06 March 2012

Chocolate Chip Cookies, or How I Fell Down A Rabbit Hole

If you're like me, you always make your chocolate chip cookies using the recipe on the back of the bag, the iconic "Toll House cookies", even if you don't actually use Nestlé chips because Nestlé is evil and all that. Whatev. Toll House cookies were one of the first things I learned to make by myself, so long ago that I remember when the recipe on the package included 1/2 teaspoon of water. They've dropped the water, either because such a tiny quantity seems ludicrous, or eggs are bigger, or flour is different, or who knows why. Toll House cookies were also the first thing I learned to tinker with - I'd skimp on the flour and change the ratio of brown to white sugar, but I always added the water. My cookies always spread just right, so the chips made little hills on the surface of the cookie.

Since Kim Boyce's book Good to the Grain came out a couple of years ago, I've seen reference to her chocolate chip cookie recipe a number of times, and noted that it uses 100% whole wheat flour. Despite the fact that I slip a little whole wheat into lots of things, I rarely use 100% whole wheat - it's just too aggressive.

But I recently came across yet another reference to those cookies, and it seemed like a chocolate chip cookie day, so I made them. And they're fabulous. Other than a little graininess at the finish, you'd be hard pressed to tell that they have any whole wheat in them, and the texture is perfect, mostly crispy and a bit chewy. I only baked a handful right after I made the dough; the rest I formed into a log, which I stuck in the freezer. Cookies sliced off the log and baked frozen were excellent as well.

I got to thinking - how different could the two recipes be? Besides the flour, what made Boyce's different from the old Toll House standard? Me being me, I geeked out and did a side by side comparison (leaving out the nuts, because I always leave out the nuts):


Huh. I'd have guessed that the Boyce cookies had a higher percentage of butter, given their crisp deliciousness, but actually, they've got more flour and more sugar than the Toll House. Boyce also adds baking powder, and uses cold butter in place of softer warmer butter. I'm no Shirley O. Corriher, so I can't really go into the science of the cookies, but it's kind of fascinating that two iterations of a recipe for cookies can be so similar and yet have demonstrably different results.

A couple of years ago, the Times published an article, by David Leite, in search of the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. He pulled it apart in many ways: the temperature of the dough, the length of time between mixing and baking, the size of the chocolate pieces, the size of the cookies, the amount of salt. One thing led to another, and I found a blog post by the Culinary Collections Librarian at the New York Public Library, going back to the original Toll House recipe - with the water! - and then I really felt like I'd fallen down a rabbit hole. I mean, one could make chocolate chip cookies all the live long day, testing out different flours and sugars and butters and leavenings, and they'd all be pretty good, not to mention the fact that your perfect cookie might not be my perfect cookie.

That said, I'll make Boyce's cookies again, because they really were good. Though, I've never tried the recipe for the Tate's chocolate chip cookies (which looks just like the Toll House recipe with only 2 cups of flour), and I've not tried the Times recipe (which has two kinds of flour), and, oh lord, I really ought to go on a diet.

13 comments:

Carol Steel 5050 said...

Interesting how convoluted chocolate chip cookies just became. Your perfect cookie might not be my perfect cookie ...is a statement that covers much of what is true in life! Good one.

readersguide said...

Mmm. I only ever use the toll house recipe, too (with different chips -- they come in a shiney package). But I think I will try those others -- although I don't suppose they're realy any better for you. Still --

allison said...

Huh. I've never used the tollhouse recipe. My Mom had a recipe and then I started using my friend's mom's recipe - it has a package of vanilla pudding powder in it. I also like Anna Olsen's recipe - it has cream of tartar in it, which apparently gives it the crisp-and-chewy texture, which is what I like.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

Cook's Illustrated did a really amazing article on chocolate chip cookies a while back -- maybe 10 years ago? Anyway, our standard chocolate chip cookie came from there. I'm interested to try this wheat flour one, though.

Jody said...

What I remember from the Times article was the value of refrigeration -- wasn't that the article that concluded that you could get all sorts of good results with all sorts of different recipes, so long as you let the dough rest for 24 hours before baking?

the queen said...

I am going to have to give on the recipoe on the back of the bag. Print is too small to read.

Rima said...

Whole wheat *is* a little too aggressive. It's like the John McEnroe of grains.

mayberry said...

I was going to say that you should be working for Cook's Illustrated, but now I learn from Harriet that they've covered this topic already. (I still think that you'd be an asset to the CI team.)

Always Home and Uncool said...

My wife, when she bakes which is rare, always complains that something came out wrong b/c I buy whole wheat flour but I never seem to have an issue with it probably b/c I'm just happy there's food. Is there a good proportion to use to make us both happy?

leanne said...

I'm definitely intrigued by the whole wheat flour version -- like you I don't tend to use 100% whole wheat, but I think I'm going to give it a whirl. Well, once I get through some of the other homemade desserts sitting in my freezer (not to mention 2 desserts in the fridge -- because I almost forgot about them).

I also always leave out the nuts.

And finally, I've geeked out comparing brownie recipes. I like cookies, but I love brownies.

jo(e) said...

Ah, this brings back memories. My mother always made the Tollhouse version when I was growing up. I really loved those cookies ....

Jenn @ Juggling Life said...

I have had people marvel at how quickly I can pull together of batch of Tollhouse Cookies (made with Ghiradelli chips)--even when, ahem, mildly inebriated.

I will try the whole wheat recipe.

nonlineargirl said...

It warms my heart to read the part about the nuts. Nuts in chocolate chip cookies are just wrong.