Making the perfect chocolate chip cookies is a combination of art and science. The science of baking is pretty straight forward. You have the benefits of combining fat and sugar by creaming; the correct time to combine wet and dry ingredients to properly activate your leavening agents; and the time/temperature ratio for proper baking.
There is an art to baking as well. What combination of fats make for the best cookie? How does the baker choose to balance the ratio of dough to chips? How does one ensure access to fresh baked cookies at a moment's notice?
I hope that I have been able to combine art and science here. But the most important first step is the motivation. I recommend beginning with two hungry teenagers.
Step 1: The Recipe
I have read hundreds of chocolate chip cookie recipes - from Mark Bittman to King Arthur Flour. I always return to the ubiquitous "Toll House" Recipe. It's easy to find when you need it, and with a few minor adaptations, I get exactly the cookies I want. These small changes may just rock your cookie world.
Step 2: Before You Begin
It helps to plan a little bit ahead. Take a stick of butter from the refrigerator and leave it out on the counter. You need the butter to be soft and "spreadable" but not liquid. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes (in summer or a warm house) to an hour and a half. The photo shows the perfect butter temperature - it still looks like a stick of butter, but when you unwrap it, it's "squishy".
We haven't had a microwave for 20+ years, but you can soften the butter by "nuking" it on medium power in 10 second increments. Remember, you don't want it completely liquid.
Step 3: Important Adjustments
I make three minor adjustments to this recipes.
- I always double the batch (trust me, you'll see why I do this at the end)
- I shift the balance of sugars in favor of brown sugar
- I replace half the butter with Butter-flavored Crisco*
*I know, sounds disgusting. But the difference in the texture of the dough AND the final cookie is worth it. If you want, you can substitute a healthier shortening option - coconut oil is also a possible substitution, but I have never tried it myself.
Step 4: Measuring
As I said, baking is an art and a science. Some people will say you must weigh all your ingredients. Others will toss ingredients in by measuring them in the palm of their hand. I fall somewhere in between.
Measure carefully. Use the flat part of a knife to level off the top of measuring cups and spoons. Forgive yourself if a little bit more or less gets into the bowl. Just don't go too far.
Step 5: Ingredients - Dry
- 4.5 cups of all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons salt
Measure the dry ingredients into a separate bowl. Use a fork to blend the ingredients together. Some people use a small colander to sift the ingredients together. I like to bribe teenagers to do it. Hey, you are making them cookies, aren't you? This is a perfect way for them to show their gratitude.
Step 6: Ingredients - Wet
Gather up the wet ingredients:
- Butter - 1 cup
- Shortening - 1 cup
- Water - 2 tbsps
- Sugar - 1 cup
- Brown sugar - 2 cups (lightly packed)
- Eggs - 4
- Vanilla - 2 tsps
Step 7: The Chocolate
I personally prefer Nestles semi-sweet chips (convenient, as the recipe is right there on the package). I know people who prefer a bittersweet chip, or even a "white chocolate" chip. The important thing here is to stick with relatively fresh chips - yes, they can go stale and ruin your final cookie.
You will need 4.5 to 5 cups. It's a bit more than the recipe calls for, but it's always good to hold back a few for when you get to the bottom of the mixing bowl. There is nothing worse than a chocolate chip cookie with no chocolate chips.
Step 8: Creaming Fats and Sugars
Put the softened (NOT SQUISHY) butter in the bowl of your mixer along with the shortening. [This workhorse of a mixer was a holiday gift 12 years ago from my hubby. I asked him to get me a refurbished model, and it's been a dream ever since - but I think it needs some flame decals, don't you?]
Step 9: Add the Sugars
Add the sugars to the mixer bowl, and remember what I said about the balance of brown to white sugar. Beat at slow speed until fluffy.
Step 10: Get Eggs Ready
Crack eggs into a separate bowl. If any shells fall into the eggs, just use the cool "use a big piece of eggshell to scoop out the tiny piece of shell". Trust me, works like a charm.
Step 11: Add Eggs and Vanilla
Add the eggs and vanilla to the mixer. (Note - make an appointment for your teen to get a manicure)
Blend on slow speed until the eggs and vanilla are fully incorporated.
Step 12: Add the Dry Ingredients
Slowly mix in the dry ingredients. [When I say slowly, I mean SLOWLY. Otherwise you will end up covered in a fine dusting of flour, along with every surface in a 30 foot radius, children included.]
When you are done, your dough should look like the dough in the photo. The shortening makes the dough lighter and fluffier than if you used only butter.
Step 13: Add the Chips
It's time to add the chocolate chips.
You can add in whatever kind of chips you want - semi-sweet or milk chocolate [a perennial debate in our house], peanut butter, minis [you'd be surprised what a difference the mini chips make], butterscotch, white chocolate, toffee bits. We are not nut people [we are nutty though], so we don't add anything of that sort, but truly, whatever floats your boat.
Use a rubber spatula to get all the bits of deliciousness of the beater. Feel free to taste, and be sure to tell your children that they aren't allowed to, because the raw egg will poison them (I know, it's a sliiight exaggeration). But if you let them at it now, you won't have any dough left for cookies.
Step 14: Get the Oven Ready
Set your oven to 375 degrees and your oven timer to 7 minutes.
You may want to experiment with oven temperature and baking length, based on the vagaries of your oven and your own chewiness preference.
Step 15: Measure Out the Dough
I use an ice cream scoop to get nice evenly-sized cookies. It can give the impression that these are mass-produced though, so feel free to mess the dough up a bit. There is an additional bonus to using the scoop that I will tell you about later.
Place cookies approximately 1.5 inches apart on the cookie sheet and put the cookies in the oven. Be sure to start your timer.
Step 16: Doneness
When the timer goes off, pull the cookies out of the oven. If you like your cookies soft and chewy, take them out when they look like they are not quite done. They will look pale and a little bit wet still.
Cool for 5 minutes on the pan then transfer to a cooling rack to cool completely. Seal cookies in an airtight container.
Step 17: Warm Cookies Anytime
Did you know that you can have warm cookies anytime you want? Well, I can't make them calorie-free, nor can I make them magically appear out of nowhere. But with a little bit of planning, you can have warm cookies in about 15 minutes.
Remember my earlier note about doubling the batch? You will get tired before you could possibly bake all that dough, so here is what you can do with all the extra dough.
Place scoopfuls of dough on a cookie sheet. You can place them quite close to each other. Put the filled cookie sheet in the freezer for about 20 minutes. When you take them out, they will be frozen - not completely solid, but firm. Put them in a freezer zip-top bag and store them in the freezer for up to a couple of months.
Whenever you need a warm chocolate chip cookie, take out the frozen balls of dough, place them on a cookie sheet 1.5 inches apart and bake for 10-15 minutes in an oven pre-heated to 325 degrees.