A Few of my Favorite Things: Chocolate Chip Cookies

December 18, 2009

 

Categories:
Basics, Cookies, Dough & Desserts, Fall, Holidays, Recipes, Seasons, Spring, Summer, Winter


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I’ve been baking a lot of cookies lately, recreating my past. It’s funny how many cookies there are out there—and which ones happen to remind me of being a small thing at Christmas. Sneaking batter from something unfamiliar, no matter how good it tastes, just doesn’t bring me back to where I want to be. The cookies I’ve been looking for are simple: chocolate chip; Mexican wedding cake; buckeye. I’ve even introduced some gingersnaps to the A team, careful to balance my tray with bites both rich and smooth, crumbly and sugared, crispy and with the right softness of chew. You can’t do it all with one cookie, but you can get close with careful selection. I’ve also been struck by how many recipes exist for each type of cookie. You think a buckeye’s a buckeye’s a buckeye. But it’s not.

So in the next few postings I’ll let you know what cookies I will be leaving out for Santa this year. In my opinion, it wouldn’t be Christmas without them. A few have been improved upon (dare I say?) while others remain untouched family favorites. Chocolate chip cookies will start it off, since they are the single most important cookie where Christmas is concerned.

With these, I deviate from the family origins. A few years ago it would have been unthinkable, but a string of happy accidents has led to the creation of these cookies, which are nearly perfect in my humble opinion. These are just the way I like chocolate chip cookies to turn out: very thin and soft in the center, with crispy edges. They are also chewy, not at all crumbly, dry or thick. They melt in your mouth.

It started with the chips…

While my grandmother was alive, it would have been heresy to suggest anything but the classic yellow bag. It was her favorite and she never deviated from anything that had been engrained in the Christmas cannon. The holiday kitchen was actually a rather militant place during her reign. Simply put, Grandma was an engineer in a house full of ‘creative’ types. No matter how many beans I passed from cup to cup in Montessori school, I could never keep up with Grandma’s numerical mind. “One little taste of the pre-flour batter won’t ruin the recipe,” was the family motto. “Every grain of sugar counts,” was Grandma’s reply.

Once, she slapped my sneaky hand with a spatula. And still, I love Christmas cookies.

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The first year Grandma rested in peace there was some small trouble with the chocolate chip cookies: not enough to go around. Our hungry uncle Mick was in town and had already found the cookie tin, which meant that the stockpiles were low, even on the 24th. Grandma wasn’t there that year to guard the cabinets and anarchy seemed upon us.  Praying for a miracle, my sister Lily and I drove to the town grocery store. Miraculously, the door creaked open. For a place that opens at 9 and shuts promptly at 5, this was nothing short of a Christmas Miracle.

As it turns out, it was only the beginning. Next came the absence of that yellow bag. “No yellow bag,” I thought. “There will only be half a Christmas this year kids.” “But there are other bags,” Lily chimed in, just like she would when she was 5 and I was 8. “There will be a Christmas after all.” I can be a terrible cynic. I pouted all the way home and made her drive. Grandma was rolling in her grave, for sure. Looking back though, I   wonder if Grandma actually led us there that fateful day, watching from her Heavenly perch as we discovered the truth about Christmas cookies.

The recipe on the back of the Ghirardelli bag is really, really good. They were gobbled up first, leaving the lumpier Tollhouse variety to late night eaters. The recipe, we were stunned to find, is almost perfect. In fact, I might never have known a better cookie was waiting for me without a recent late-night baking binge. Even though I woke up with a splitting headache and a belly coated in sugar, I just have to thank the universe for letting me get drunk last weekend and discover this next recipe. Don’t worry, I’ve repeated it several times, sober.

It begins a little something like this: The Joy of Cooking, a bar of good, dark chocolate (believe it or not, Hershey’s Special Dark is tremendous) and at least 25 minutes to forget what you are doing. Drinking helps.

I got home from dinner, had a few more glasses of wine with friends around the fire pit and suddenly had a hankering for a warm, just baked Christmas cookie. The best kind. But, there was no bag of Ghirardelli in the house. And my inhibitions were gone. I reached for The Joy of Cooking. It’s never failed me.

There were no chocolate chips either, hence the Hershey’s bar. But trust me, this discovery was a true blessing. Do not delay! Make your next batch with a bar instead of chips. The square, slightly flat and slightly uneven sized chunks will spread evenly in your batter and melt through and through. I like them that way—nothing irks me more than an un-melted chip buried in a heap of crumbly batter. “Forget about it,” Grandma would say.

The next happy accident came after I had mixed the butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and salt in the Kitchen Aid. Distraction took the form of another glass of wine and an empty chair outside, which I was told ‘had my name on it.’ Sucker that I am, I stumbled out. Nearly a half an hour later I realized that my batter had been beaten to oblivion. I stumbled in. Of course, uninhibited as I was, I poured the flour and baking soda into the mix anyway, even though the batter had a very pearlescent look and feel. The final dough was soft. Softer than usual. It clung to my fingers, pale, shiny and sweet. It took all of my self restraint not to take the bowl to my compadres and finish it off right then and there.

I’m so glad I didn’t, because I discovered the ne plus ultra of chocolate chip cookies. Trust me, these are true gems. I’ve made them three times since, and each time I am wowed by their thinness, their crispness and their chew. One last word before you roll up your sleeves. These cookies like a little encouragement: don’t set them on their Silpat too round and perky. Give them a little press with your palm so they begin to flatten under the heat. That is, if you like your cookies flattened, crispy on the edges, chewy in the middle and generally… perfect.

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Have ready two greased or lined cookie sheets.

In a medium sized bowl, mix:

1 c plus 2 tbsp all purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or with hand mixers and lots of patience) beat:

½ c (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
½ cup sugar
½ cup packed light brown sugar

Add and beat about 25 minutes on medium to medium / high speed:

1 large egg
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp vanilla

When this mixture is very white and fluffed, slowly incorporate flour mixture, stirring just to combine.

Add 1 cup chopped dark chocolate, I like one large Hershey’s Special Dark bar.

Place rounded spoonfuls on your baking sheet and press gently down—you can make these cookies as large or as small as you want.

Bake for 7-9 minutes, depending on size.

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