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Weekend Cooking: The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie from America's Test Kitchen

We at She Is Too Fond of Books are not afraid of trying wacky dessert recipes; there was the Twinkie Sushi incident:

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The Cherpumple experiment:

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And, recently, the faux Spaghetti and Meatball Cake:

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So, when Sarah told me about The Boston Blogger Cookie Challenge from America’s Test Kitchen, I thought, “Sure!  Piece of cake!  This will be a great excuse to bake cookies, but … how different can their cookie really be from my standard Toll House cookie?”  You wouldn’t believe the difference!

We were directed to this recipe for ATK’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie from the May 1, 2009 issue of Cook’s Illustrated. It’s more than “just” a recipe, with tips on equipment and ingredients (ATK runs independent product testing and recommends specific brands), as well as explanations on why a particular technique is used.

I began the project by gathering the ingredients, which are listed by weight as well as volume.  ATK recommends weighing dry ingredients for best accuracy; I don’t have an electronic kitchen scale (hello, Mother’s Day!?), so I used measuring cups.

After setting the oven to preheat to 375, I lined two cookie sheets with parchment (a wonder product!). The recommendation is for 18×12 baking sheets; mines are 15×10, so I had to do three rounds of baking.  Larger cookie sheets are another item I’ve added to my kitchen wish list!

I whisked 1 3/4 cups unbleached all -purpose flour with 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, then set it aside.  Since I was measuring my flour with a dry measure cup (instead of a kitchen scale), I used ATK’s suggested “dip and sweep” method – dipping the cup into my bin of flour, then sweeping a straight-edge across the top.  This went contrary to instinct – I was raised on the “spoon and sweep” method, and thought dipping would compact the flour in my cup – but I took the dare to “dip and sweep!”  A silly little thing that taught me it’s OK to step outside my comfort zone, and that Mama’s not always right.

Next, I browned butter by heating 10 tablespoons unsalted butter until melted, then keeping it on the heat and continuously swirling the butter in the pan another few minutes until golden brown.  I’d never browned butter before, and was pleased that 1. I didn’t burn it, 2. It smelled so good!, 3. It wasn’t as intimidating as I expected.  I followed the ATK tip to not use a non-stick skillet for this task, as the color of the coating would make it difficult to tell when the butter was browning.  I poured the browned butter into a large bowl, then added another 4 tablespoons unsalted butter and stirred it until melted.

To the bowl of butter I added 1/2 cup granulated sugar, 3/4 cups packed brown sugar, 1 teaspoon table salt, and 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, whisking the ingredients together.  It’s as if the staff of America’s Test Kitchen had peeked inside my pantry – a note instructed “Use fresh, moist brown sugar instead of hardened brown sugar, which will make the cookies dry.” Instead of chipping away at the hardened block of brown sugar on my shelves, I bought a new package!

I added 1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk to the butter/sugar mixture, whisking until smooth.  I let this mixture rest for 3 minutes, whisked again, and repeated the cycle a third time.  According to ATK, this “whisk and wait” technique allows more of the sugars to dissolve, leading to better texture and flavor.

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I added the flour mixture, stirring with a rubber spatula until just combined, then added 1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips. The recipe indicates that I could have used chocolate chunks instead, and an optional 3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts (toasted).  Since our elementary school is “nut free,” I chose not to include the nuts – as if any of the cookies would be left for the kids to take to school!

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The dough makes 16 cookies formed into 3-tablespoon balls, baked one sheet at a time. The suggested baking time is 10-14 minutes, so I turned the sheets at the 5-minute mark, then started watching them at the 10-minute mark, pulling them out when the edges looked set and “crinkly” and the centers were still puffy.

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The one instruction I didn’t follow is “cool cookies completely before serving.” My kids knew what I was up to, and had been hovering around the kitchen, volunteering to lick the bowl and take care of any errant chocolate chips.  We bit into these as soon as the chocolate chips had cooled past the burn-the-roof-of-your mouth stage.  Feedback from the younger set included These are huge!  They’re crunchy and chewy! and Can I have another one?!

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J and I were more about analysis, looking to ATK’s explanations for why this is a better cookie – he commented on the perfect density (which may be a fancy way of saying “crunchewy”) and was impressed with the “structural integrity” of the cookie, while I was impressed at the huge difference those extra steps (browned butter, “whisk and wait”) made on the final product.  The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie tastes like a gourmet cookie – with a hint of butterscotch/toffee and the fine balance of crisp crunch and satisfying chew. It is a gourmet cookie, and I’m so glad I took on the challenge!

11 comments to Weekend Cooking: The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie from America’s Test Kitchen

  • Parchment paper is awesome. It’s only in the past year or two I discovered this fact, but, um, wow.

    Sarah, who *still* hasn’t procured chocolate chips

  • Oh wow! This looks like it is a really great cookie, and in just the photos alone you can tell the difference. They look smoother and more robust somehow, not all motley looking like other cookies. I had also never heard about browning the butter, but I can imagine that it makes the cookies taste so much better. Thanks so much for sharing this recipe and pictures with us. Now I know what to make when I want to experience a really good homemade cookie!

  • [...] Weekend Cooking: The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie from America’s Test Kitchen [...]

  • Awesome! List to ATK — they have done the experimenting for you! I rarely disagree with them. (Though we do have different tastes in pizza crust.)

  • I didn’t follow the cool cookies completely instruction either!

  • Excellent experiment. I’m eager to try this change to a favorite cookie. I also included a cookie recipe in my Weekend Cooking post. Must be the week for it.

  • That’s my definition of a perfect chocolate chip cookie – chewy and crunchy at the same time :)

    I love the sound of the toffee flavor; that comes from the browned butter I would guess?

  • Leave it to ATK – these cookies look just perfect. I can only imagine how delicious they are!

  • The structural integrity of a cookie? J makes it sound like a bridge.

  • Sarah – I “discovered” parchment paper only this past winter. I think I was too cheap to buy it in the past –> now I know, I’m worth it!

    zibilee – truly worth the few extra steps – yum!

    Beth F – I’m learning, I’m learning …

    Megan – I made sure the kids wouldn’t burn the roofs of their mouths, then it was a free-for-all!!

    Margot – Beth Fish’s Weekend Cooking round-up is something I look forward to every Saturday – so many great tips, recipes, reviews …

    TheBookGirl – it must be the browned butter, yes. The instructions said it would have a “nutty aroma” when browned to the right degree …. I can only describe it as “yummy smelling”

    JoAnn – you must make them, you’re a ATK maven!!

    softdrink – even though you haven’t yet met him, you must know that J is an engineering geek :)

  • Nicole

    When I was in college I learned that the best way to MAIL cookies is to package them in a large ziplock bag with a couple pieces of bread. When the recipient opens the package they will have soft cookies and 2 stale-feeling pieces of bread. Let me know if you need any testers! =)

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