Six tips for a better chocolate chip cookie

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Many chefs guard their recipes with their lives. Although it’s true that a good recipe is part of what makes great food great, I believe too much emphasis is placed on it. Something a lot of people forget is that a recipe is just a list of ingredients. To me, the most important parts are the steps. I have notepads filled with lists of ingredients, but unless you know the procedure of how to put those ingredients together, you’re not going to get the same end product as I would. I could give you my recipe for chocolate chip cookies, but I don’t believe that that is necessary. I honestly believe that my recipe is no better than the hundreds of other cookie recipes that you find on the Internet. As I said before, it’s just a list of ingredients. Instead, what I’m going to do is give you the key steps that cookbooks don’t tell you, so you can take any recipe and use it to make a superior cookie.

Before I move on to my six tips for a better chocolate chip cookie, I want to do a quick recap of the steps that every cookie recipe in the world uses.

  1. Cream butter and sugar together
  2. Add eggs to butter, and continue creaming
  3. Add dry ingredients
  4. Add chocolate chips
  5. Portion onto a baking pan and bake

Although steps vary from recipe to recipe, this is the basic procedure for any chocolate chip cookie recipe. Now on to the first tip.

Tip #1: Flavoring your flour

You’re at the store shopping for ingredients for your cookies, and you reach for a bag of chopped nuts. This is me officially telling you to stop what you are doing. Rather than reaching for that bag of chopped nuts, opt instead for the whole nuts.

I generally prefer to leave nuts out of my cookies when at work or when making them for a large group I’m not familiar with. It’s easier to just not put nuts into the cookies than it is to make one batch with nuts, one batch without, and then pray that someone with a nut allergy doesn’t eat the wrong one. However when it comes to my personal preference, I love nuts in my cookies. Yet just adding nuts to my cookies is not enough for me.

Using chopped nuts out of a bag will not give your cookie the maximum amount of flavor possible. What would maximize the flavor of your cookie would be combining your dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking soda and/or baking powder depending on the recipe) with the whole nuts in a food processor. As you pulse the food processor, several things will happen. Your salt and leavening agents will be evenly distributed throughout the mix. Any unwanted clumps of flour will be broken up, but most importantly, oils within the nuts will come out and flavor the flour. Just be sure that you don’t get carried away. You just want the nuts diced up into the same-sized pieces that you would have had you bought the chopped nuts from the store.

Tip #2: If you want a great cookie, you have to use great chocolate!

No offense to Nestle, but using their chocolate morsels will get you an inferior cookie. If you really want a great cookie, you have to use good quality couverture chocolate. I use 54% semi sweet chocolate when making cookies. In terms of brand, I recommend Callebaut, but the brand and percentage of chocolate you chose to use should be dictated by your personal preference. If you want a more intense chocolate flavor, use a higher percentage chocolate. The lower the percentage, the sweeter your cookie will be. Yes, couverture costs more than the chocolate morsels you get at the supermarket, but the end result will be well worth the extra money you spend.

Tip #3: Chocolate dust is your friend

Although couverture morsels are readily available at most gourmet stores, refrain from using them. Instead, reach for the blocks or bars if available. Once you get your chocolate home, use a knife to chop the chocolate into small chunks, and place them into a bowl for later.

Okay, now if you happen to be reading these tips while making a batch of cookies, stop what you are doing and look down at your cutting board. You see all that chocolate dust on the cutting board? That is cookie-making gold! This is the reason why chopped chocolate gives you a vastly superior cookie over morsels. While you were chopping that block of chocolate you were making chocolate dust, something that you don’t get in that bag of morsels. Now use the back of your knife, or a bench scraper if you have one, and make sure you get every bit of dust into your bowl.

The importance of chocolate dust is something you won’t find in any cookbooks, and if you find a recipe that advocates chopping your own chocolate, it will most likely not even mention the dust. When you add your chopped chocolate that is now coated with chocolate dust, the dust will be absorbed into the dough, yielding a more chocolaty cookie without increasing the amount of chocolate you put in.

Tip #4: Don’t over mix!

One thing that can ruin a cookie is if the dough breaks. Yes this is possible, and I have seen it happen many times. This occurs when your dough becomes so warm that the fat in the butter separates. Unfortunately, there is no way to fix a broken dough (at least none that I know of). You can continue mixing the dough, and it will somewhat look homogeneous again, but it is too late. The dough is ruined. When you to try and bake these cookies, you will end up with a flat, greasy, cookie, pockmarked with holes from where the butter seeped out. Oh, and chances are your cookies will be sitting a pool of butter in the baking pan. An easy way of preventing this from happening would be of course to not over mix your dough. But, how do you do that?

Often times, the reason people over mix their dough is because they think that the dough has to completely come together before adding the chocolate. In fact once you add the dry ingredients to the bowl, you shouldn’t even be running the machine. After you add your dry, simply pulse your mixer (turn it on and off so that the paddle only does a single rotation) until the dough starts to pull together. The dough should be in chunks and there should still be some flour in the bowl. Now is the time to add the chocolate, which leads me to my next tip.

Tip #5: Freeze your chocolate

Friction can create a surprising amount of heat in the bowl while you are mixing your dough. It’s high school physics, but it is frequently something that many never bother to take into account. Often times, you won’t even realize how hot the bowl is until it is too late. So, as a way to insure that you dough doesn’t get too warm, you just have to place your bowl of chopped chocolate into the freezer. The frozen chocolate will quickly chill the dough, preventing it from breaking. The coldness will also make portioning the dough easier since you will not have to worry about your chocolate melting while you scoop your dough.

Tip #6: Rest your dough

Yes, you read it right; you have to rest your dough. I know that you have put a lot of work into these cookies, but the payoff is within reach, so please bare with me and fight the urge to pop your cookies into the oven.

One of the most widely kept secrets of cookie baking that is constantly left out cookbooks and recipes is the importance of resting the dough. What happens when you rest the dough is you allow the dough to fully hydrate, giving you a firmer dough that has the ideal amount of spread while baking. There are some pastry chefs who say that you have to rest the dough to up to 36 hours or more. Although this was standard practice at the Greenbrier, I have found that you get the same results if you allow the dough to rest overnight.

So, there you have it. Six tips that will enable you to bake chocolate chip cookies just like mine. I hope that you find this tips helpful, and happy baking!