I’ve been into baking since I was a kid. My earliest memories in the kitchen are of helping my granny bake bread before I was even old enough to go to school. I would help her measure out ingredients and knead the dough. This would be the work of the morning – making the bread – and then we would make a picnic lunch to eat out by the pond.
I’d put some of her homemade jam on my slices of bread. Alongside, I would have some Velveeta cheese. Granny made just about everything from scratch, so processed cheese was a super-random addition to her fridge. She was born before it was invented, so maybe she saw it as a cool new health food. I never asked.
When I got a little bit older, I got into baking the sweeter treats, like cookies, brownies, or cake. I’ve always been fascinated with the science of baking. Sorry biologists, food science wins because you get to eat the results of your experiments. (No one wants to eat the remains from a dissected fetal pig).
I started out baking chocolate chip cookies the way most everyone does, by following the recipe on the back of the chocolate chip bag. There’s nothing wrong with this recipe. No matter what brand of chips you buy, it produces a tasty cookie. But scientific curiosity, coupled with my competitive spirit, has led me on a quest to tweak my recipe until I have indeed developed what I believe to be the ultimate chocolate chip cookie.
How do I define the “ultimate” chocolate chip cookie? I think a few criteria need to be satisfied, beyond the obvious – cookie shaped, contains chocolate chips etc. I like a cookie that is not so big that you feel guilty after eating one, but big enough so that one – or, OK, maybe two – is enough.
It should contain enough chocolate so you get a chip in each bite, but not so much that other flavors are drowned out. It must be sweet enough to satisfy a craving, but not too sweet; have a crunchy edge but a chewy center; be sturdy enough to dunk in your milk and not crumble to pieces when you do.
Along the way I have had some successes and some failures. I don’t know that I’ve ever produced a completely inedible product, but some have certainly been borderline. I’ve been tinkering since I was in high school, so I’ve got a bit of history to share. Here are some of the highlights and lowlights:
I tried swapping out some of the sugar for maple syrup in one attempt, and chocolate syrup in another. On neither occasion did I take into account the fact that I was adding liquid to the recipe without compensating for it. Both of these swaps produced weird, flat cookies that looked like they should be crispy but actually had an almost plastic quality to them. Not good.
In a quest to make my cookies a little healthier, I replaced the eggs with applesauce. Another fail. They were oddly sweet, but poofy and almost cake-like.
As I got more interested in food science, I started researching more about what different ingredients would actually do in the recipe. For example, a saturated fat (solid at room temperature) will create a crumbly texture, while an unsaturated fat (liquid at room temperature) will create a chewy texture.
In the end, I think splitting the difference is the ideal balance. The cookie has to crumble – there’s a whole expression based on that action, for a reason – but I also think the cookie can be chewy while it crumbles.
One day, I was making a batch of cookies and didn’t have enough of the chocolate chips I like to use. I did have some leftover mini chips from the last batch of cannoli I had whipped up, so I used half of my go-to chips and half of the minis. It was great! The big chips gave a burst of chocolate in some bites, but the mini chips dispersed throughout the dough in a way that the big chips never did, making it hard to find a bite of cookie with no chip at all.
Other tweaks to the recipe include the ratio of baking powder to baking soda, and the brown sugar to white sugar balance. The sugars are the one place where I take exception to the recipe on the back of the bag. Most, in my opinion, overdo it on the white sugar, thus depriving snackers everywhere of the delicious caramel notes that brown sugar brings to the party.
So, there you have it. Where I started and where I am now. Have I arrived at the “ultimate” chocolate chip cookie? Maybe. Am I going to stop tinkering with the recipe? I doubt it. Give my recipe a try and judge for yourself.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Mix in a medium-sized bowl and set aside:
2 ¼ cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
In a separate bowl (a stand mixer if you have it), cream together:
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) butter, softened
½ cup granulated sugar
¾ cup light brown sugar, loosely packed
When the butter and sugars are light and fluffy, add in:
¼ cup canola oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Mix until incorporated, scraping sides of bowl occasionally.
Gradually mix in the dry ingredients, about one-half cup at a time. When adding the last bit of dry ingredients, add in at the same time:
½ cup miniature semi-sweet chocolate chips
½ cup bittersweet chocolate chips
Mix until just combined. Do not over mix.
Scoop out by heaping tablespoon or small ice cream scoop onto un-greased cookie sheets. If you have a silicone baking mat or parchment paper, use that. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until golden around the edges. Cool on the cookie sheets for about two minutes and then transfer to cooling racks.
Try not to eat all of the cookies yourself, because they are meant to be shared.