I’ve been recently a little obsessed with the website Serious Eats. If you haven’t heard of the site before, the creator J.Kenji Lopez-Alt is an absolute wizard to the same level as Heston Blumenthal. It’s not sous-vides and molecular gastronomy, but it’s still about the science of food – at its core, most basic fundamentals.
Does a steak cook better if you turn it just once or frequently? What’s a foolproof way of making hollandaise without whisking away forever over a water bath and not having your eggs curdle?
I came across one of Kenji’s star posts, being “The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies”, and if you don’t think he’s a genius, you would most certainly think he’s one after seeing the amount of time and effort he has spent collating the post. Hundreds of cookies made, different types of sugar, various types of leavening agent, how the dough is mixed, whether chocolate chips or chopped chocolate works best.
I’ve made a few batches of chocolate chip cookies in my life before, but they have sometimes turned out how I wanted – crispy on the edges, chewy in the centre and full of butterscotch notes – and sometimes they haven’t turned out how I wanted. I’ve never understood the science, whys or why nots of how this came to be, but with the amazing rundown by Kenji I finally understand what I did right and what I did wrong. If you like, you can read the entire rundown here.
The main things that stood out to me was:
- The browning of the butter prior to mixing it into the dough. Normally you would get this from the process of the dough cooking, but because you don’t want to overcook the dough and make it crumbly in the attempt to obtain this, you can brown the butter in a saucepan and cool it before mixing it into the dough.
- Allowing the dough to rest overnight allows the flour proteins and and starches to break down over a longer period instead of just during the baking process. It’s torture to wait overnight before you bake them, but I can confirm after baking 1/3 of the batch the evening I made it and the remaining the next day, I could definitely taste the enhanced butterscotch flavour.
- Using a granulated sugar. I’ve always just used caster sugar as it’s the sugar I have the most readily available in the cupboard, but granulated sugar dissolves a lot more slowly and provides that gorgeous elastic chewiness you’re looking for. Use a combination of this with brown sugar to get that caramelised flavour.
- The recipe requests for eight ounces of chopped chocolate to get an uneven spread of chocolate – some rippled through the dough, some in little molten pools, but I like to do half-half, some in neat chocolate chips, the other half chopped roughly.
To put it shortly, these cookies take time and love, but they are definitely worth it. I dare you to say that they are not the best you’ve ever tasted!
The Best Chocolate-Chip Cookies
Makes about 28 cookies
You will need:
- 225g unsalted butter;
- 1 standard ice cube (about 2 tablespoons – 30ml, frozen);
- 2 cups (280g) plain flour;
- 3/4 teaspoon (3g) baking soda;
- 2 teaspoons salt;
- 3/4 cup (140g) granulated sugar;
- 2 large eggs;
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract;
- 1/2C + 2T (140g) brown sugar, tightly packed;
- 225g dark and milk chocolate (half in chocolate chips, half chopped);
- Coarse sea salt, for garnish.
Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until the particles begin to turn golden brown and the butter smells nutty, about five minutes. Remove from the heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about fifteen seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in the ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about twenty minutes, whisking occasionally (or you can whisk it over an ice bath to hasten the process).
Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a large bowl.
Place the granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment (or in a bowl and mix with a hand mixer). Whisk on a medium-high speed until the mixture is pale brownish-yellow and falls off the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted, about five minutes.
When the brown butter mixture has cooled, add this to the bowl of egg mixture and add the brown sugar. Mix on medium speed to combine, about fifteen seconds. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined, with some dry flour still remaining, about fifteen seconds.
Add the chocolate and mix with a rubber spatula until the dough comes together. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate the dough at least overnight and up to three days.
When ready to bake, adjust the oven racks to upper and lower positions and preheat the oven to 160 degrees Celcius (325F). Using a small ice cream scoop or a large tablespoon, place heaped scoops of cookie dough onto a nonstick or baking paper lined baking sheet. Tear each ball in half to reveal a rougher surface, then stick them back together with the rough sides facing outwards (more rough surfaces = more cragginess). I like to allow about two to three inches around each ball of dough.
Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around the edges but still soft, 13-16 minutes, rotating the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through baking.
Remove the trays from the oven. While the cookies are still hot, sprinkle very lightly with coarse salt and gently press salt down to embed. Let cool for two minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire tray to cool completely.
Repeat with the remaining cookie dough. Allow cookies to cool completely before storing in an air-tight container, plastic bag, or cookie jar at room temperature for up to five days.