Killer Chocolate Chip Cookies
by blue midget
I’m always on the hunt for an amazing cookie recipe. When I am out in public, I subconsciously scan magazine racks for the latest and greatest that our so-called “culinary experts” have to offer. Once in a while, and especially around the holidays, the “best ever cookies” headlines will appear. By now I should know better than to trust these headlines, but I am a sucker: On the off-chance that one of these magazines has just one cookie recipe that meets my standards, I consider it a victory.
But alas, finding a good cookie recipe is nearly impossible to find. The “winning” cookie recipes usually leave me disappointed. I expect magnificence, but get mediocrity. I demand the exciting, but get the uninspiring. Do the cuisine magazines and food divas of today really know what we want to eat? Or is it that so few people are cooking, we’re just happy to eat anything that isn’t from a box or bag? Maybe I am on to something. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if most of us could only rate cookies into two categories: store-bought grade and homemade grade.
Perhaps you’re reading this and you’re saying, “Come on now, we’re talking about a cookie, not a piece of steak.” And you’re exactly right. But I don’t want to spend my time on something bland and boring – if I wanted that, I could head down to the local supermarket and pick up a box. Or maybe it is that you doubt you could make a gourmet cookie on your limited experience and expertise. Don’t worry, you aren’t alone. We’ll start at some great beginner cookies and we’ll work our way up. Besides, you don’t have to labor away over the fussiest, most exotic recipe to produce a great tasting cookie.
My first cookie was the Nestlé’s Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie. I used to make these with my Mama, and after my first batch of cookies, I was hooked. In fact, for the longest time I would only make chocolate chip cookies. At one point, Mom’s old, 1970’s, avocado colored, hand-held mixer broke – we were mixing up cookie dough when smoke started pouring out from it. That was the end of the old mixer. Until we bought a new one, I was not going to let something as trivial as a mixer stop me. While I assembled the dough, I always had the warm water running so I could quickly wash my hands and shove them into the bowl to mix manually. Yep, you’ve got it: Squish, squish! That was how I did it, until my brother got so tired of watching me put my hands into his cookies that he bought me a new hand held mixer for Christmas. And even though my baking has expanded to so many other realms over the years, I haven’t been able to get rid of that little hand mixer. Besides, those bigger ones are expensive and my trusty little hand held mixer does the job just fine. Mom tried buying me an industrial-sized mixer for Christmas a couple of years ago, but I protested. I don’t think I could bear to part with the one my brother bought me so long ago. At the very least, I’ll wait until it kicks the bucket.
The great thing about chocolate chip cookies is that they are a hearty cookie – that is, it’s really hard to screw them up. In fact, you have to try to screw them up. Some cookies are fussy about measurements and ingredients; many require patience and a thousand different steps. But not the chocolate chip cookie. The chocolate chip cookie loves you. The chocolate chip cookie is your friend.
When it comes to chocolate, most culinary experts will tell you to use the best chocolate possible. And why wouldn’t you? When it comes to cookies, chocolate is often the star of the show. Unfortunately, this usually means spending a lot of money on specialty items that most people can’t afford, or simply cannot justify the cost of. I definitely understand this, because if you’re making cookies for fun, friends and family, it’s hard to spend so much money.
My first Christmas being married, I let my husband know that I would be spending a week to bake all my cookie gifts. I did my cookie-grocery run, made all my cookies and sent all the packages off to our friends. My husband saw the grocery bill and was floored at the total cost. Because he really isn’t a food connoisseur it didn’t make any sense to him as to why I would spend so much money on pure vanilla rather than imitation, or on a higher quality chocolate rather than a generic brand. After all, it’s fine and well when a gourmet chef is giving you the what-for about quality of ingredients, but when it is coming from your wallet, the desire to cut corners on behalf of your budget is completely understandable. Trust me; I’ve been there, especially when my husband shops with me. Now you know why I leave him in the deli section to order sandwich meat while I go off to grab everything else! (Don’t tell him I said that.)
