Quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

The perfect chocolate chip cookie?

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?!

*shakes fists*

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!

cookie porn...

Ingredients:

  • 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%)

Method:

  1. Preheat the oven to 160 C/ 325 F. Line two baking sheets with baking parchment and set aside.
  2. In a medium bowl sieve the flour, bicarb and sea salt together. Stir a few times to distribute the raising agent.
  3. 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.
  4. 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).
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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…

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25 Responses to Quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

  1. Sharon says:

    Wow these look good – there’s nothing like good cookie porn! I’m always on the search for the perfect cookie as I can never find a decent chewy one, so I’ll be giving these a go. Looking forward to hearing about your condensed milk experiments!

  2. Sarah says:

    Hmm, thinking about the gluten aspect, it might be even better to add a little strong flour to the mix. American “All-Purpose” flour is stronger than our plain flour. I can’t remember what the proportions are supposed to be in order to approximate AP flour – I think it’s about 1/3 strong flour to 2/3 plain flour, but it could be half and half.

    You’ve got me wanting to join the quest now…

  3. shayma says:

    that truly *is* cookie porn and i wouldnt mind inhaling a few w a nice cup of builder’s tea. all the freshly baked cookies which are available in N America are “ginormous”, cant understand why. these look like such a treat. well done w the investigating, Sig. and hope your book is coming along well. x shayma

  4. Sasa says:

    I made chocolate chip cookies yesterday too! You look like you went to quite a bit of trouble, well done ^_^

  5. Kavey says:

    These are my favourite cookies, chewy and gooey and indulgent.
    You can’t tell from the photo in the post, but I’ve made them many many times with different chocolates studded into them and they’re always perfect. It’s worth using really good quality sugar too as it contributes hugely to the flavour.

    http://www.kaveyeats.com/2009/05/cookies-of-dreams.html

  6. Just goes to show you that baking really is a science. Personally, I prefer crunchy chocolate chip cookies, although I love them all. I have pretty much stopped buying chocolate chips altogether in favor of chopping up my own premium chocolate,as you suggest. You get more chocolate in every bite.

  7. Camilla says:

    Aha, am going to try chilling next time as I have a major merge problem with all my cookies.

  8. cjmsheng says:

    Nice seeing my @ handle in print :)

  9. Thanks all for your comments :)

    @Sharon will keep you posted on the condensed milk experiment, intrigued to see if the addition will make a difference!

    @Sarah that’s interesting to know American AP flour is stronger than plain flour here, was reluctant to add strong flour for this first cookie session but that’s really useful to know adding perhaps a 1/3 of strong flour will make for a more accurate AP style flour. Adding it to the list.

    @Shayma thanks S, I know what you mean – nothing like a cookie with a cup of real tea. Quite like them with a glass of very cold whole milk too but that makes me feel about 5 years old!

    @Sasa snap! Great minds, eh? Hope your cookies turned out well, thanks for the condensed milk tip :)

    @Kavey thanks for sharing your post on cookies Kavita Chiquita, completely agree good sugar is key. Will try with different chocolates next time!

    @ChocolateCentral yep no point in using chocolate chips, much more expensive and the quality often isn’t great. Don’t mind a crispy cookie but there’s something magical about a good chewy cookie I find :)

    @Camilla that’s one way of ensuring a good cookie, I just popped them straight into the oven but will try chilling in next round of experiments.

    @cjmsheng thanks C! And thanks for the tip about gluten :)

  10. Mmm nothing like a rustic cookie with chunks of deep, dark chocolate.

    Btw, I will be pre-ordering your upcoming book soon; I’ve got to thank you for writing a Scandinavian cookbook. I’ve been fascinated by the cuisine of the North for awhile now but there seems to be quite a limited pool when it comes to recipes in print (at least in the English language).
    Just a quick Q, are the recipes mainly the traditional sort or modern takes? Specifically Norwegian perhap? Or Scandinavia in general? Anyhow, I look forward to getting my own copy soon!

