The Time I Baked Some Cookies.
To me, learning to bake cookies is the best way to learn how to bake.
Why? Typically, cookies are relatively simple concoctions. They don’t take a long time to prepare. Finally, even if they aren’t great, they still are damn cookies.
Fail with a yeast bread or a cake, and you most likely will have an inedible disaster. A cookie that isn’t quite right still hits the spot.
I have plenty of thoughts on cookies that I’ve developed over the years. My biggest obsession is the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
I never said I was an easy person to please, did I?
I’m a very analytical person. I love being able to deconstruct something, figure out the key components or processes, then reconstruct it, while improving things.
So, chocolate chip cookies are exactly the type of thing I love to figure out.
I had gotten so close to what I wanted, but they just weren’t right.
So, when I opened the issue of Cook’s Illustrated and found they declared they had the recipe for “Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies,” I was interested.
Cook’s Illustrated is what I dream of being able to do for a living: deconstruct recipes and figure out how to make them better and/or more accessible for a wider range of cooks.
So, I gave it a try. When I tasted the batter, I swooned. After I baked them, I tried a warm cookie. To my surprise, I was in heaven. I was glad to have tried a warm one, as my family ate the rest.
However, my oldest daughter is not a fan of bittersweet chocolate, and requested me to try making the cookies without chips.
She had read my mind, because I had pondered this possibility as well. More data for me? Let’s make Sans Chocolate Chip Cookies!
- 14 tablespoons of butter, unsalted
- 1/2 c granulated sugar
- 3/4 c (packed) dark brown sugar
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 large egg and one large egg yolk
- 1 3/4 c all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
14 TABLESPOONS OF BUTTER? WHAT?
Look, this yields 18 cookies, so it’s like three-quarters of a tablespoon of butter per cook… All right, let’s move on.
The true key of this recipe is the butter, and how you treat it. A little patience with this part, and it makes a difference between a good cookie and a cookie you’d most likely do horrible things to obtain.
In a large pan (I love my Tramontina stainless steel), melt 10 tablespoons of the butter over a medium heat. The key here is to gently melt it and heat it, so it does not brown too quickly.
We are doing two things here. First off, we’re getting rid of some of the water in the butter, because do you have COOKIES AND WATER? No. You have COOKIES AND MILK.
Secondly, we will be slowly browning the yummy milk protein solids into fantastic flavors and smells. Gently shake the pan occasionally to keep things loose in the pan.
Oh, so you think that’s good, eh?
OH NO IT’S NOT. YOU DON’T GET OFF THAT EASILY.
Sure, it will be smelling fantastic, and looks great, but once in the cookie batter, that aroma and flavor will fade away. Keep gently shaking. It’ll take about 5 minutes.
NOW, THIS IS WHAT WE’RE TALKING ABOUT!!!1one
At this point, take the butter off the heat, and put the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into the pan, and gently shake the pan off the heat until that butter is melted. I love this part, as I’m letting the browned bits baste over the solid butter, as it causes the melted butter to foam.
In your mixing bowl, measure out both sugars and the vanilla extract. Add the butter (it’s okay if it’s still warm):
Now, you aren’t going to break my heart and not scrape all of those wonderful browned proteins into the bowl as well? Not after all of that patience, swirling and browning, browning and swirling?
That’s what I thought. I’ll wait as you get a scraper. After adding the butter, mix it as well as you can. Since the butter is melted, it won’t come together like a traditional creaming method.
Add the one whole egg and one yolk at this point.
Now, here’s the weird part. (STOP LAUGHING) Cream the butter, egg and sugar mixture for 30 seconds, then allow to sit for 3 minutes.
Then do that again. Whisk for 30 seconds and sit for 3 minutes.
And, because all good (or is that bad) things come in threes, do this once more:
Notice the progression of color and texture over the time. It goes from a sort of grainy mixture, to a smooth, silky, sexy elixir of delight. Taste some right now. I’ll give you a moment, smoke ‘em if you got ‘em.
Now, fold in the dry mixture, which I assumed you put together as you were letting the sugar and butter to rest. WAIT, YOU DIDN’T? Well, quick do this in a separate bowl before everyone consumes that sugar mixture. Oh my god, let me have another taste…
After folding in the dry ingredients, scoop out about 2 tablespoons — I put 6 cookies per quarter sheet baking pan, lined with parchment paper.
So they’re not spaced perfectly. THERE IS NO FLAVOR IN SPACE.
Bake in a preheated 375 degree (F) oven for about 10 minutes. Rotate the pan 1/2 way through.
Remove from the oven when the edge is golden brown, and the center is pale. The one below is as dark as you want to let them get.
Now, the crucial part of the experiment is how they taste without the chocolate. The browning of the butter, combined with the dark brown sugar provides subtle toffee and caramel notes to the batter. These are great without the chips, but I was disappointed that the flavors didn’t stand more on their own. Obviously, the chips do work with the cookie to make the complete flavor.
I did do one additional experiment, though. The last batch I baked, I did a light sprinkle of kosher salt on the cookies before baking. Those were the superior cookies of the batch. I think I’ll give that a try with the chocolate chips next time.
This is such a fun recipe, and the kids love watching me do my magic. I hope you’ll give them a try.
NOTE: If you want them with chocolate (who doesn’t), fold in 1 1/4 c bittersweet chips (my preference is Ghirardelli 60% Cacao baking chips, which are Cook’s Illustrated choice as well).
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with the whisk and the batter left on it…
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