Friday, February 19, 2010

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

Friends, I think I finally got it – I finally feel totally and wholly American, and it’s taken me twenty-one years (minus two weeks) of living in the U.S. to achieve that. The moment arrived over the Super Bowl. On this most American of weekends, I did the single most American culinary thing–I made these chocolate chip cookies. You would think that I’d have felt this way after getting naturalized at eighteen, but I didn’t. You see, a piece of paper is different than a rite of passage. And making these cookies has been a rite of passage spanning many many years.

chocolate disks

To me, as I was trying to assimilate into all things American, the chocolate chip cookie was the Holy Grail of American baking. No, not just baking – America itself. It was the secret passage to everything I was trying to learn; encapsulating that elusive cool I was after. Baking them made me feel entirely and completely native, like I finally belonged, like I was born here; as if part of my natural childhood included bake-sales, Sesame Street and “Hop on Pop”.

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

I also had an inkling that these cookies, filled with a thin layer of chocolate, slightly crispy on the edges and chewy in the middle, and delicately dusted with a hint of salt, were a way to people’s hearts. To charm my high school boyfriend’s mother, I baked her chocolate chip cookies the first time I came by the house. I felt that cookies can warm anyone’s heart, can build many bridges, bring smiles and good memories to come. I can’t say if it was the plate of cookies that charmed her, or just me, but I’d like to believe that the cookies had a lot to do with it – we were an instant hit and grew very close through the years. In fact, I confess the relationship lasted a few years too many on the count me being unwilling to lose this woman from my life – she was and is that amazing. But all that aside, baking those cookies on that fateful day, was the first serious cooking step I took. It was the first time I was keenly and consciously aware of connecting with people through food.

ultimate chocolate chip cookies

A chocolate chip cookie is as ubiquitous in most American baking repertoire as it gets. Try and say you have a unique chocolate chip cookie recipe and you might see a few raised eyebrows. It’s a little like saying you’ve a radically different recipe for an apple pie. Everyone’s got a recipe and when all is said and done, let’s be honest here, there’s not that much variation from one recipe to another in most cases. But to find a chocolate chip cookie that is truly remarkable, the kind that makes you, upon taking a bite, do a double-take, the cookie that offers not just sweetness, butter, and chocolate, but some complexity as well–now those cookies are rare and we remember the moments. In my experience, truly exceptional chocolate chip cookies offered the salty and the sweet, the butter and the malt, hints of toffee and caramel. One note morphed into the other, constantly evolving and changing on your tongue.

cookie blobs, ready for baking

For twenty years, I was after making such a cookie. I baked numerous different recipes. I added nuts, I played with sugars, I made them chewy, or crunchy, or in-between. There were large cookies and small ones. There were mounds and there were flat ones. There were cookies with chocolate chips, chocolate chunks, chocolate disks, chocolate hand cut pieces. Some results were notable, and some were forgettable. But nothing, until now, has been transcendent. This cookie is different. And the proof was in the pudding, or the dough, to be more precise. The batch I brought to the Super Bowl party, vanished in minutes; ditto for the batch I brought in to work. My friends raved, my coworkers raved and even I raved, someone at work admitted that it might have been the best cookie they’ve ever had. I believed them – they were, pretty much, the best ones I’ve had too. Perfectly crispy on the outside, chewy as you got toward the center, no piece without chocolate, and a hint of salt to accent the chocolate – they were, in one word, sublime. Worth the wait, the extra effort and the purchase of a kitchen scale solely for the exercise. Assimilation has been accomplished, even if, from time to time, I do prefer stuffed cabbage to chili, borscht to tomato soup, and Russian gingerbread honey cakes (coming shortly!) to these cookies. What I learned through the twenty one years, is that I prefer to straddle both cultures with one foot firmly set in each, drawing from the best of both worlds, old and new to form my own voice and my own story.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacques Torres via David Leite for the New York Times

To find the perfect chocolate chip cookie, David Leite set on a quest eating cookies far and wide, experimenting with doughs, flours, interviewing such cookie experts as Jacques Torres (who knows a thing or two about chocolate). And in the end, he arrived at this recipe with Mr. Chocolate’s help. I will, forever, be indebted to him, as I am sure many bakers are across the country and even the world.

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content [Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods; I prefer the E. Guittard chocolate couverture wafers as they are thin, perfectly circular and melt in a lovely thin layer, thus giving you a layer of chocolate with every bite]
Sea salt

1. In a large bowl, whisk together both flours, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

2. In a mixer, fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the butter and both of the sugars on medium-high speed until very light – about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, stopping the mixer before each addition and making sure the first egg is incorporated before adding the next. Add in the vanilla extract.

3. Reduce mixer speed to low, and add the dry ingredients in several parts until just combined. Do not over-mix. Add the chocolate disks and incorporate. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24 hours before baking.

