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"Stop making cookies!"
December 20, 2013 3:36 AM   Subscribe

For the latest edition of The Food Lab J. Kenji Lopez-Alt made 1,536 cookies in search of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
posted by Karmeliet (54 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
In case anybody else was frantically looking for the recipe but hadn't had their coffee yet:
http://mobile.seriouseats.com/recipes/2013/12/the-food-lab-best-chocolate-chip-cookie-recipe.html
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 3:51 AM on December 20, 2013 [13 favorites]


Thanks Hobo!
posted by freakazoid at 4:04 AM on December 20, 2013


Start making cookies!
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:05 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


These look good, if a bit fussy to make. I'll give 'em a shot, though, because cookies!

It seems like, every year or so, someone trots-out another "ultimate chocolate chip cookie" recipe. And I try it. And they're usually certainly good. But, I always find myself gravitating back to the tried-and-true (and yummy) recipe on the back of the Nestle bag. Made properly, the results are unfailingly satisfying.

I tend to think, too, that our image of a "perfect" chocolate chip cookie has been irreparably distorted by the rise of the mall cookie...those thick, seemingly half-baked things, over-loaded with chunks of chocolate.
posted by Thorzdad at 4:30 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hmm, but what if you want the crispy? Anyway, Alton Brown has the puffy, the chewy and the crispy here Also, his episode of Good Eats on this is one of his best. Alice Medrich's recipe is very similar to the posted.
posted by jadepearl at 4:34 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of your goals in this short stretch of life is to figure out which chocolate chip cookie recipe is right for you.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 4:37 AM on December 20, 2013 [9 favorites]


All chocolate chip cookies are beautiful. Ignore the media's perpetuation of a false ideal which no real cookie can live up to and can only damage cookies' self esteem.
posted by Foosnark at 4:38 AM on December 20, 2013 [18 favorites]


Chill overnite? For a chocolate chip cookie? LOL
posted by oddman at 4:40 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I approve of this research, and I shall attempt to reproduce their findings at the earliest opportunity.
posted by Mooski at 4:50 AM on December 20, 2013


At lease the overnight is better than the NY Time's salvo in the long and sugary cookie wars: the 36 hour fridge stay.

that is 35.8 more hours than the average life span of a bowl of chocolate cookie dough are you kidding me

"oh, what should I have for lunch? how about that kale salad I bought! oh wait I COULD EAT COOKIE DOUGH WITH MY FACE LIKE THE SAVAGE I TRULY AM"
posted by jetlagaddict at 4:55 AM on December 20, 2013 [22 favorites]


I wanted him to experiment with additional sources of sugar. What happens if you use turbinado sugar, what happens if you use some honey, what happens if you use agave nectar?

What happens if you whip the egg whites separately and then fold back in? Are there some butters that are better than others?

When it comes to chocolate does the cacao % impact flavor and melting characteristics?

He didn't even touch the nut question at all.
posted by vuron at 5:00 AM on December 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


Chill overnite? For a chocolate chip cookie? LOL

You might be surprised. The first time I tried aging chocolate chip cookie dough, I also baked off some cookies at different stages for comparison. The cookies baked from fresh dough were tasty but a little insipid and slightly greasy.

After 24 hours in the fridge, the color and flavor had rounded and deepened, and the texture altered for the better: chewier, still buttery, but without that edge of greasiness. The saltiness had receded a bit and the sweetness had more complexity.

After 36 hours, they were darker still with a deeper molasses flavor and a hint of depth – a mature-tasting cookie, but still one that children would gobble down. If I hadn't made it myself, I would have suspected a spoonful of brandy or scotch added to the dough in place of vanilla to give the cookies that hint of depth.

But – unlike other commenters in that SE piece – I found a definite limit to the advantages of aging. I baked a batch after 72 hours. They baked up dark and crisp with startling speed, and I didn't like them either fresh from the oven or after they cooled: too brittle, not chewy enough, and with their sweetness too subdued.

