Friday, June 18, 2010

Chocolate Chip Cookies

I am not a huge cookie fan. Perhaps it's because my dad made cookies on a very regular basis when I was a kid ... and they always came out hard. (I hate hard cookies ... except for Oreos.) Perhaps it's because I prefer to enjoy something more interesting and flavorful and texturally interesting when I consume empty calories. At any rate, I've never been a big cookie fan and I've never been a great cookie baker ... until a few weeks ago when the clouds parted and a cookie goddess condescended to share her secrets with me. Now, not only do I like cookies, I can make really good ones -- the beautifully puffy kind that stay soft overnight. So long to those anemic, flatter-than-Kansas cookies that I get every time I try following the recipe on the back of the Nestle chocolate chip bag.
This recipe is not for those who have a CCC craving that needs immediate satisfaction. Nope. For that, I suggest you go to the store and buy a bag of SoftBatch cookies. No, this recipe requires advance planning, but that forethought definitely pays off. The recipe is supposed to be secret, but I just can't keep a food secret this good. So, with apologies to the cookie goddess, here's the ultimate fail-proof, stay-soft-for-days (if they last that long) chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 sticks butter, softened
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar, slightly packed
2 eggs
1 tbsp vanilla (note, not tsp)
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 to 2 1/2 cups chocolate chips

1. Whip butter until fluffy. Add each sugar slowly and mix until thoroughly creamed. Add eggs, one at a time, until each is fully incorporated. Add vanilla.
2. In separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder, soda and salt. Whisk until thoroughly combined. Dump entire amount into creamed mixture and mix until thoroughly combined. Add chocolate chips.
3. Cover mixture with plastic wrap (pressed onto dough) and refrigerate for 4 to 5 hours. Remove from fridge and form dough into evenly-sized balls. Place rows of balls in a freezable container (with a sealable lid) between sheets of waxed paper and freeze for several hours or up to a month.
4. To bake, heat oven to 375. Place frozen balls on ungreased cookie sheet and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from oven and let pan cool for 20 minutes before removing cookies to a wire rack for final cooling.

Substitution Suggestions: One word ... don't! OK, a few more words. You can add nuts, but I wouldn't mess with the ratios of this recipe in any other way. And, I wouldn't increase the chocolate content beyond 2 1/2 cups. (A regular-sized bag holds 2 cups, but I buy mine in bulk.) In this case, too much chocolate is not a good thing.  

Lessons Learned: This recipe calls for more sugar and flour than the recipe on the back of the Nestle bag. It also calls for a lot more vanilla. The vanilla really sings in these cookies. It's not offensively strong, but the perfect balance with the chocolate.
I read once upon a time (I think it was in Cooks Illustrated) that eggs added one at a time incorporate into a batter or dough faster than adding them all at once. The one-at-a-time process also creates a better rise. It has something to do with the science, which I don't understand, but it does work. So, only add eggs one at a time.
By mixing the dry ingredients separately before adding them to the creamed mixture, you ensure that the baking soda and powder are thoroughly integrated. Otherwise, you could get pockets of powder or soda and who wants to taste that? Not me.
I think the biggest key to this recipe's success is that the dough is frozen before it's baked, and then its baked from its frozen state and it finishes baking on a hot, but cooling sheet once you pull it out of the oven. In short, the cookie bakes very slowly throughout the entire process. The cookies will still look somewhat raw after 10 minutes. The cookie goddess (CG) says you can leave them in the oven for 12 minutes at most, but I pulled mine out after 10. I also dialed my oven down to 350 since my oven runs 25 degrees hot. Make sure you know your oven's true temperature, not the temperature you set it to.
The CG measures each ball of dough before it's frozen. Because she sells them, she has to make sure each one is 2 ounces. I used a one-ounce scoop for mine and kept the cooking time to 10 minutes. If you make bigger balls, you may need to increase the time slightly.
I baked mine on one rack with a pizza stone underneath (to help regulate the heat). The CG bakes two rows at a time.
One final note: CG said that she's shared this recipe with others, but they can't manage to duplicate it. She may have shared it with me, expecting that I too would fail and thus leave her safely in her role as the cookie goddess. As long as I don't try to sell these cookies, I don't think she'll mind that I can now make them as well as she can. If you don't get super-soft cookies, leave me a comment and I'll troubleshoot the problem with you. And, let me know what you think of the recipe!

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