Chocolate and Aretha Franklin – those are a few of my favorite things.
And on a perfect, thunderstormy summer Sunday afternoon (another one of my favorite things), I baked cookies and sang R-E-S-P-E-C-T loud and clear!
But I wasn’t baking just any cookie. It’s a staple in bakeries everywhere: chocolate chip cookies.
This all started when the New York Times’ Food and Dining section wrote a big article about the search for the perfect recipe, including a brief history of how the chocolate chip cookie came to be.
Before we begin talking cookies, I need to confess something: I don’t prefer chocolate chip cookies (gasp!) My personal favorite is oatmeal raisin. And yours?
But I have James, my friend Kristina and an office full of people who I’m sure will love to try these spheres of traditional baked goodness.
The NY Times dubs the chocolate chip cookie the “baker’s crucible.” If you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere!
We’re going to focus on three key points: the use of salt, the sheer amount of ingredients called for in the recipe suggested by the article and whether I can pass the baker’s crucible test.
First: salt. There’s a book about how salt affected the history of the world. The article quotes author and baker Dorie Greenspan about the role of salt: “You can’t underestimate the importance of salt in sweet baked goods,” she said. Salt, in the dough and sprinkled on top, adds dimension that can lift even a plebian cookie.”
I’ve never tried sprinkling salt on top of a cookie nor have I been a fan of using much salt in anything I cook or bake, but I added the suggested amount from the recipe in the cookies and…pretty good! The question is if I did it all over again sans salt, what would they taste like?
Another article (which I now cannot track down) discussed the amount of ingredients this recipe calls for – is it all really necessary? 3 2/3 cups of flour? 2.5 sticks of butter? Over one pound of chocolate? My arteries are clogging just reading this! This wise author reviewed a recipe from a 1950’s era Joy of Cooking cook book and found they used at least half of the ingredients recommended and still came out with much more. The recipe, if follow verbatim, only yields 6 cookies! As usual, the recipe below is adapted from the one in the article.
And finally, the ultimate test of my baking ability. Did it work? The best way to test this is from testimonials:
JAMES: “From the moment my taste buds first graced the outer edge of these miraculous circles of baked splendor, I knew I had found the reason for my existence.”
KRISTINA: “They’re like cookie cakes. They’re great!”
3 2/3 cups flour, minus 2 T.
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/4 tsp. salt
2 1/2 sticks butter
1 1/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup, plus 2 T. sugar
2 tsp. vanilla
1-2 cups Marabelle cacao (in the state of experimentation, I used this. But as a fan of dark chocolate, any chocolate chip with 60% cacao would be marvelous)
1. Sift together flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt.*note picture above*
2. Cream butter and sugars together until creamy. Add eggs one at at time. Add vanilla.
3. Add flour slowly to egg mixture until completely combined.
4. Add chocolate (whatever kind you’ve chosen).
5. Wrap with Saran and refrigerate for 24-36 hours. *first page, last paragraph in the article explains why some bakers do this. I thought, why not?!*
6. Scoop cookie dough to make as many cookies as you want (!) onto cookie sheet. Sprinkle salt on top.
7. Cook until golden brown and soft, around 15 minutes
Voila! Time to eat those warm cookies with a cold glass of milk!
And while we’re talking about cookies…
Post-baking thoughts: Yes, there’s more. This is one recipe. This is just one idea, one suggestion. As the title of the article says, it’s a “Quest,” not the answer. I didn’t even follow the recipe exactly. Instead of bread and cake flour, I used regular all-purpose. And I didn’t add the sea salt. I also used chocolate shavings as opposed to chips — and it worked! Everyone has their trick of how to make the gooiest, most moist, mouthwatering cookie. And they all probably work, too! So keep baking and don’t let one riveting article on cookies tell you your mama’s snickerdoodle or chocolate chip or oatmeal raisin cookie isn’t done right — it is! You wouldn’t think a simple cookie deserved this much attention – but between this post and the NY Times article, you realize there’s more to the cookie than meets the mouth.