    • Hi Jenny, thanks for your comment (and apologies for such a slow reply, been a frantic few weeks!)

      I’m so pleased to hear you’re a fan of Scandinavia and its cooking, the recipes in the book will be a mix of traditional and modern dishes – all with the aim of being as accessible as possible for the home cook (no fancy gadgetry, well a minimum of fancy gadgetry, you won’t have to buy liquid nitrogen or anything like that!) if you have any further questions don’t hesitate to ask – the book will be published May 12th :-)

      Sig x

  11. louise_m says:

    They look pretty good :)
    You might want to check out an old NY Times article on chocolate chip cookies as well – they claim that refrigerating the dough overnight or even longer is the key – it hydrates the dough and develops more flavour:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/09chip.html

    I’m interested in the condensed milk idea. Certainly sounds good. Brown sugar is also supposed to make a chewier cookie, presumably because of the syrup/molasses in the sugar.

    • Thanks Louise, I’d come across the NYTimes article in my research, will definitely be trying the freezing/chilling overnight method next time. And the condensed milk trick!

      Brown sugar acts as a humectant so the cookie will stay much more tender and chewy once it’s baked, instead of drying out. Always a good idea to use brown sugar instead of caster or granulated in choc chip cookies!

      Thanks for your comment, Sig x

  12. YUM! Those look AMAZING! :D

    xoxo
    Kathleen

  13. I love the *shakes fists*! I wish America would convert to metric aswell (I like in the UK) would make things so much easier!

    I never thought about using condensed milk before in cookies, thanks for the tip :) Have you ever tried substituting some flour for oats? That gives them a really nice texture in my opinion.

    Your cookies look yummy!

  14. Kato says:

    Amazing, Sig. And no nuts! Thank goodness.

  15. This is exactly the cookie blog post I’ve been looking for! I love the squidgy, chewy cookies you get in supermarkets, but have always been dubious about what actually goes into them, and far prefer making my own. There are loads of gorgeous looking American cookie recipes out there but they’re always in cups . . . thank you SO much for this post, I’ll be making a batch this afternoon.

  16. @katshealthcorner why thank you :) can’t take any credit, it’s all down to the genius of those chaps and ladies at America’s Test Kitchen…

    @Pudding Pie Lane the addition of oats is an excellent suggestion, thought about doing that with this batch but decided to follow the recipe in its original form. Next time!

    @Kato yes I thought you might like the look of these ;)

    @thelittleloaf a pleasure, nothing to thank for. Thank YOU for stopping by! Good chewy American choc chip cookies are so the way to go x

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  18. I finally got round to making these and they are incredible! I also managed to take a piccie of the dough before cooking which mention above that you forgot to do – pictures here http://thelittleloaf.wordpress.com/2011/04/13/the-perfect-chocolate-chunk-cookie/. If you want a photo for your blog (if it looks right!) just let me know.

    • Thank you! So pleased to hear the cookies were a success, I can’t take much credit except to say that Cook’s Illustrated recipe works like a charm. Very kind of you to offer the photo of the cookie dough at the pre-baked stage :-)

  19. :-) my pleasure – i even sampled some dough at the pre-baked stage and it’s delicious without even being cooked!

  20. Stan says:

    Hello,
    I’m wondering if you can shed any light on baking these cookies in a gas oven is better or worse than an electric oven???
    Thanks,
    Stan

  21. Lucy Anthony says:

    I loved this recipe! It reminds of the cookies that I used to make when I lived in Iowa, aged 12. I am now 27, so those are some pretty memorable cookies. I also made a variation, adding cinnamon and nutmeg to the dry ingredients, and maple syrup to the butter/sugar/egg/vanilla mix. Instead of chocolate, I added toasted rough chopped pecans. That variety was as good as the chocolate.

    I love this blog, and I am getting your book as a birthday present in a couple of months.

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