Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Perfection. Forget the New York Times.

I would feel wrong, somehow, if I failed to post this link on my blog. And even though I don't usually post twice in two days (clearly I have more time than usual this summer), I feel almost obligated to provide my own follow-up. A "How to Achieve Cookie Perfection" for mortal bakers, who don't own sea salt or even unsalted butter, and whose tastes or vocabularies (like mine) aren't refined enough to pick up on "bass notes of caramel and hints of toffee".

I should give the disclaimer that there are thousands of bakers who believe they have the best cookie recipe in the world. I personally believe I am a top contender, but I can live with the possibility that there are other, better chocolate chip cookie recipes floating out there somewhere in the world. I am happy just knowing that my recipe is pretty darn good, and virtually fool-proof as long as I am the one baking or supervising. And even without my personal touch or close supervision, the recipe has been known to turn out quite nicely.

My response to the New York Times article is that if you want to appeal to a wide audience, you should be talking to normal cooks in normal kitchens, not top bakers in uppity bakeries. Here is my response:

How To Achieve Cookie Perfection (for Mortals)

  1. Don't try to make the cookies healthy. Sure, there's a time and a place for everything, and if you want healthy cookies you can get healthy cookies. The problem is when you assume that one minor adjustment will make the cookie better for you without sacrificing flavor. This is not true. The three most seemingly harmless mistakes are: (1) Cutting back the salt. It's counterintuitive, but you really need salt to make a good sweet. (2) Cutting back on the chocolate chips. If you don't want chocolate in your cookies, you should be making another kind of cookie. (3) Substituting Splenda for the sugar (or even half the sugar). It's not that the cookies will be bad - they just won't be amazing. Splenda leads to cookie mediocrity.

  2. Don't overbake. I can't stress this one enough. When you take the cookies out of the oven, they should not look done. They should look kind of doughy. Don't worry, they'll set. And err on the side of underdone, because a slightly undercooked cookie is always better than a slightly overcooked cookie.

  3. Use lots of vanilla. When I created my recipe, I ended up tripling the amount of vanilla that was used in the original recipe. Usually I don't even measure - I just splash it in and you can really taste the difference.

  4. Make the cookies big. Most recipes say to dish out heaping teaspoonfuls of cookie dough, but I'd recommend heaping tablespoonfuls (if you're really going to be picky about measuring). It's not just about having more cookie to enjoy - bigger cookies have better textures.

  5. Change up your chocolate. The New York Times article recommends "1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content", but who really has that? Or even knows what a fève is? (I don't.) But Nestle makes chocolate chunks that are available in the chocolate chip section of most grocery stores - a bag of chocolate chunks costs the same as a bag of chocolate chips and makes the cookie, like, five times better. Or you can find dark chocolate Ghiradelli chips in the grocery store aisle (though I'd recommend pairing them with regular chocolate chips). If you're super ambitious (and probably rich) you can use a small handful each of semisweet chips, milk chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, butterscotch chips, and peanut butter chips. These make for some intense cookies.

And finally, the famous cookie recipe. (I would post a picture, but, you know, no camera...)

Amy's Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies

1/2 cup shortening
1/2 cup margarine or butter, softened*
1/2 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
1 tablespoon vanilla
1/2 cup oatmeal (don't get scared, it's just for texture, you won't even notice it in the final product)
2 cups flour
1 1/2 to 2 cups chocolate chunks

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Cream shortening, margarine, white sugar, and brown sugar. Add salt and soda and mix well. Blend in egg and vanilla until creamy. Stir in oatmeal and flour, then chocolate chunks. Spoon onto ungreased cookie sheets and bake 8-9 minutes, until edges have set but centers are still shiny. Let sit on cookie sheets 1-2 minutes, then remove to cookie racks.

*A couple notes on the margarine/butter. First, in spite of what everyone says about butter being better, I almost always use margarine and, in fact, prefer it in this recipe. Second, if you don't have time to let the margarine come to room temperature (as is usually the case when the cookies are a spontaneous idea), slice the stick of margarine up a little and put it in the microwave for about 20 seconds. Again, some seasoned cooks will argue about the consistency of the butter, but having made these cookies with everything from refrigerator-solid to almost-melted margarine, you can trust me when I say it doesn't matter.


Abominable's Main Squeeze said...

Yum!! Thanks for sharing your famous recipe--however my favorite thing about your cookies is when you make them FOR me. ;-)

I like all the different chocolate chips on the market now. I stocked up on some fun ones at Christmas, but haven't wanted to part with them enough to actually use them! (I wonder how long they keep?)

Jess said...

Down with the cooking bourgeoisie and exclusionary cooking terms. I love your cooking entry with social justice undertones:) I also am addicted to your cookies and can't wait to get back to Michigan and get another hit of those famous cookies.

Elizabeth Downie said...

I bought the chocolate chunks last night for the cookies! I'll let you know how they turn out. But if they don't turn out, I think you'll just have to make some for me to convince me of their greatness ;)

Elizabeth Downie said...

Update: I made the cookies and OH MY!!! They are delicious! Thanks for sharing your recipe! :)

Abominable Snowman said...

Oh yes!! I can attest to the quality of the subject cookies. Can't wait until you make me some more. You'll be out on the left coast soon an I'll be waiting.

Brady said...

I took my Cherry Chocolate Chunk cookies to the geocaching event I was telling you about. They were a hit. I even gave my web address to someone so they could come get your recipe too. ;) mmm... cookies. Oh, and I also added a little coconut.

KMDuff said...

I think your tips are fun. :)

KMDuff said...

Okay I know I ask for the recipe a long time ago, but I finally made them tonight. See, I'm not a shortening person, so that put me off. I'm thinking I'd like them more with butter flavored shortening, maybe I'm crazy but I feel like the shortening/butter mix gives them less flavor than full butter. (And I refuse to use margarine.) I know the shortening/margarine mix helps with the spreading/rising best, just like the white/brown sugar mix is best, but hey, I have my tastes. I do agree with your tips though and will increase vanilla alot. I love cinnamon in my cookies too. Probably why oatmeal chocolate chip are my favorite most of the time (unless I'm making double chocolate mint). My food blog has the oatmeal chocolate chip on them I think if you are interested. Sorry this comment is so long, I do think your cookies are definitely good. Thanks for sharing. :)

Katherine said...

Elizabeth has made this recipe about a half dozen times in the last week, and it's not good. It's not good because these cookies are SO stinkin' delicious, and I CANNOT stop eating them! Ugh! I've gained like 15 pounds of cookie! I can't see them sitting there without grabbing one, and they're big, so it's equal to grabbing three small cookies...two or three times a day...for a week or so. Oh, the deliciousness!

Janice said...

Amy, these cookies are **enter every good adjective here**!!!! Elizabeth passed on the recipe to me, and I can't stop making, or eating, them! And everybody I've made them for LOVES them! To make them extra sweet and fattening, I've added Heath toffee chips.... sooooo delish!!!! You are incredible, my friend!

me said...

We made these on Sunday and the were *so* good! Thanks for posting the recipe. :)

Christa Jeanne said...

Random note on butter vs. margarine - my cookie-baking family SWEARS by Parkay, but I never knew why 'til my aunt enlightened me recently. Apparently there's something in the chemical makeup of Parkay that keeps cookies from getting hard? I tend to be a butter fan, personally, but it might be worth a shot...