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Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Chocolate chip cookies - oven baked happiness!

I've made chocolate chip cookies for many many years, but I've never been quite satisfied with the results. Most of the recipes I've come across other than the famous (or infamous) Tollhouse recipe differ so little from the original as to be indistinguishable.

But I wanted a softer cookie instead of the thin, crunchy cookie that I usually get from the Tollhouse recipe. I tried many of the other recipes out there and they still come out thin and crunchy.

This was not what I wanted. So I started reading - a lot - about baking, and about cookie baking in particular.

Here's what finally worked for me.
  1. Melt the butter instead of using room temp
  2. Chill the dough for at least 36 hours
  3. Make sure your cookie tin cools completely between batches
  4. Use good semisweet chips. The cheap ones don't melt when you bake the cookies. I never believed this information before, but this time I had some Nestle's and I had some super cheap chips and had to use about half and half of each. Sure enough, the cheap chips didn't melt and you could tell the difference in texture.
I made two slight changes to the Tollhouse Cookie recipe
  1. used 1 T of vanilla instead of 1 tsp. That's just something I've always done.
  2. I leave out the walnuts and add 1/2 c extra chocolate chips.
In detail:

First, I melt the butter - that's BUTTER, not margarine, and certainly not Crisco - over a low heat - just to melt it, you don't want to actually change the taste of the butter. Then I let it cool. While it is still liquid but not hot, then I add the sugar to the butter and stir well. I add the brown sugar first and make sure that is well liquified before adding the white sugar.

Then I mix my dough as usual. When the dough is mixed, I refrigerate it for at least 36 hours, but that usually ends up being 2 days (roughly 48 hours) since I usually end up mixing the dough in the early afternoon. If I tried to hit exactly 36 hours, that would have me in the kitchen at like 2 AM.

Heat the oven to 375F.

Make sure your cookie tin cools between batches, and keep the dough in the fridge when you're not actually using it. I made about golf ball size balls, flattened slightly between my palms, and placed these on the cool tin.

Even if your tin is in terrible shape, with black stuff burned into it that you can never scrub off, you can encourage release of the baked cookies by greasing. If you grease the entire sheet, you get more black goo burning into the tin where there are no cookies. What I do instead is to take a stick of margarine, peel the wrapping back slightly, and generously grease just the area roughly the size your baked cookie is going to be (just a little smaller actually). This worked out well even on the borrowed cookie sheets I was using which were well-used.

Just place the slightly flattened ball of cookie dough roughly in the center of your greased patch.

I baked cookies on two different cookie sheets, one heavy duty and one a typical lightweight cookie tin.

I baked batches one tin at a time - there's a pizza stone on the bottom rack and I only had the 2 tins to use anyway. Plus, it made it easier to have a cooled tin to work with as one would be baking while one was cooling.

I baked for 11 to 12 minutes. This will vary depending on the accuracy of your oven thermometer and your home conditions. I believe having the pizza stone on the bottom rack helped to stabilize the internal oven temp.

After removing from the oven, place the pan away from the oven (use a folded towel to protect a countertop or table top from the heat of the pan). Let the cookies cool for two minutes on the pan, then loosen each cookie with a thin metal spatula. Let cool on the pan for another 7 or 8 minutes before removing them to a basket lined with a towel and preparing for the next batch.

Scrape any residue from the by-now cooled pan with the edge of the spatula, regrease, and place the next batch of cookie dough on the sheet. Place in the oven when the last batch is done, and keep doing this until all the cookies are done.

I found that if I was using the heavier duty pan, I didn't need to rotate the cookie sheet for even baking. I believe this was because the heavier duty pan provided a more even temperature so the cookies baked more evenly.

When using the light weight pan, the cookies spread more. I believe this was because the thin metal heated up faster than the heavier duty metal and caused the cookie dough to "melt" and spread out more before it started to bake and firm up. Still, they weren't VERY thin, so if you prefer a thinner cookie that might be ok with you. Cookies on the front half of the pan were also noticeably browner than those on the back half, but with the pizza stone in the oven temp was stable enough that it didn't hurt if you forgot to rotate the pan. There was a noticeable difference in appearance so you might still want to rotate your pan even if you have the pizza stone in the oven. Without the stone, you would need to pay closer attention and remember to rotate the pan.

My son's roommate pronounced these cookies "delicious". They had the texture I've been looking for. I may start experimenting with ingredients now that I have the technique down. For example, the REAL Nieman-Marcus cookie recipe looks like it should have a slightly different flavor (leaving out the espresso powder as I hate coffee-flavored anything).

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