Monday, June 18, 2012

Just a Chocolate Chip Cookie...

What can I say about chocolate chip cookies that hasn't already been said?

I expressed this to Jamie and then, hoping for an interesting story about him as a cute little boy eating cookies and milk, said Tell me a chocolate chip cookie memory.

He shrugged his shoulders and looked at me as if to respond, how am I supposed to remember something about a cookie I've eaten hundreds of times in my life?

Ok, so maybe they are the most common, and possibly the most favorite cookie there is, and maybe all the chocolate chip cookies we've eaten in our lives sort of fade into each other in our cookie memories.  Yes, I think there's a special place in our minds just for cookie memories.

After all, have you ever eaten one so amazing that it stands out in your mind above all others?  We've all eaten way too many unexceptional cookies so as not to hurt the cook's feelings, while thinking to ourselves, is this really worth the calories?  A few really good ones - which to me, means very soft, pale, studded with bittersweet chocolate, and the perfect amount of salt - the ones where you eat two in about 30 seconds and then know you're not going to be able to resist a third one.  Especially if there's a cold glass of milk to go with them.

But truly great cookies - those happen rarely.  Happen is the wrong word, though, because a great cookie doesn't just happen.  It's the consummation of of butter, sugar, flour and eggs, brought into perfect harmony by someone who refuses to accept a world in which calories are wasted on mediocre cookies.

A person could spend a lifetime trying to perfect a recipe for chocolate chip cookies.  Browned butter or soft butter, brown sugar or white sugar, milk chocolate or dark chocolate, a little or a lot salty, crispy, chewy, soft, or a little of everything...  Perfect means something different to everyone, so maybe there really is no definition of a perfect chocolate chip cookie, simply one that's perfect to you.

In pursuit of my own ideal of cookie perfection, I mixed up cookie dough after we got home from North Dakota.  The house was a wreck, there were piles of laundry everywhere (which, five days later, are still trying to make it onto their hangers), but through the mess the house was going to smell wonderful with the enticing scent of melted chocolate and warm butter lingering in the air.

A few weeks earlier, I told Jamie that it occurred to me that in three years together, I'd never made just chocolate chip cookies for him.  I'd made many fancier and more unique cookie recipes, but not the most fundamental one of all.  The word just, though, implies that these are basic and uninteresting, while they are anything but that. 

The chocolate, of course, is the star ingredient of a chocolate chip cookie, and whether you like milk, semi-sweet or dark, use good chocolate.  I chopped up a bar of dark chocolate for mine, instead of using chocolate chips, which is why these cookies were speckled throughout with little shavings of chocolate.  I also sprinkled a few pieces of chocolate on top of the cookies, immediately after removing them from the oven, and it melted just slightly with a beautifully glossy, melty, chocolatey sheen that makes the cookies incredibly appealing.

No chocolate chip cookie is going to be a great cookie without salt; in addition to mixing it into the batter, I sprinkled a tiny bit on top of each cookie for an extra hit.

A pinch of freshly grated nutmeg in the dough enhances all the flavors beautifully.

Thoroughly chilled dough is key to an evenly-baked and evenly-spread cookie; I made my dough the night before and refrigerated it overnight before baking them the next day.  Under-baking, also, will yield a perfectly soft cookie, just the way I like them.  I take them out of the oven when they're very pale and still gooey in the centers - they basically finish baking themselves from their own residual heat when they're set out to cool.

If I'm going to add nuts, then chopped pecans are my favorite, but instead of nuts this time, I added a pinch of dried orange peel and a sprinkling of candied ginger.  The flavors were fantastic with the chocolate.

Some people swear by adding cornstarch to their recipe as the secret for soft, chewy cookies, and I've tried it but wasn't overly impressed.  I thought it added a different texture to the baked cookies that I didn't love.  And anyway, the secret to soft cookies is just to not over-bake!

And the rest of the cookie magic, well, that's up to you.  After all, a chocolate chip cookie should never be just a chocolate chip cookie...

Chocolate Chip Cookies
printable recipe

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg
  • 1 1/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon coarse Kosher salt, divided
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried orange peel
  • 1 tablespoon crushed candied ginger (optional)
  • 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate

With an electric mixer, beat the butter, sugars and vanilla until well combined, 1-2 minutes.  Beat in the egg.  In a separate bowl, combine the flour, baking soda, salt, nutmeg and orange peel.  Stir into the batter until moistened.  Stir in the candied ginger and chocolate chips.

Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350.  Shape rounded tablespoons of dough into balls and flatten slightly with your palm.  Space two inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Sprinkle each with a tiny pinch of additional salt.

For very soft cookies, bake only for 7-8 minutes, just until pale golden and set around the edges, but still gooey in the middle.  If you like, garnish the tops of the cookies with a few more chocolate chips.  Let cool on the baking sheet for 2-3 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely until set, before storing.

Yields about 2 dozen cookies.

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