But there’s no reason why you should sacrifice quality due to price. There are still some decent chocolates available in local grocery stores that would be completely fitting for cookies and won’t break the bank. I generally try to steer clear of the following brands: Bakers, Hershey’s and Nestlé’s. Oh sure, I keep a bag of Nestlé’s Toll House Chips in my freezer, but that’s so I can always have the chocolate chip cookie recipe handy.
I was going to go into a long diatribe about how to define what chocolate is good and what isn’t, but I found an article on a weblog that is, dare I say, hulk-like in its rant about chocolate. Here, said blog lists the worst three chocolates, best three chocolates and explains why, colorfully. In his assessment, two of the top three chocolates are by Lindt. There are better in terms of baking, but overall, Lindt can be obtained easily in a grocery store and between its different types of chocolates, Lindt performs well overall. There are other things that should be considered with chocolate as well. Chocolate should appear creamy and glossy, not blemished (like Nestlé’s – if you’ve ever melted this chocolate down, it will be grainy). It should smell delicious, not bland (like Hershey’s). When you break it, chocolate should snap cleanly, not bend or break off into fragments.
So, for this recipe, Lindt is what I’m going to instruct you to buy. Of course, you don’t have to, but that’s what I recommend. Nestlé’s chips are grainy and taste a bit waxy, Hershey’s is not that spectacular either, and even though we’re making your basic chocolate chip cookie, it would probably be better if you used a decent chocolate for your first time out. In fact, we’re going to use three of them.
Recipes usually call for chocolate chips (hence the name “chocolate chip cookies”) but since I want to use some good chocolate, we’re going to buy a couple bars of Lindt baking chocolate. Lindt baking chocolate bars come in sizes of about 2.5 – 3.0 oz bars. You can do a couple of different things here. Either buy 12 ounces of all the same chocolate, or mix it up a bit. You can mix bittersweet, dark chocolate and white chocolate chunks in the same cookie, and it really does make a great presentation. But do whatever you prefer, as it really doesn’t matter.
Unwrap your chocolate bars and chop them up with a knife. You want them to be about the size of a large chocolate chip. And don’t try to chop them into all of the same squares – they really do look great when they’re random shapes and sizes. Put ¾ of each chocolate bar into the batch. We want to reserve a little bit of the chocolate to put on top. Mix the batter with a spoon, NOT the mixer.
On the other hand, if you absolutely do not want to spend the money on chocolate bars (it’s much more expensive than buying a bag of chocolate chips) then I would recommend that you pick up a bag of Ghirardelli’s double chocolate chips. Out of all of Ghirardelli’s chocolate chip products, the double chocolate is probably the best. It is the creamiest and glossiest of all their chips, and has a great taste. Add ¾ of the bag, holding back some to put on top of the cookies, right before baking.
Nestlé Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies – Blue Midget Style
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped nuts
2 cups (12-ounce package) Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels
This is the generic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, but we’re going to spruce it up a bit. Trust me; I know what I’m doing. If you’re familiar at all with the original recipe, you may have noticed that I’ve rearranged the ingredients around a bit. This is because, in the original recipe, the first thing you have to do (after you turn the oven on to 375 degrees) is sift together all of the dry ingredients, and we’re not going to do that. I’m sure many culinary experts and food snobs everywhere would hate me for saying this, in the same way that they hate Rachel Ray. But I don’t care – the Chocolate Chip Cookie is one tough cookie (wonk, wonk, wonk…), and we don’t need to do all that to produce good results. You can if you want, but you don’t have to.
Here’s what I want you to do: Before you start, your butter should be softened. You can either unwrap it and leave it in the bowl, or unwrap it and cut it into chunks to soften. The softer the butter is, the more a cookie will spread. A lot of people will say that you should melt the butter, but I don’t particularly care for that because I want a fluffy, buffed-out cookie. No wimpy cookies allowed. Your butter should be softened, but not gooey.
