Best chewy chocolate chip cookies

By | September 23, 2013

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This recipe and story first appeared in the July 15, 2013 edition of “From Tali’s Kitchen,” my biweekly cooking column in Binah magazine.

The professionals say you need butter to make a perfect chocolate chip cookie. But I’m beginning to doubt them.

I’ve baked many, many cookies. Ironically, they’re not my favorite dessert (and dessert isn’t even my favorite part of a meal), but at last count, I had 20 cookie recipes in my repertoire – and I consider all of them good enough for guests. (Isn’t that always the mark of a really good recipe?)

As a foodie and recipe developer, I’m always trying new things in the kitchen, so most of my cookies aren’t classics — fresh pumpkin gingersnaps and chewy red velvet cookies come to mind. But no matter which direction I take the other ingredients, butter is nearly always my starting point. Since our kitchen is a dairy-only place, there’s no need for margarine. Besides, butter does so much for texture, and browned butter adds an unparalleled boost to the flavor. I didn’t think you could really bake without butter.

But in my quest for the best classic chocolate chip cookie, I questioned every ingredient anew. White flour or whole wheat? Could I get away with less sugar, and what was the best white-to-brown ratio? Was vanilla extract the only way to go? And about that butter – would it really be so bad if I used oil instead?

Although there are many takes on what makes a cookie perfect, I was sure that with enough testing, I’d find something to suit most palates. It was a Thursday night when I made the first four batches, each slightly different. I started by replacing vanilla extract with almond extract, since I’d done that in blondies with fantastic results. Some of the test doughs were chilled in the fridge for several hours before baking, while others went directly from the KitchenAid to the oven. I also added a few tablespoons of pudding mix powder to one batch, curious to see whether it would make those cookies extra moist.

There was note-taking, and there was nibble-taking. But I saved most of the goods for the following night, when my husband and I planned to finish our Shabbos seuda with an official tasting. I stored the various cookies separately, each with a note detailing its ingredients and method.

Shabbos came. The baby went to sleep, I set the table, and my husband came home from shul. After challah, matzah ball soup, butternut squash gratin, and zucchini kugel, I carefully set up the dessert plate. And I do mean carefully — with the notes propped up between cookie samples, it reminded me of a science project.

“Woah,” my husband said when he saw it. “You better tell me about this before we start.” He’s used to this by now, this thorough discussion of recipes in progress. We never just eat dinner; we analyze dinner. I knew his feedback would be honest.

We tasted. We scrutinized. There was a clear winner.

It wasn’t the pudding mix version. Those puffed up and looked all pretty, but taking a bite felt like chomping on pudding powder crystals. (I tried a couple to be sure.) Also, although I’d reduced the sugar even further to account for the pudding mix, they were still too sweet. Interesting, but not quite right.

It also wasn’t the version that was chilled for three hours before baking. Those had a greasy look to them, and the taste wasn’t far from the (non-greasy) un-chilled dough. It seemed the fridge hadn’t been much of a friend in this case.

It was the unassuming cookie, the one that didn’t have surprising ingredients or a special technique, that turned out to be our favorite. Its texture is perfect: a thin, crisp exterior gives you just enough bite as you make your way to the moist, chewy (and quite chocolately) middle. I was shocked that such a texture was possible without butter, especially since its replacement was the humble canola oil.

The taste is also spot-on, and the hint of almond is an elegant touch. But even the world’s most wonderful taste and texture wouldn’t do if the appearance wasn’t just so. And it is.

True, when you pull these out of the oven, they don’t look like anything special. But give them a few minutes on the baking sheet. They’ll spread and crinkle just enough for you to find it hard to call them anything but the best chewy chocolate chip cookies.

Stick them in your kids’ lunches and they’ll be the envy of their friends. Send them to a kiddush and watch them disappear. But keep some for yourself, too. A perfect cookie is a nice thing to have on hand, even if you aren’t hosting guests.

As for me, I baked up another two versions and then called off my search. I think those butter-loving bakers should start using oil.


11 Comments

rivka on September 23, 2013 at 8:30 pm.

I snipped this recipe from the Binah and we LOVE it! It is easy to make and delicious too!

Reply

Tali Simon on September 23, 2013 at 8:58 pm.

Yay!

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Shevy on September 24, 2013 at 10:31 pm.

I’m excited to try these as I’ve been wanting to try a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. Do you think vanilla extract could be substituted for almond extract (even if that makes them slightly less perfect ;))?

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Tali Simon on September 25, 2013 at 3:56 pm.

Absolutely. :)

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anon on October 3, 2013 at 1:29 pm.

oh good. I must’ve thrown out the binah this was in and really wanted to try it… thanks :)

Reply

Tali Simon on October 3, 2013 at 1:59 pm.

Enjoy!

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Avi on October 27, 2013 at 11:21 am.

I ran across this recipe comparison and thought you might find it interesting:
http://www.handletheheat.com/2013/07/the-ultimate-guide-to-chocolate-chip-cookies.html

Reply

Tali Simon on October 27, 2013 at 11:27 am.

Now that’s research!!

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Shevy on December 12, 2013 at 1:03 pm.

I just made these in honor of the snow day (with my 2-year-old’s ‘help’) and they are yum! I may have put in a drop too much salt but they’re still good. The consistency is SO interesting I wouldn’t call it chewy I would call it light and fluffy (okay and a little chewy). They’re delicious and doubled very well! Oh and I used vanilla extract and it came out great.

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Tali Simon on December 12, 2013 at 2:55 pm.

Glad you enjoyed! If there are any left tomorrow, test them again for texture. They might get chewier overnight.

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Shevy on December 12, 2013 at 3:03 pm.

Yeah I liked them better after they sat out (in the cold) as opposed to right out of the oven.

Reply

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