Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Fail-Safe Chocolate Chip Cookies

Is the scene described below one you can relate to?

The setting, a typical suburban galley kitchen in a 1940s era bungalow, anywhere in the Midwest. Time, the present, approximately 7:15 a.m on a Tuesday.

Enter a tall sixteen-year old boy, dressed for school and hauling a massive backpack. He rushes through the room. Suddenly he stops, turns abruptly to his mother, who is standing by the sink holding a sponge, and blurts out, "Mom, Mrs. (fill in the blank), the lady in charge of (fill in the blank), says we each need to bring some kind of 'baked good' to the (fill in the blank) ceremony tonight. She said, 'preferably homemade.' I forgot to tell you." Teenage boy glances cautiously at his mother, plants a peck on her cheek, dashes out the backdoor, and speeds away on his bike.

The mother, momentarily dazed, still in pink bathrobe with hair decidedly askew, pauses momentarily in her activities. Gazing vacantly ahead she recalls the countless times this very scenario has been played out in her household since she entered the ranks of maternity. Almost instantaneously the mother collects herself, resumes her activities, and smiles calmly. With ease she has determined what she'll bake--her most reliable chocolate chip cookies. Once again, mom has the situation under control, thanks to a recipe she knows to be completely FAIL-SAFE.

My point: Every parent needs at least one no-fail recipe for a cookie that has broad appeal, and that can be thrown together swiftly. I have one such recipe for chocolate chips, one for oatmeal raisin cookies, and one for peanut butter cookies--three old standbys. In a pinch, I can always pick any of these time-tested recipes and proceed without fear of catastrophic results or otherwise unpleasant anomalies. You probably have your own old-reliables, too.

The recipe below is a derivation, adaptation, or corruption (I'll let you choose your own noun) of one that came originally from a Gold Medal flour bag. I made a few changes because I didn't like how thin and crisp the cookies always seemed to come out, though I did like their flavor. I experimented with a few batches, finally settling on the following formula. What did I alter? The amount and type(s) of fat used, the amount of flour, and the choice of chocolate chips.

The original recipe called for one and a half cups of butter. Instead, I use one cup of butter, two tablespoons of shortening, and 3 ounces of cream cheese. Also, I use three types of chocolate chips, instead of just using all semisweet, in the following approximate proportions: 60 percent bittersweet, 20 percent milk chocolate, and 20 percent semisweet. I strongly recommend you try Ghirardelli bittersweet chips; they're a bit larger than regular chips, exceptionally smooth, and taste really good. Ghirardelli milk-chocolate chips are also far better than a brand like Nestle, trust me--not cloyingly sweet and not at all waxy. For the semisweet chips, I have no quarrel with Nestle. They seem to have a good handle on the semisweet, but in my humble opinion, not on any other variety of chips. (Nothing personal, Nestle.) And, finally, I add a little bit more flour than the original recipe calls for--two to four more tablespoons max, depending on how much the dough seems reasonably able to absorb. These cookies have a pleasing texture that's nice and chewy, not brittle, and not cakey.

I use a large (no. 24) ice-cream scoop when I'm portioning these out onto the cookie sheets. That makes for pretty generous-sized cookies. A single cookie at a time will probably satisfy the average craving. That is, of course, unless you're a highly-active teenage boy, in which case you can eat a few at one sitting. But while we're on the subject, if you are that teenage boy, please try to remember to thank your mom for making them, okay? She'll appreciate it.

Jane's Fail-Safe Chocolate Chip Cookies

(For a printable version of this recipe, click here!)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment.

1 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 Tbsp. shortening
3 oz. cream cheese
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar, firmly packed
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs
4 cups and 2 Tbsp. AP flour, bleached (and up to 2 more additional Tbsp. in case the dough seems to require it)
2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
14 oz. bittersweet chocolate chips (a little over 2 cups)
5 oz. milk chocolate chips (a little over half a cup)
5 oz. semisweet chips (a little over half a cup)

In a large mixer bowl, beat the butter, shortening, cream cheese, and both sugars until light and fluffy, about three minutes on medium speed. Add in the eggs, and beat another minute or two.

Mix together the dry ingredients. On the mixer's slowest speed, add them gradually into the butter mixture, just until combined. Do not overmix. (If your mixer doesn't have a very low speed, do this part all by hand.) Add in the chips, again on the lowest speed or by hand, until combined.

Cover the dough and chill in the fridge or freezer until it's very cold. I like to divide this dough into three globs, wrap them in Saran wrap, flatten those packages just a bit into disks and put the disks directly onto a refrigerator shelf. This helps them get cold much more quickly. Or, you can put the dough packages in the freezer to chill at this point too, if you are in a hurry. I also highly recommend you slide your cookie sheets into your freezer to chill for a few minutes before you put the dough on them. I do this all the time. It's a big help when it comes to preventing the dreaded cookie-spread.

When the dough is quite cold use a large scoop (a no. 24 scoop holds about three tablespoons of dough) to portion them onto the cookie sheets. Leave a couple of inches between each cookie. Work quickly so your cookie sheets and the dough don't warm up. (Prep cold, bake hot. Prep cold, bake hot. Say that to yourself about a thousand times. It's apparently one of the great truths of successful cookie production.)

Bake them for about 9 minutes, then peek at them in the oven. Bake a few minutes longer if needed. When they're nicely golden, but not dark, take them out. The longer you bake them the more crispy, and less chewy, they'll turn out. Crispy is still tasty, but tender chewiness is really what we're going for here. Let the cookies rest on the hot sheets for at least five minutes, then remove them to racks to finish cooling, using a stiff spatula. Be sure to cool your pans completely before putting another batch of dough on them. You should be able to reuse your parchment a couple of times. Happy baking!

P.S. If you have any rock-solid recipes like this that you'd like to share, please comment and include your recipe(s)! I am always looking to add to the arsenal.

(To comment on this post, or to read any existing comments, please click on the word "COMMENTS" just below.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thanks Jane, these cookies are really marvelous! At last a recipe and tips that avoids the dread spread and crisp.