Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

I am taking a brief diversion away from the "cheap, healthy" goals of this blog because I need to share these fantastic cookies with you. I first heard about them on the radio show, "The Splendid Table," on National Public Radio (NPR). These were purported to be even better than the ubiquitous and iconic Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies; this cookie made the Toll House Inn famous. You know, the cookie recipe that's on the back of every package of Nestle chocolate chips. Would chocolate chips even exist if it weren't for the chocolate chip cookie?

This better-than-Tollhouse recipe was developed by David Leite, who also writes a food blog, Leite's Culinaria: Hot Food, Dry Wit. It is actually a combination of recipes from several professional, high-class bakers, none of whom are household names. I'll list them here for the sake of completeness: Hervé Poussot, Maury Rubin, Jacques Torres, Heather Sue Mercer, Shirley Corriher, and Dorie Greenspan. The cookie recipe used by Mr. Leite is inspired primarily by Mr. Torres, with bits and pieces added from the other bakers.

The Ingredients and a Discussion About Them

1) cake flour
2) bread flour
3) baking soda
4) baking powder
5) coarse salt
6) unsalted butter
7) light brown sugar
8) granulated sugar
9) eggs
10) natural vanilla extract
11) bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content
12) Sea salt

There are a few things about this ingredient list that surprised me. The first of which was that it called for two kinds of flour, rather than the regular all-purpose flour that other chocolate chip cookies use. It's an interesting combination of cake flour, which has a very low protein content (possibly the lowest protein content) in comparison to other flours, and bread flour, which has a fairly high protein content. Why does protein content matter, you ask? The protein in flours is also known as gluten. Gluten is a popular term right now because many people are following gluten-free diets for many different reasons, one of which is gluten-intolerance. This is a condition in which a person cannot digest the protein (the gluten) in wheat products (or barley, or rye). They are generally fine with things made with or from rice (like rice flour). Now, to be honest, I don't know the real reason why Mr. Leite chose to combine these two flours. There's nearly a 2:1 ratio of cake flour to the bread flour. My guess is that the cake flour provides a very fine crumb, i.e. "cake-like," while the bread flour provides a boost of just enough gluten to hold the cookie together. I was wondering about this, because I had to purchase both the cake flour and the bread flour. I will confess that I already have both unbleached all-purpose flour and whole-wheat flour in my kitchen. Was it worth it to purchase even more flour? Would using all-purpose flour instead of the bread flour somehow damage the cookies? I decided that since I was trying to make a more perfect chocolate chip cookie, it was worthwhile not to substitute any ingredients.

The second ingredient that I want to discuss is the use of coarse salt. This is quite different than regular table salt, other than the obvious fact that it's texture is much more coarse than table salt. First, lets talk about chemistry, then the differences between the two salts will make more sense. As we all learned in high school chemistry, salt is made up of sodium and chloride. Some salts have more sodium in them than others. Table salt is one of those. Coarse salt has much less sodium in it compared to table salt. Do Not use table salt instead of coarse salt in this recipe; the cookies will probably turn out far too salty.

"But wait", you ask, "there's also Sea Salt in this recipe. What about that??" The Sea salt is lightly sprinkled onto the cookies, right before baking. I forgot to buy Sea salt and so I just used some more coarse salt. Does the salt garnish affect the taste? It DOES. These are exceptionally rich cookies--and the touch of salt breaks it up in just the right way.

Last but not least, let me share with you the joy of 64% dark chocolate disks. I was not previously a fan of dark chocolate; what was the point? It wasn't sweet and it didn't taste altogether that chocolatey. Give me a Hershey's Kiss any day. And....these dark chocolate disks are really expensive: they are $8.99/ lb. (And that was actually the cheapest brand at Whole Foods. The most expensive was $12.99/lb). I needed 1 1/4 pounds. These could also be called The Most Expensive Chocolate Chip Cookies. These disks are about the size of a quarter. Out of curiosity, I popped one into my mouth after I bought the requisite amount. I expected the usual bittersweet coffee taste that I associate with dark chocolate. What I actually tasted was sweet, rich, pure, and wonderful chocolate. It was better than a Hershey's Kiss. I popped another three disks like I was eating popcorn. I had to make myself close the package and put it away--telling myself I had only purchased enough to make the cookies. They were calling to me--I had to hide them under the seat of the car, so I that I couldn't see them any more.

Changes That I Made:

I didn't make any changes. If I'm going to make The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, I should follow all of the rules. Actually, I did make one change, to the title. I added "perfect"; it was much more fitting.

Cost Breakdown:

Of the ingredients in the recipe, I had to purchase the two additional flours, butter, eggs, and the chocolate.

Swans Down Cake Flour: $2.99
Kroger brand unsalted butter: $2.29
Bread Flour : $2.49 (on sale, $0.20 savings)
Kroger brand eggs, 1/2 dozen, large: $0.79
Noel Royale 64% Chocolate Buttons: $20.05

Total expenditures for this recipe: $28.61.  That's more than my weekly grocery budget! ($25/week).

If I make these cookies again, this will actually be cheaper to make, because I now have most of the ingredients.  I would only have to purchase the chocolate; perhaps the butter and the eggs as well, if I don't have any available in the fridge.  It's still more expensive than your average chocolate cookie recipe, though!

Cost per cookie this time around: $1.59.  Compared to a "gourmet cookie" at a bakery, this is positively frugal!


This is a very, very good cookie. I brought some to work yesterday and everyone agreed. The taste is complex, with layers of caramel and butter added to the chocolate. The dark chocolate disks melt beautifully, creating strata of chocolate within the cookie. These are big cookies--about 5 inches across. The edges are almost burnt and have a great crackling crunch when you bite into it. The center is soft, gooey and just this side of done. I discovered a great way to eat the cookie: break it in half and have a bit of the edge, then the center, and repeat. This is not Milk's Favorite Cookie. This is a cookie to savor with a glass of Port.


The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie
From The Splendid Table

Makes 1-1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies
Time: 45 minutes, plus at least 24 hours for chilling

* 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 (see note)
* Sea salt

1. Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.

2. Using a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds.

3. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.

4. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.

5. Scoop 6 3-1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.

Note: Dark chocolate disks are available at Whole Foods.

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