finally, serving chocolate chip cookies warm? Um, DUH! No commentary required there.

So does all of this add up to the world's best chocolate chip cookie, as so many have proclaimed? If I am answering the question--and I AM, as this is MY little blog--I will have to give a resounding "NO!" Oh, they are excellent, to be sure, and it should be said that my roommate absolutely LOVED them. The recipe is an adaptation of Jacques Torres' chocolate chip cookies, and I know my pal, Anna, proclaims that to be perhaps the best recipe in all of creation. Still, I don't think they hold a candle to the Levain copycats--not even close! Of course, I recognize that saying that one chocolate chip cookie is "the best" is rather like saying that one painting or sculpture is better than all others. With chocolate chip cookies, if often comes down to your favorite style and preference. As the man who should have been my husband, Alton Brown, demonstrated so wittily on his show, some people like them crispy, some like them cakey, and some like them chewy. Moreover, I would add that some people like a higher chocolate-to-cookie ratio, while some, like myself, enjoy more cookie than chocolate. And then there's the nut controversy. I can't get enough nuts in my chocolate chip cookies (which is probably why I'm crazy about the Levain-type cookies), while some people loathe them (as I do raisins) or are even allergic to them. So to each chocolate chip cookie baker, his or her own. But if nothing else, I think this recipe gives us some great tips and techniques to apply to any of our favorite versions.

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies
(Source: adapted from Jacques Torres, via
The New York Times)
Time: 45 minutes (for 1 6-cookie batch), plus at least 24 hours chilling

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)--I reduced the amount of chocolate by a least a half cup, maybe even by a cup!

1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts, optional
sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them (ditto with the nuts, if using). Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

3. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

4. Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Yield: 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies

Note: Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods.


sharonjo said...

This is a fabulous rundown/analysis of the much-hyped NYT chocolate chip cookie recipe. I haven't made it (yet) but did bake a batch of the Levain clones last week--perfection!

Your blog is great; I love your writing style.

J S Grant said...

How can everyone be making all these cookies and keeping their figures? That's what I want to know. I can't entertain enough to be making all these cookies! I made whole wheat chocolate sables the last time I entertained and no one would take the cookies home (LA Times recipe)! And they were delicious. I was forced to eat them. Great cookie photos, but I always like a posting of the peebs.

Just the Right Size said...

Gina, I'm so glad you were honest about these cookies! I have been wondering if they "were all that and a bag of (chocolate) chips"!

Looks like I need to hitch up to that wagon too and give these cookies a try.

Randi said...

I liked them, but found them a tad too greasy.

Op-Ed Madison said...

I am going to try the NYTimes recipe, but in the meantime, here's a recipe that I have found fail-proof and delivers a delicious cookie:

Set oven to 375 degrees.

1 2/3 cups light brown sugar
2 cubes butter or margarine
2 large eggs
1 tsp vanilla
3 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz semi-sweet (or bittersweet) chocolate chips

Blend sugar and butter. Add eggs. Mix well. Add vanilla. Add flour and baking soda and mix well. Add chocolate chips.

Now you can use this recipe to make big chocolate chip cookies if you put them on the sheet in about 3-4 inch circles. Or you can use it for regular size cookies by making them about 1 1/2 inch drops. I bake them for about 7 minutes in my oven. They come our great. Always a hit around here. And this recipe makes a lot of cookies.