4. When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350[dg]F. Using a large cookie scoop, spoon cookie dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (they should be the size of golf balls). Lightly sprinkle with flaky sea salt and transfer to the oven. Bake cookies 18 to 20 minutes, until golden grown. Transfer to a cooling rack for 10 minutes and then slip cookies onto another rack to cool further. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.

Notes: please don’t use salted butter, and if you can, get cultured butter for the process, as it will make all the difference. The higher the fat content in your butter, the better your cookies will be. Fat = good cookie. Salted butter contains more water and thus a bit less fat (hence my urging for unsalted).

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36 Comments

  • 1

    this is our go-to cookie and eaten (far) too regularly in our house! jacques torres is a genius.

    February 19, 2010 1:07 pm
  • 2
    Whitney said:

    I wish I had a stack of these with a big glass of milk right now. Delicious :)

    February 19, 2010 1:26 pm
  • 3

    well, i’ve been eyeing that recipe for a while, and you’ve finally convinced me to take the plunge. so thank you!!

    February 19, 2010 2:15 pm
  • 4
    dawn said:

    that’s it. i’ve got to finally try this recipe once and for all!

    February 19, 2010 3:07 pm
  • 5

    i love the way you write. i was born and raised here but have yet to take pride in making cookies which i guess can be seen as a rite of passage. .haha. .and i agree with you.. baking cookies for someone is a really caring thing to do.. and it can really help people bond… i think you’ve just made me want to bake more. :)

    February 19, 2010 3:10 pm
  • 6
    Julia said:

    I had no idea you were russian?! I still am sad that my grandma passed away without teaching me (or any of us) how to make her napolean. The “korzhi” were hand made, as was thecustardy filling. She made it rarely (because it took all day) but I have never tasted a napolean that comes close to hers (some russian stores come close, but still not the same).

    February 19, 2010 5:47 pm
  • 7
    kickpleat said:

    Gingerbread honey cakes sound wonderful (I did have some at a Greek bakery that I just can’t seem to forget about), but these cookies look amazing! I’ve tasted Molly’s at Delancey’s and they were good but I didn’t get the hype. Maybe I’ll have to try my own version.

    February 19, 2010 5:49 pm
  • 8

    What a great post! I love your closing sentiment about finding your own voice and story…no matter where we’re from (straddling cultures or not), so important and–I think–takes time. I love how you framed that narrative through a recipe and a darn good-looking one at that. My personal theory is that they quality and even the shape of the chocolate chips makes a bit difference. Oh, and salt.

    February 20, 2010 8:38 pm
  • 9
    Claire said:

    I’ve spent my weekend baking and thought that I was done after a Devil’s Food Cake (with a glossy ganache), a Key lime tart, 140 mini chocolate eclairs, a three tiered pavlova and a tray of brownies.. (I didn’t make it all for me!!!). I thought I wouldn’t want to bake for a week. Now I want to bake tomorrow!
    And it’s supposed to be 34 degrees (celcius)..

    February 21, 2010 2:56 am
  • 10

    I love your cookies. I also love the couvature chocolate that you used for the recipe. I just wish you had the recipe in scalled units. LOL.

    I will try the recipe out, you have my interest!

    February 21, 2010 5:11 am
  • 11
    Monika said:

    I still haven’t found what I’m looking for in a chocolate chip cookie recipe; this one sounds like it might fit the bill!

    February 21, 2010 2:42 pm
  • 12
    terrin said:

    I made these cookies the same day I read the recipe in the nytimes and quickly converted my mother, a choco chip cookie conisour- they’re now named the “crack cookies” by her since they’re completly addictive…!

    February 21, 2010 5:57 pm
  • 13
    laura said:

    I look forward to trying these – I imagine the mixture of bread and cake flour as well as both baking soda and powder make the texture quite special – as you described! I spent several weeks in Russia during college and have such fond memories of the beautiful countryside, passionate people, and many uniquely (for me) wonderful foods. I enjoyed this post hearing how you have come to rest one foot firmly within each culture. I was not aware that chocolate chip cookies were the quintessence of culinary Americana, however, I think that I must agree, because there is nothing more irresistible to me than a perfect chocolate chip cookie such as you have described here!

    February 21, 2010 6:26 pm
  • 14

    This is one of the two go-to chocolate chip cookie recipes that I use all of the time. They always result in perfect, delicious cookies, and a happy teenager! *points to self*

    Great post! :)

    February 21, 2010 9:43 pm
  • 15

    They look gorgeous! I’m craving chocolate chip cookies like mad now!

    February 22, 2010 7:29 am
  • 16

    Well done – it seems that you have completely assimilated! These look and sound amazing, and I think I need to move my Canadian self into the kitchen to try them.

    February 22, 2010 10:12 pm
  • 17
    Memoria said:

    These cookies look amazing! I love the chocolate pieces you used. I have some Valhrona fèves in my cupboard just waiting to be used in this recipe.

    Well, I hope you’re not fully assimilated!! Please hold on to and always be proud of your heritage; don’t become wholly USican :D.

