Dec 7, 2008

Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookies

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Okay, guys, I swear this place won’t become a mommy blog, but let’s just resign ourselves to the fact that I will be using the baby as an excuse for all kinds of things, like being the last person in the food blogging universe to write about David Leite’s Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookie, published in the The New York Times way back in July. I wish I could be one of those incredibly smart-like people who reads the NYT from front to back even though they live in California (at least on Sundays), but I’m just not there yet. And by “yet” I mean “ever”. But I will check in with the food section online from time to time, especially when my beloved LRK makes mention of something that appeared in its pages on her delicious NPR show The Splendid Table.

Baby C and I were out on one of our stroller walks a few weeks ago when suddenly I had a new reason to keep pushing my kid plus a dozen pounds of stroller up San Francisco’s treacherous hills. I’ve taken to downloading podcasts of TST onto my iPod while we get our exercise because a) I believe in irony, b) it keeps me working out for a full hour and c) I get introduced to the most exciting people and buzzworthy recipes in the food world without having to be bothered to read a newspaper, pssh-shaa! This particular episode featured Leite and his quest for the consummate chocolate chip cookie. Since I am a sucker for cookies and charming backstory of all sorts, it was only a matter of time before I tried this recipe that would supposedly produce a chocolate chip cookie so absurdly awesome it would become the baking world’s go-to recipe. Like I said, I’ve been a bit busy raising a person, so it took a while to get to trying it. And meanwhile everyone else in the world did and I felt totally left out. But I made it happen, people. And you know what? It’s pretty flippin’ great.

It’s like heaven kissed the Toll House cookie–all crisp edges and tender, chewy interior, rich with butter and brown sugar and generous amounts of chocolate. Speaking of the Toll House recipe, bakers have been tooling with this gold standard chocolate chip cookie ever since its introduction in 1934, all chasing consistently delicious results. Because c’mon, even though the recipe hasn’t changed over the years, we’ve all baked underwhelming batches of these iconic cookies. Too crunchy, too brown, oddly puffy, not enough chew, too crumbly, what have you. It’s as though the formula has always been good and really, there’s no such a thing as a “bad” or inedible cookie if you follow it correctly, but I’ve always thought there’s a really mysterious X factor involved in getting the Toll House cookie to turn out just right. And as I see it, the genius of what Leite has done is create a recipe that can give really great, consistent results. After a few tweaks. It’s always something, isn’t it?

There a couple things that stand out about this recipe when you put it up next to the Toll House recipe, the first being an interesting ratio of cake flour (a low protein flour) to bread flour (a high protein flour) instead of all-purpose flour (a nice, middle ground protein content). The more protein in a flour, the more gluten that can develop during mixing and that effects how tender and/or fine-textured the final product will be. The interesting ratio of cake to bread flours is a great way to precisely control this. So there’s that. And another fancy trick here is a long rest in the refrigerator after the dough comes together–24 to 36 hours (!) during which the flour can get fully hydrated by the wet ingredients. So it would seem that the big secret to great chocolate chip cookies is in dealing with the flour, but there’s also the mention of big disks of bittersweet chocolate rather than semi-sweet chips to jazz it all up and a good amount of salt to balance the sweet and highlight the use of that great chocolate.


All in all, this cookie is really something. But I gotta say, as much as I love David Leite, there were a few things that had to happen to get it there for my tastes when I dug into this recipe. First, the 18-20 minute baking time yielded a sheet of dry, overly browned cookies that were of decent texture while still warm, but turned rock-hard when completely cooled. So in a word, overbaked. And we all know how Type A I am with checking and rechecking my oven temperature before baking so that wasn’t the problem. Reducing the baking time to 16 minutes produced a second sheet of cookies with a wonderful crisp-chewy-tender bullseye effect, even at room temperature the next day.

Another sheet was better still, and you know what was different about it? They were the cookies that had been portioned and frozen two days earlier after the first sheet was baked. It could’ve been the additional resting time that did the trick here, I’ll never know for sure. So there’s the resurgence of that chocolate chip cookie X factor again, I guess. But it does bode well for bakers like myself who like to freeze doughs and bake off a few cookies at a time when the urge strikes rather than have a whole container of cookies taunting me for days from a countertop. Hooray!

So now that I’ve told you about how these cookies indeed lived up to the hype with a few adjustments, can I be a little passive-aggressive? Okay, well, first of all, the chocolate disks I picked up (73% bittersweet D’Agoba) were obviously lovely and of high quality, but I actually found myself wishing my cookie had some semi-sweet morsels to complete the all-American flavor and perfection of the baked dough–the cookie part was just so spot on. Another thing was Leite’s instruction to sprinkle the cookies with sea salt before baking. Meh. Kind of unneccesary from a flavor standpoint and it just seemed like a bit of pretentious foodie flair that I could take or leave, so in a third batch, I left it.

And in all honesty, I was a little taken aback by the cost of this cookie. I’m all for decadence and seeking out a few spendy ingredients to try a recipe on occasion, but it just seems kind of wrong somehow to spend $15 just for the chocolate part of a chocolate chip cookie, a dessert that exemplifies the greatness of simplicity. Especially when the recipe only yields a little under two dozen cookies. Anyone with me here? Tack on to that the cost of cake flour and bread flour and flaky sea salt (I had these things on hand because I’m a culinary dork, but I’m betting most people would have to make a special trip to the store for these not-so-everyday items) and it all gets kind of fabulously out of hand for the humble chocolate chip cookie.

I have heard of people using this same recipe with just all-purpose flour and different kinds of chocolate and having fine results, so I may be sticking the method in my back pocket and taking the fancy-pants off of this recipe to create the perfect lunchbox cookie, and reserving the bells and whistles for special occasions, like this year’s Christmas cookie tins. At any rate, the first time you try this recipe, go for the big guns, be a Leite purist, and see for yourself. Unless you’re more on top of things than I am these days and have done so already.

Consummate Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Jacques Torres and David Leite

Makes about 2 dozen

After the initial long rest in the refrigerator, you can bake off a few cookies at a time, refrigerating the dough for up to 72 hours. After that, scoop out portions of the remaining dough, freeze them until firm on a sheet pan, and store the frozen dough balls for later use.

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 pure vanilla extract

1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks, at least 60% cacao content

 

Whisk together the dry ingredients in medium bowl–flours, baking soda, baking powder and set aside.

In a standing mixer fitted with paddle attachment on medium speed, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix just until the dough comes together, 5 to 10 seconds. Carefully stir in the chocolate disks (by hand is best as to not break up the chocolate). Press plastic wrap against dough (or transfer to an airtight container) and let the dough rest in the refrigerator for 24 to 36 hours.

When you’re ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.

Scoop 6-8 mounds of dough (about the size of generous golf balls) onto the baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Bake until the cookies are golden brown but still soft, about 16 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more.

 

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