Using a mixer, combine your butter together with the brown and white sugar. Don’t worry about which mixer setting to use – just mix that puppy all around on whatever setting you want. Be careful though, or your ingredients will go flying all over your kitchen. I like to clean out my sink and put the bowl in there, that way if anything goes flying, there’s a good chance it will at least be confined to the sink area. You will know that your butter is soft enough if the three ingredients blend together into one. If you’re having a hard time with the butter and it’s too hard, scrape everything off of the mixer and let the butter sit out for another ten minutes. Once everything is mixed, take a spatula and scrape around the sides and the bottom. If you find that you didn’t combine everything the first time, mix it up a little more. Another 30 seconds will do. Mixing is one of the more important things in baking. I realize that to most of us, this sounds obvious, but I want to point this out because most cookies will not work out because we didn’t mix it up enough. The batter should look like its all one ingredient at this point. You really want that butter to be combined – there should not be any butter chunks.
Now add the two eggs. The recipe calls for only a teaspoon of vanilla, but I really like a lot of vanilla. On the other hand, Thanksgiving and winter holidays are coming, so we should probably not get out of control because we’re going to need that bottle to last us. Make sure you’re using real vanilla and nothing else. I understand perfectly if you want to cut corners and pinch pennies with a cookie recipe, but do not let it be with the vanilla or the chocolate. So, let’s add 1.5 teaspoons (the small one that says “tsp” in lower case letters) of vanilla. Combine all that with your mixer – it should look like a single runny substance. When you think you’re done, stop your mixer and scrape the bowl with your spatula. If your spatula brings up some unmixed goop, then go ahead and mix it up for about another 30 seconds. This is another crucial mixing point, as it is important that your eggs are thoroughly mixed in. Make sure that it all looks like one ingredient in there. If you see discernable egg goop separated from the batter, mix it up a little more.
Once your bowl of goop is all mixed together, it’s time to start on the dry ingredients. Before we started, I mentioned that this recipe (as well as most other chocolate chip cookie recipes) calls for sifting the dry ingredients together before adding them to the mixture. We did not do that, and because we skipped this step, we really need to make sure that the three dry ingredients are mixed in really well.
Grab your 1 teaspoon of baking soda and your 1 teaspoon of salt (again, teaspoon is the small one that says “tsp” in lower case letters) and toss it into your bowl of mixed goop. If you want to eyeball the salt, go for it. Again, the chocolate chip cookie is not fussy about measurements so if you wanted to eyeball a couple of things, be my guest. Also throw in 1 cup of flour. Mix this up, and make sure that you mix it well. Scrape the bottom with your spatula and mix it up again, for about another 30 seconds. If you aren’t sure, don’t be afraid – you really can’t over-mix this cookie. When you’re ready, throw in the other 1 ¼ cup of flour and use your mixer on it. This will be the last of the mixer, so make sure that everything is blended really well. Your dough should look like one substance now, and hopefully it looks like cookie dough.
Scrape the beaters off. If you like nuts add some – it doesn’t matter, just pick a nut or a mixture of nuts and add them. If you don’t like nuts, then don’t add them. If you’re feeling a little freaked out about nuts, just forget we mentioned them. Whether or not you add them really has no bearing on this cookie. Add the chocolate – most of it anyway. Presentation is everything, so we’re only going to add ¾ of the chocolate to the mix. Use a spoon and mix it around really well, making sure the chocolate (and nuts, if you added them) are mixed thoroughly.
Grab your cookie sheet. If you’re going to use parchment paper, and I recommend that you do (you can buy disposable rolls from any grocery store or purchase the washable/reusable kind), dabble just a little butter on the four corners of your cookie sheet and lay your parchment on top. This will keep your paper from sliding around.
Now take your smallest dining spoon. Gather up a nice rounded spoonful, no more than 1 inch in diameter. Keep the dough balls about two inches apart from each other and fill up your cookie sheet. Take a couple pieces of chocolate that you have left over, and place it on top of each ball of dough.
Put them in the oven. This standard Toll House recipe calls for baking between 9 – 11 minutes, and I always put it on the lower number first, in case of over-baking. After nine minutes, check to see that the outsides are browned and the very inside is still a bit white. It’s ok that the centers are not cooked all of the way, because they will still be hot for a few minutes after you remove them from the oven, so they will continue to cook a bit. If this is your first time making cookies, I would recommend that you only bake one or two cookies at first, just to try this out. If you pull your cookies out while the centers are a little white, your cookies will be crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. And with the extra chocolate on top, it gives the cookie an excellent presentation.