March 3, 2010

Chips AJoy!

Print More

If I could count all the chocolate chip cookies that I’ve eaten in my lifetime, it would probably worry me. I mean, if you consider the Chips Ahoy cookies that I wolfed down as a 13-year old getting his butt whooped at Halo, the dubious bake sale purchases, the ones whipped up in a fit of culinary pique in the middle of the night, the mediocre ones from RPCC my freshman year and the ooey-gooey puddles delivered to me via a friend’s Insomnia-c order placed from South America … that’s a lot of chocolate chip cookies. And you know what? I’m not the only one. This cookie is American with an even bigger capital A.

This is a big deal, considering the relative youth of the chocolate chip cookie. In a region of the culinary world that has been around for millennia, the chocolate chip is a youthful upstart, an energetic whippersnapper that has displaced many more venerable desserts.

Legend has it that the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie, Mrs. Ruth Graves Wakefield, stumbled upon the dessert due to a happy accident sometime in the early 1930s at the Toll House Inn near Boston. She developed a reputation as an excellent cook, which may have stemmed partly from her tendency to serve extra helpings and dessert with every meal. On one night in particular, she supposedly chopped up some Nestlé chocolate and stirred it hurriedly into the batter for some butter drop cookies, thinking that it would melt in with the cookies. Of course, it really didn’t, and a cookie with pockets of warm, molten chocolate was born instead.

The appeal of the chocolate chip cookie, it has been said, is its fresh-from-the-oven wholesomeness. Since just about any cookie tastes awesome straight from the oven accompanied by a glass of cold milk, I think the true test of a good chocolate chip cookie is its taste after it’s been sitting for a day.

By day two, the cookie has chilled, the chocolate has solidified (in the case of chunk cookies, this may present some eating difficulty) and the warm gooeyness has subsided into something that is often either hard and crunchy or, much less frequently, cold and gooey (which means that you underbaked them. Good job.) Commercial cookie-makers somehow manage cold and chewy, though how they are capable of making an entire cookie chewy is a miracle of modern food science of which I am blissfully ignorant. So what makes a good next-day cookie that you would be happy to buy from a bake sale?

I have two go-to chocolate chip cookie recipes. They’re totally different, though — one, which is as close to a family secret as I’m going to get, is small, light and delicately crispy, and the second, torn shamelessly from a July 2008 copy of the New York Times, is a behemoth of a cookie, six inches in diameter, deep tan and sprinkled with sea salt (don’t knock it ‘til you’ve tried it!)

The trick to making a truly awesome chocolate chip cookie is actually time. It turns out that the act of creaming together the grease and sugar at the beginning of the mixing process, while it yields an awesome, fluffy base for the cookies, makes it really hard for the viscous liquid (i.e. the egg in most recipes) to actually mix in with the dough. To combat this, the trick is to cover the dough and leave it in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours.

I was skeptical, too, but the results are stunning. Not only is the dough drier and easier to work with, it has a much more complex and delicious set of aromas and flavors. The butter and vanilla and brown sugar are all kicked up a few notches once they were allowed to develop, and the cookies bake more consistently and have a chewy interior and a crisp outer ring. Oh, and there is no reason to not use walnuts (barring allergies.)

Even Mrs. Wakefield mentions refrigeration in her original recipe, but the smart marketers at Nestlé have removed that stipulation on the version that they put onto their chocolate chips to encourage instant-gratification baking. And while I am a wholehearted proponent of instant-gratification baking (especially when other people are around to share,) these are the cookies you should bake to impress your significant other’s mother. Chances are, they’ll stand out in a crowd of chocolate chips

Original Author: Kevin Boyd