November 14, 2011

Cook's Illustrated's chocolate chip cookie recipe

These cookies are billed "Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies" by Cook's Illustrated, those kitchen perfectionists I've come to admire.  So I filed this recipe away and had high expectations for them.  I recall watching these cookies being made on the PBS cooking show and the technique is really interesting - it's all done by hand, with lots of whisking and timing involved.  This recipe also uses melted butter, which has been rumored to be the key to an amazing chocolate chip cookie.  I've been wanting to test that theory for a while.
Since this blog is essentially a journal of my kitchen experiments, I try recipes I'm interested in and see if they're as good as they sounded or looked.  I've discovered a lot of terrific recipes already thus far but not everything is a home run.  Did this one earn its billing as the "perfect" chocolate chip cookie?  In my humble opinion, it did not.
I think this is a matter of personal preference.  There's a deep caramel flavor to the cookie that maybe I'm just not accustomed to.  This comes from melting the butter until it gets golden brown and nutty.  A combination of whisking and resting works the batter until it's thick, smooth, and rich.  The texture of the cookies is nice - crisp on the edges, soft in the center, but the flavor was not what I expected, or liked very much.  When it comes to chocolate chip cookies, I found that I much prefer the recipe from David Lebovitz or say some whole wheat chocolate chip cookies

Making a great chocolate chip cooking is a bit like cooking chicken or eggs.  It's such common food but difficult to nail.  I'll chalk this one up as a great learning experience.  The technique in making these cookies is really interesting.

This recipe is all about the butter and technique.  The ingredients are what you'd expect from most chocolate chip cookies, maybe with the exception of using dark brown sugar instead of light.
Starts by melting 10 of the 14 tablespoons of butter used in this recipe in a skillet or pan (not non-stick since it will make it hard to tell when the butter is browned).  Cook it over medium-high heat, swirling the pan, and watching it carefully until it turns a dark golden brown.  When the color turns, you'll smell a distinct nutty aroma. 
Transfer the butter to a big heatproof bowl and add the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter and stir together until melted.
There's no need for the stand mixer with this recipe.  There's just a series of whisking (by hand) and resting involved.  Add brown and granulated sugars, salt, and vanilla to the bowl and whisk together.   
Add an egg and egg yolk and whisk until smooth, about 30 seconds according to the recipe.  The people at Cook's Illustrated are very precise and I tried to follow the instructions exactly.
Let the mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds.  They've worked the science out somehow and I'm game to go along with them.  Repeat this resting and whisking 2 more times.  The mixture becomes thick, smooth, and shiny.  It's quite a transformation:
Now add the flour and baking soda, mixing with a rubber spatula, for about a minute.  Stir in chocolate chips.
I was struck by how soft and silky the cookie dough is to the touch.  I was rather surprised that the recipe didn't call for resting the dough in the refrigerator. 
Scoop the dough using a large ice cream scoop.  Bake one sheet at a time in a 375 degree oven for about 10-14 minutes.  You want the edges to be just set but the center still soft.  The cookies will look slightly brown and be a bit puffy.  Do not overbake or they will be too crisp.
Working the butter really develops a surprising depth of flavor you don't get by just beating the butter with sugar in a typical recipe.  Personally, my family and I didn't love that caramel flavor but I'm sure there are plenty of others who would enjoy it.


Cook's Illustrated's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
From Cook's Illustrated

- Approximately 16 large cookies -

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons (1 3/4 sticks) unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or other nuts, toasted (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees, with a rack positioned in the middle.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk flour and baking soda together in a bowl. 

Heat 10 tablespoons of butter in a large 10-inch skillet (not stainless steel since it makes it hard to see the butter browning) over medium-high heat for about 2 minutes.  Continue cooking the butter, swirling the pan, until the butter turns dark golden brown and you smell a nutty aroma.  This should take 2-3 minutes but note that the cooking time varies if you are using a different size pan than the one specified so keep an eye on the color and smell. 

Transfer the browned butter to a large heatproof bowl.  Stir in the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter until melted.

Add sugars, salt, and vanilla to the buter and whisk together.  Add egg and egg yolk and whisk until smooth, about 30 seconds.  Let mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds.  Repeat this process of resting and whisking 2 more times.  The mixture should be thick, smooth, and shiny at the end of this process. 

Stir in the flour mixture using a rubber spatula.  Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using).

Scoop dough out using a large ice cream scoop, or about 3-tablespoon portions.  Space the dough balls about 2 inches apart to allow for spreading.  Bake sheets, one at a time, for about 10-14 minutes, until cookies are golden brown and still puffy.  The edges should be just set while the center is still soft.  Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.

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