Friday, March 14, 2014

Best Chocolate Chip Cookies from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt

Does the world really need another chocolate chip cookie recipe?  To be honest, I've often wondered that myself.  But when you think about all the particulars of personal preferences for flavor, texture, density, edges vs. center, etc., etc., etc., it's clear we need different formulations that appeal to the myriad of individual must-haves.  And since chocolate chip is the quintessential American cookie, there's a billion solutions out there to answer the search for the perfect one.

It all started when I happened to notice a tweet from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt, the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats and author of The Food Lab, which linked to a piece he'd written about his search for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.  The article reads like both a science experiment and a love letter, chock full of useful information and detailed notes about his process for tackling lots of questions about cookie-making.  At the end of his research, there's his recipe for the ultimate formula for The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie.  It's a fun read for pastry geeks and, if you're anything like me, his professed love for his final product will have you heading to your kitchen immediately.  When you see what a thorough and committed job he's done, you can't help but be persuaded to join in the fun and satisfy your own curiosity about his journey to cookie greatness.  I strongly recommend checking out his very useful discussion of all the elements that contribute to a delicious cookie.  His ideas and suggestions will likely affect the way you think about methods and ingredients.

To be sure, it's not essential or even likely that you choose just one and only one version of chocolate chip cookie to adore.  But I really love this cookie.  I think it has all the right ratios of ingredients.  The flavor is a really fantastic combination of buttery toffee with pockets of melted chocolate, hints of butterscotch and just the right balance of salty/sweet.   The texture is crisp around the edges with a chewy middle.  It's absolutely become my favorite recipe of its kind.

There are a couple parts of his method that some might consider a bit fussy.  But once you go through the process and taste the results, it won't seem like any fuss at all.  It does require extra time to let the cookie dough rest at least 24 hours in the refrigerator to break down the starches and proteins and develop the flavor.

Here's how these cookies are different: You start with browned butter, which is a BIG win.  It's one of my favorite techniques and adds so much extra flavor to the mix.  However, it does also add to the prep time because the browned butter needs to re-solidify.

The other thing that makes a big difference in producing great flavor is the eggs and granulated sugar are beaten to the ribbon stage to be sure the sugar is completely dissolved.  Then the brown sugar gets added separately with the butter to heighten the caramel notes.

What I did differently:  I like cookies on the smaller side, so I used a #40 scoop (1 tablespoon).  And although I love chocolate, there was too much chopped chocolate for me.  I wanted to taste more cookie, so I cut back the chocolate from 8 oz to 6 oz.  I also added chopped pecans because NUTS.  I also scooped the dough before refrigerating.  As you can see from my photos, I got smooth rather than the desired jagged tops.  On my second testing, I made the suggested size cookies, let my butter cool until it was solidified and also tried bumping up the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees F.  But those alterations didn't seem to help. Nevertheless, my cookies were super delicious and wonderful.  I'll keep trying for the desired look and texture.

So go and have some fun delving into J. Kenji Lopez-Alt's lovely adventure.  And then try out his formulation and see what you think.

Bench notes:
- Be sure to read the comments section.  He answers a lot of questions there.
- For a good illustration of how to brown butter, see the guidance at Simply Recipes.  Use a stainless steel pan so you can watch the butter carefully; it can take just a moment to burn.  Once you begin to detect a nutty aroma, it's just about ready.  I lift the pan off the heat and swirl for more control if I think it's browning too fast or nearly done.  It will continue to brown once you take it off the heat.  Pour immediately into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking.
- Since browned butter loses some of its water content, an ice cube (2 tablespoons of frozen water) is added back in to provide that essential moisture.
- The cooled browned butter should be opaque and firm around the edges.
- I didn't sprinkle any additional salt after they came out of the oven but I really liked the amount of salt in the cookie as is.  I'll definitely try a light sprinkle of coarse sea salt next time just to see what happens.
- I used 54% semi-sweet chocolate and table salt.
- Store cooled cookies in an airtight container up to 5 days.

