Redemption is the theme of this seasons Iron Chef; each contestant on the show is competing again to be the next Iron Chef. Each one of them has already been a competitor on a culinary show but is seeking redemption from their former culinary haunts and mistakes. Until this season I have never actually watched Iron Chef, however; I am a fan of many of the winners including: Michael Symon, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck, Cat Cora and most recently Geoffrey Zakarian.
Redemption is an important factor in cooking. I am not satisfied until I know that I have made the dish to the best of my ability – I get so frustrated when I forget about a batch of brownies in the oven or serve under-cooked chicken. As an untrained professional, I find myself seeking redemption quite frequently – most recently with chocolate chip cookies. Yes, chocolate chip cookies. No frills. Why bother remaking them batch after batch every weekend? I wanted to find the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookies. One that was crispy on the edges, soft and moist in the middle, sinfully buttery with the perfect ratio of chewy cookie dough and chocolate chips.
My mother once found a recipe from Cooks Illustrated for The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies – and they far surpassed any chocolate chip cookie I had ever had (well, except for my Grandmother’s, but I am still determined to figure out her secret). These cookies remain soft days after they have come out of the oven – no mini hockey pucks! It’s rare, however, that they even last that long. Most times my family devours them within the hour of coming out of the oven.
I was devastated to find out that my mom had lost that edition of Cooks Illustrated. My mother and I worked trying to recall the specifics of recipe testing new ratios of ingredients every time we made a batch, but they were never the same. She was determined that the butter was not melted but I was obstinate that you needed to brown the butter before incorporating it with the rest of the ingredients. I tested that theory and my cookies came out like puffy little rocks. They didn’t spread out at all. “You shouldn’t of melted the butter.” My mother snarked. I remembered clearly melting the butter – I needed redemption from my crumbly cakes of cookie dough. I would be embarrassed to tell anyone that I was going to culinary school if they saw these helpless looking lumps cooling on a cookie rack.
The information all along was that we were unsure of which magazine this recipe derived from, but we realized it when I got a new edition of the magazine for my birthday. I jumped up and googled the recipe from Cook’s Illustrated. There it was. The recipe for Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies. As long as you followed this recipe to a T you could not fail. Baking is such a precise science that you need to follow recipes as they are directed, cooking is more lenient as it allows you to substitute and modify ingredients.
As soon as the recipe finished printing I shoved the paper in front of my mom: “see you do melt the butter!” I was still puzzled, however. Why did they look awful if I melted the butter and added all of the ingredients? I made them several times before, why was it any different? The process – it needed to be exactly as the recipe ordered.
First you need to brown the butter in a sauté pan over low heat until it releases a warm, nutty aroma. You will be able to smell it and it will have a darker golden hue (compared to the bright yellow you would get from just microwaving it). This will help enhance the flavor. Be careful though because it will go from browned to burnt in a matter of seconds so don’t take your eye off of it!
Meanwhile cream together the butter and the sugar and slowly add the browned butter. Then add your eggs and vanilla.
The next vital part of this recipe is not to over mix you batter and to let it stand. Most people skip this step because they don’t feel like it does anything important to the end result. Trust me – it does. It is the difference between a soupy greasy batter and a cookie dough that is shiny and can stand on its own. This cookie dough looks different from more traditional batters because it is less dry and it has an almost silky texture. This was one of the biggest issues with my previous batches of cookies.
A crucial component for delicious chocolate chip cookies is not to over bake them. These cookies still have a crispy body but they are not like bricks – they are marshmallow soft; the middle almost melts away in your mouth. Remember that they will still continue to cook through a little bit when you take them out to cook on the trays. Toward the last few minutes of cook time make sure you check on them because every oven is different. Some might need more time while others less. Often I was too careless to check them before the timer went off but saving them two minutes earlier has made all the difference.
Cook’s Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yields 3 dozen (2 Tbs cookies)
1 3/4 cups of unbleached, all purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking Soda
14 Tablespoons of butter
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
3/4 cup of packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon of table salt
2 teaspoons of vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups of semi sweet chips or chunks (this time I used mint and dark chocolate chips – they were very popular in my house!)
3/4 cup of chopped pecans or walnuts (optional)
Preheat the oven to 375º F and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and baking Soda. Set it aside.
Heat 10 tablespoons of butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until the butter is dark golden brown and has a nutty aroma (about 1 to 3 minutes). Remove the skillet from the heat and, using a heatproof spatula, transfer the browned butter into a large heatproof bowl. Stir the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into the hot butter until it is completely melted.
Add both of the sugars, salt, and vanilla to the bowl with the butter. Whisk until it is fully incorporated. Add the egg and yolk, then whisk until the mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining (about 30 seconds).
Let the mixture stand for 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat the process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the flour mixture until just combined (about 1 minute). Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (if using). Then give the dough a final stir to ensure that no flour pockets remain.
Arrange the cookies 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets (about12 dough balls per sheet).
Bake the cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy. The edges will begin to set but the centers will still be soft (about 10 to 14 minutes). Rotate the baking sheet halfway through baking.
Transfer the baking sheet to wire racks and cool the cookies completely before serving. Store in an airtight container.