A really good chewy American chocolate chip cookie is hard to come by here. You find approximations of them in supermarkets, but they’re so loaded with sugar and preservatives that the temporary satisfaction of biting into something toothsome is mitigated by the knowledge that essentially you’re paying for sugary preservative-laden-industrially-processed-confection. I have similar beef with doughnuts in this country but shall leave that little rant for another day.
So in a moment of cookie irascibility I dug out the baking books and whiled away an hour or two researching what makes the perfect chocolate chip cookie. Actually, that’s not strictly true, I resorted to my first port of call for all useful knowledge of the world: twitter.
After mentioning I was looking into recipes for chocolate chip cookies @sasasunakku replied and suggested condensed milk might be the secret ingredient I needed. Condensed milk’s humectant properties make it an ideal candidate for including in the perfect chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe. So on the list condensed milk went. Then @cjmsheng suggested beating the batter to stretch the gluten strands in flour, thus creating a chewier consistency. I was initially sceptical, but read on and you’ll see why this proved to be an eminently sensible tip.
@SpiceSpoon mentioned she tried the “freeze overnight” version and that worked best. Also an excellent tip, freezing the cookie dough would help the consistency during baking by preventing the butter from melting too quickly so wouldn’t the end result would be chewy, not greasy. Then Camilla from @rudehealth proffered the following tweet: sign me up for the testing. Think you meant the eating, no Camilla?
Anyway the long and short of it is I then consulted that American classic The Fannie Farmer Cookbook (vintage 1965) kifed from my Anglo-American mother and a real gem of a book with tons of reliable recipes. Except the cookie recipe was in cups and called for sticks of butter.
When will America realise metric is the way to go. When?!
Anyway, Fannie Farmer was useful for getting a sense of proportions. Baking is fickle at the best of times, but getting your proportions right in a cookie is essential so I delved into the ever-useful McGee on Food and Cooking. McGee’s modestly titled “Some Cookie Doughs and Batters: Ingredients and Typical Proportions”on p.570 is yet another example of why this is one of the most useful books on food you will ever find.
A typical Chocolate Chip Cookie’s ratios according to McGee:
Flour Total Water Eggs Butter Sugar
100 38 33 85 100
OK, so the weight of flour and sugar needed to be equal. Again, all about proportions…
Next I dug out Baking Illustrated: The Practical Kitchen Companion For The Home Baker another useful compendium of recipes and tips from America’s Test Kitchen which suggested that the secret to chewy chocolate chip cookies may lie in melting the butter:
“When butter is melted, the fat and water molecules separate. When melted butter is added to a dough, the proteins in the flour immediately grab onto the freed water molecules to form elastic strands of gluten. The gluten makes a chewy cookie” p.433 Baking Illustrated
Eureka! Now we’re getting somewhere, and this confirmed @cjmsheng‘s suggestion that the clue was in stretching those gluten strands.
By this stage I was going cross-eyed from reading so much about chocolate chip cookies and it was late. Dinner had yet to be made and I reconciled myself to the fact this quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie might take several attempts.
So here is the Baking Illustrated recipe for you to try yourself. Note that the flour and sugar are in exactly equal proportions as per McGee’s chart. The eggs and butter aren’t. I’ve simply converted the recipe’s measurements into metric but otherwise this is the exact recipe on p.434. The cookies are supple, chewy and just sweet enough without being cloying. Am tempted to use 100% light brown muscovado sugar for a deeper toffee flavour next time. but otherwise this recipe gets 9/10.
See what you think, if you have any top tips for cookie perfection I would love to know!
- 300g plain flour
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1/2- 3/4 tsp sea salt
- 180g unsalted butter, melted
- 200g light brown muscovado sugar (I used Billington’s)
- 100g golden caster sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 150g dark chocolate, chopped into something resembling chips (I used Waitrose Cook’s Essentials 70%)
- Preheat the oven to 160 C/ 325 F. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment and set aside.
- In a medium bowl sieve the flour, bicarb and sea salt together. Stir a few times to distribute the raising agent.
- Using an electric whisk, cream (well whisk) the melted butter together with the sugars and then add the large egg, extra yolk and vanilla to the mixture. Whisk again and then add the flour.
- Defy all rules of pastry and keep beating the mixture to stretch those gluten strands even further (normally you would gently fold in the flour to prevent the mixture getting tough).
- Stop. Add the chocolate chips and fold in. The cookie dough should feel almost dry now, like a solid lump (this is where taking a photo of the dough would have been useful but it was 9:30pm and I was impatient) so make sure the chocolate chips don’t all cluster in one part of the dough.
- Opinion varies on whether to chill the dough first before baking or just getting on with it. I decided to follow Baking Illustrated instructions to a T and get on with it. Except I ignored their slightly peculiar suggestion that you roll the cookie into a ball, break it in half and then perch the half (like the bottom of an egg) on the baking sheet. I just took an ice cream scoop and scooped chunks of dough on the baking sheets, spacing them about 5 cm apart. To be on the safe side, space them further than 5cm as the cookies have a tendency to merge together while baking. No great shakes but some cookie fascists like a perfectly round cookie.
- Bake on the upper-middle shelf of the oven for 15-18 minutes until the cookies are golden, the sides feel firm-ish to the touch but the centre is still quite soft. The recipe suggests you can turn the baking sheets around halfway through baking so each cookie gets an even distribution of heat. I didn’t and they all turned out just fine.
- Cool the cookies on the baking sheets (helps keep their chewy consistency) and then remove with a pallet knife or very flat spatula. Store in a cookie tin. Obviously.
Next experiment in the quest for cookie perfection: using condensed milk. Watch this space for more cookie porn…