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
adapted from J. Kenji Lopez-Alt at Serious Eats
Makes 28 cookies

Note: For best results, ingredients should be measured by weight

8 oz (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1 standard ice cube (2 tablespoons frozen water)
10 oz (2 cups) flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
5 oz (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs @ room temperature
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 oz (1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons, tightly packed) dark brown sugar
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate, roughly chopped into 1/4" - 1/2" chunks   [I used 6 oz]
1 3/4 oz (1/2 cup) pecans, coarsely chopped   [my addition]
Coarse sea salt for garnish   [I skipped this]

Cut the butter into small pieces and melt in a saucepan over medium heat.  Swirl the butter carefully as the foam subsides and the butter begins to brown.  The flecks on the bottom of the pan will turn golden brown.  Lift the pan periodically to check on the browning and to avoid burning.  When the butter has turned a rich golden brown, pour immediately into a heatproof bowl to stop the cooking.  Whisk in the ice cube and place in your refrigerator to cool completely.

Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt.  Place the granulated sugar, eggs and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer with the whisk attachment.  Whisk on medium-high speed until the mixture is pale and thickened and holds a thick trail for a few seconds when you lift the beater, about 5 minutes.

Exchange the whisk attachment for the paddle and add the brown sugar and cooled brown butter to the egg mixture.  Mix on medium speed just until combined, about 15 seconds.  Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed just until barely combined with some dry flour streaks, about 15 seconds.  Add the chopped chocolate (and nuts, if using) and mix on low until the dough comes together, about 15 seconds.  Transfer to an airtight container and chill at least overnight or up to 3 days.

To bake, preheat the oven to 325 degrees F with oven racks in the upper and lower third of the oven.  Line baking sheets with parchment.

Scoop out 3 tablespoons of cookie dough and place 6 - 8 per baking sheet.  Bake, rotating pans half way through, until golden brown around the edges but still soft, about 13 - 16 minutes.

Place the baking sheets on a wire rack to cool.  While cookies are still hot, sprinkle very lightly with course salt and gently press to embed.  Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.


Anonymous said...

I have also read his article and found it fun and interesting. (I can relate because I did the same thing to try and find the perfect shortbread cookie; my notes look more like a treatise but are incomplete since I'm still not satisfied!) I didn't make his cookies because the flour content looked too spare to me; I like a more dense cookie, not tough but chewy. I did take away from the article the use of chopped chocolate. Packaged chocolate chips seem to not melt as I remember them doing years ago, they now seem to hold their shape too well and get hard once the cookie cools. I want crunch from the nuts, not the chocolate! I found my nirvana from upping the dry ingredients by using ground oatmeal. It isn't as glutinous so maintains a softer texture while adding bulk. I did have to up the salt as oats can really bland out the flavor and for extra measure sprinkled a little extra on the cookies before baking. The browned butter got its added moisture by dissolving the baking soda in a tbsp. of hot water. The method was foreign to me but I'd seen it in various other recipes so knew it worked for someone. It worked for me, too, as they came out my kind of wonderful!

pastry studio said...

Hello, anonymous! Yes, chocolate chips are formulated not to melt. I prefer pockets of gooey chocolate.

Thanks so much for your discussion of the addition of ground oatmeal. I am an oat devotee and would be interested in trying this to see if I can up the chewiness just a bit. And you're definitely right about the salt. But now I'm wondering how much extra oat flour you added…..

Thanks very much for you comments!

Anonymous said...

The recipe I was inspired by called for 3 cups of flour. Tooth breaking, right? In the recipes defense, it also called for 1 cup each of white and brown sugar which also increases the moisture, so I wasn't too worried about them being too dry, just too crisp and bland. I lowered the flour to 2 1/3 cups and added enough ground oats to equal 3 cups of flour.( I might toast the oats lightly next time, too) I also changed sugars to 2 1/2 cups brown and 1/2 cup white. I increased the salt to 1 heaping tsp of kosher salt and still thought the dough needed more so that's where I added a few grains to the unbaked cookies. The chopped chocolate was the answer to softer chocolate in the cookies! I am sold on that. The other thing I noticed was that these cookies didn't stale as quickly as regular cc cookies do. They held their flavor and texture for several days, in fact, actually got chewier as they aged. I liked them better on day two and forward than on day one! (I have never liked cc cookies after the day they were made, they get too crumbly and stale or off tasting to me, so this was a real bonus. BTW..I love your bench notes. They are so helpful.

pastry studio said...

Thanks so much for sharing the additional detail. So very interesting. I think you may have meant 1 1/2 cups brown sugar rather than 2 1/2? In any case, the brown sugar may contribute to their holding power.

YAY, cookie science!

Anonymous said...

Yes! I did mean 1.5 cups brown. It was late..or was it early?


Peet S Coffee said...

Thanks for sharing your recipe..kindly post more about cakes and cookies.