    February 23, 2010 12:14 am
  • 18
    nakedbeet said:

    Not that it takes much to convince me with chocolate chip cookies, but I’ll bite. Saving this recipe!

    February 23, 2010 11:19 am
  • 19
    codfish said:

    One of these days, I’m going to get to these cookies. I haven’t been able to use anything but my favorite recipe for chocolate chip cookies for the few times a year I actually bake cookies, but I’m betting these are better… maybe an excuse in themselves to bake, even with that wedding diet I’m (supposed!) to be on.

    Really lovely post, too — so fun. :)

    February 23, 2010 5:24 pm
  • 20
    Radish said:

    Robin – diet/schmiet :) You’ll look lovely and radiant – and quite possibly, if you’re eating a cookie as you’re getting ready for the big day, very happy! I’m now on a mission to get the City Bakery recipe bc I spied their cookies through the vitrine yesterday and were it not for the pretzel croissant already in my hand, nay teeth, I would have eaten like 5 cookies.

    February 24, 2010 4:21 am
  • 21
    Tiffany S. said:

    Where do you find the E. Guittard couverture wafers? Shipping is outrageous to order them online.

    February 26, 2010 1:34 pm
  • 22
    Radish said:

    Tiffany – they come with my grocery order. Are there any places around you that might have something similar?

    February 26, 2010 3:21 pm
  • 23
    Jackie said:

    Hi

    What is cultured butter and can you give me some brand names.

    March 14, 2010 7:05 pm
  • 24
    Radish said:

    Jackie – here is some information on cultured butter and a maker: http://www.vermontcreamery.com/

    March 15, 2010 6:26 am
  • 25
    Jackie said:

    Hi

    Do you use cultured butter in all your cookie and baking recipes or just this one.

    March 15, 2010 7:51 pm
  • 26
    Radish said:

    Jackie – I try to use cultured butter when I can. I don’t have time to always get it and it is pricey. Regular butter will be fine.

    March 16, 2010 4:50 am
  • 27
    laura said:

    I was planning to make these tomorrow morning and take them to someone in the afternoon – I just read the recipe through and saw that it requires 24+ hours in the fridge prior to baking. Do you know how this effects the end result (texture?) and do you think it would be okay chilling for just a few hours? Thanks, laura

    March 16, 2010 5:58 pm
  • 28
    Radish said:

    laura – i’d be lying if i told you that the end results wouldn’t be much affected. the resting time is CRUCIAL for the kind of taste that develops while the batter hangs out in the fridge. :( sorry! you can still make them and i’m sure they’ll be good, but the resting time is what really develops the complex taste.

    March 17, 2010 7:09 am
  • 29

    Do you have any idea how many calories these cookies are? Are they lower in fat than traditional shop bought cookies?

    March 26, 2010 4:53 pm
  • 30
    Radish said:

    Essay Writing – I don’t know the number of calories in anything I make, sorry!

    March 26, 2010 5:59 pm
  • 31
    laura said:

    Thanks. I made the cookies that day and they turned out well after resting for just about three hours, but next time I will wait longer. I’m not necessarily asking for a response (don’t want to bug you), but I am wondering if the resting time is a gluten “relaxing” time and/or if the flavors just improve after sitting together – I am familiar with how a long overnight rest improves the flavor of a yeast dough, but have not seen a cookie recipe like this before. Thanks again.

    April 15, 2010 10:09 am
  • 32

    Mmm, they look so delicious and are so easy to make. I will have to try this recipe soon, I don’t care I’m on a diet.

    April 22, 2010 2:24 am
  • 33

    [...] my new homeland even more. Already, it offered some irresistible things in the way of food: pizza, chocolate chip cookies, brownies, Thanksgiving, peanut butter and chocolate together. But nothing – and I mean [...]

    December 13, 2010 4:36 pm
  • 34

    [...] still do) of pizza. Hamburgers and French fries, chicken nuggets and fish sticks, potato chips and chocolate chip cookies, sweet potato and broccoli, Fourth of July clambakes and Thanksgiving turkeys – I embraced it [...]

    October 9, 2012 5:26 pm
  • 35
    Martha Joy said:

    Hi, I made these for the first time today, so I translated all your measurements to dl and grams.

    241 g cake flour
    241 g bread flour
    1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
    1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
    1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
    3 dl unsalted butter
    3 dl light brown sugar
    225 g granulated sugar
    2 large eggs
    2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
    567 g bittersweet chocolate disks
    Sea salt

    The dough turned out great! And although we used a lot of bowls and made a mess, I guess it will absolutely worth it. Substituted 450 g of white sugar + 2 tbs of dark syrup for your mix of two sugars. Also, just plain flour for the cake + bread flour, since we don’t really differentiate between those in Norway.

    December 1, 2012 3:23 am
  • 36
    potter said:

    is it so easy now

    December 4, 2013 6:27 pm

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