Despite the abundance of chocolate chip cookies available in the world, making a good batch is more difficult than most people imagine. The perfect chocolate chip cookie – crispy on the outside, moist on the inside (and big enough that you’ll feel satisfied while being able to say “I only ate one!”) – is a culinary achievement not to be dismissed. Sure, you can get a decent batch from the recipe on the back of a Nestle Tollhouse bag, but to really create a masterpiece you have to think like a pro. Too much butter and they’ll spread thin on the pan; use shortening to improve shape and the flavor will be compromised. Creating picture perfect, satisfying batches of cookies takes a lot practice, but to help get the process started I have included a few tips from other amateur bakers (who have successfully conquered the task) along with expert advice from Carole Walter, author of Great Cookies: Secrets to Sensational Desserts, the best cookie book on the market.
You can apply the following tips to your favorite chocolate chip recipe. If you don’t have one, I recommend using Carole’s Really Great Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe on page 29 of her book.
Before you begin baking:
1) Use fresh ingredients
Fresh brown sugar can make a big difference in the texture of the cookie. The fresher the brown sugar, the softer the cookie. Also use fresh, unsalted butter. Butter can take on smells and flavors of other things in the refigerator, which can compromise the taste of the cookie.
2) Properly measure
If you’re like me you’ve spent years throwing approximate amounts of an ingredient into a cup and hoping for the best. You might have even used liquid measures for dry ingredients. Well, what’s done is done, but now is the time for change! Use dry measures and proper techniques, especially with flour. A little guidance on measuring from Carole Walter:
Start with an accurate set of dry or graduated measuring cups and a sheet of wax paper, approximately 15 inches in length, placed on your work surface. Spoon the dry ingredients into the appropriate-size dry or graduated measuring cup. (If measuring flour be sure to fluff it first with a spoon.) Using a straight-bladed object, such as a dough scraper, straight spatula, or dull side of a knife, level the flour by sweeping the utensil straight across the top of the cup. (If measuring quantities less than 1/4 cup using measuring spoons, it’s ok to dip the spoon into the dry ingredient. The amount is so minimal that there is less chance of the dry ingredient compacting.)
If you are a “shaker,” a person who is accustomed to shaking the measuring cup while spooning in flour, stop. Put your measuring cup down on the wax paper and then spoon the dry ingredient into the cup. The simple motion of shaking compacts the flour too much.
** The important point is to spoon ingredients into the measure, not use the measuring cup. If you drag your measuring cup through a pile of flour to fill it up, the flour will compact and you’ll get more than the recipe calls for. If you don’t want to hassle with measuring cups you can always use a scale.
3) Mise en place
Mise en place is a French term referring to having all the ingredients necessary for a recipe measured and ready to combine before beginning to bake. It’s exactly what the chef’s do when cooking on TV, and it applies to real life too. Everything is ready to be poured in as you work your way through the recipe, ensuring that ingredients are properly measured and that you won’t have to run to the store in the middle of everything to pick up a missing ingredient.
Baking conditions vary, and making a great batch of cookies will require experimentation to find the techniques that work best in your kitchen. Techniques to try include:
- Bake on parchment paper. Use a little butter between the parchment paper and cookie sheet to help the parchment stay in place.
- If your favorite recipe calles for 2 eggs, use 1 whole egg and 1 egg yolk instead for a thicker cookie (less cakey).
- Whip the butter and sugar together until it is very fluffy (4-5 min). Whip again once the eggs are added.
- Use a mixture of brown and white sugar for crispier cookies.
- Add nuts (walnuts, pecans, etc.) to the mixture for thicker cookies.
- Regrigerate the dough before placing it onto the cookie sheets.
- Place the dough onto cool cookie sheets to avoid spreading.
- Immediately after the cookies come out of the oven gently push the edges of the cookies inward. This will give the cookie a thicker shape and a nice edge.
If you used fresh ingredients, set everything up, followed the tips above and the recipe still didn’t turn out like you hoped, here are a few trouble shooting pointers from Carole Walter:
Cookies that spread:
Start with more firm butter Reduce the amount of butter in the dough Reduce the amount of sugar in the dough Substitute part or all vegetable shortening for butter* Do not portion the dough onto hot cookie sheets Increase the oven temperature by 25 degrees
Cookies are not crisp:
Use part or all vegetable shortening instead of butter Substitute some or all white sugar for brown Reduce the over temperature by 25 degrees Add 1 tablespoon light corn syrup and reduce sugar by 1 tablespoon
Cookies are not soft:
Brown sugar was not fresh Make the cookies thicker (dough was too thin causing cookies to spread and crisp) Increase baking temp by 25 degrees to prevent spreading Reduce baking time (centers should appear slightly underbaked)
Too much butter in the dough Substitute part vegetable shortening for butter The dough was undermixed
Cookies lack color:
Use dark brown in lieu of light brown s ugar Add a pinch of baking soda to the dough Add 1 tablespoon light or dark corn syrup to the dough and reduce sugart by 1 tablespoon
Cookies are too dry:
The ingredients were not accurately measured Too much flour in the dough The flour contained too much protein The oven temperature was too high The cookies were overbaked
Cookies are overbaked or unevenly browned:
The oven needs to be calibrated There are hot spots in the oven The cookies were baked on thin metal pans The cookies were baked on a non-stick or dark metal pan without reducing the oven temp by 25 degrees The cookie sheets were not reversed top to bottom and front to back during baking
*Butter is 80% fat, 20% milk solids and vegetable shortening is 100% fat. Vegetable shortening will give a crisp texture but lack flavoring.
If they’re still not up to par, or you just don’t want to make them yourself, I recommend the famous chocolate chip cookies from The City Bakery in NYC. They are a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur’s dream. An honorable mention also goes to Specialty’s Cafe & Bakery in San Francisco. This lunch place serves up thick, warm chocolate chip cookies throughout the day.
(Thank you Sue, our local chocolate chip cookie expert, for sharing your tips for this post)