I haven't bothered to experiment since; I just make the dough and age it 36 hours. So I haven't seen if that 72-hour limit was peculiar to that batch. But the 36-hour rest makes a fantastic difference.

(I am also the ElsaMac in the comments there who's planning to age sugar cookie dough to see how the flour hydration affects the color and flavor of the cookies. I agree with Emma that it will probably have less effect than on a brown-sugar dough like chocolate chip, and with Kenji that too much browning isn't desirable in a sugar cookie as it is in a chocolate chip cookie, but I'm going to give it 24 hours and see how it works, then try another batch after 36 hours.)
posted by Elsa at 5:02 AM on December 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


When I make chocolate chip cookies now, I don't bake them all right away. I roll up all my little cookie dough balls (I use an ice cream disher - thanks Alton Brown!), lay them out on a couple of cookie sheets, and then put those in the freezer. After a couple of hours I dump those all in a ziploc bag and put that back in the freezer.

This way whenever there's a desire for fresh oven-baked cookies, I just take out twelve frozen cookie balls, put them on a cookie sheet and bake them from frozen.

As an added bonus, while cookie dough may be delicious at room temperature, it is sublime when frozen. So I don't end up baking that many cookies. I'm not ashamed.
posted by wabbittwax at 5:10 AM on December 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


Foosnark: "All chocolate chip cookies are beautiful."

I've had some that looked like piles of blond dog crap and tasted like sawdust (they also attempted to break my teeth).

The secret is, half butter, half Crisco.
posted by notsnot at 5:35 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wabbittwax, I do the same thing. But braces are making frozen things bothersome right now, and sometimes 15 minutes is just too long to wait, so I drop two little cookie balls in a rocks glass and microwave them for a minute: instant cookie!
posted by Karmeliet at 5:42 AM on December 20, 2013


half butter, half Crisco

Why are you trying to make me angry
posted by middleclasstool at 5:45 AM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


The best chocolate chip cookies are from the Paradise Bakery at the Prudential Center in Boston. That is a fact.

I'm sure these are good, though.

Also, I made these for a meetup once.
posted by bondcliff at 5:46 AM on December 20, 2013


An amazing and inspiring search. Thanks for the link!

In my own cookie researches, which have been not inconsiderable, I have to say that I've been quite pleased with Alton Brown's chewy recipe.
posted by shivohum at 5:46 AM on December 20, 2013


He's a good man, and thorough.
posted by STFUDonnie at 5:53 AM on December 20, 2013 [6 favorites]


I wanted him to experiment

Judging from the final paragraph, he is, possibly at the risk to his marital happiness.
posted by hat_eater at 5:53 AM on December 20, 2013


The perfect chocolate chip cookie is the one you have in your hand at the moment.
posted by digitalprimate at 5:54 AM on December 20, 2013 [7 favorites]


Insufficient crisp on the outermost edges.

...not saying that this isn't a triumphal achievement, because it is, but nevertheless there is insufficient crisp at the outermost edges. That is where magic occurs.
posted by aramaic at 5:56 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My veganness is only occasionally a burden. Like right now.

Anyone know a recipe for really good vegan chocolate chip cookies?

I have to believe it's possible, as I've had vegan alternatives of many other baked goods which were as good or better than the original recipes...
posted by sutt at 5:58 AM on December 20, 2013


If you bake extra cookies, you can always give them away. Unless the Grinch puts a stop to it.
posted by MonkeyToes at 6:03 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


My mom put coffee in her c.c.c.'s when I was a lad, and they were awesome.
posted by wenestvedt at 6:04 AM on December 20, 2013


J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the perfect NPR name.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:22 AM on December 20, 2013 [10 favorites]


Vegan baking requires a ton of alchemy to bypass the need for emulsified fats and more importantly the egg. You have to pull out some seriously crazy stuff to have something that even remotely tastes like the original.

Gluten free also has some significant challenges.

I'm not sure if you could even manage vegan, gluten free cookie that don't taste incredibly weird and have strange aftertastes.
posted by vuron at 6:32 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


One of your goals in this short stretch of life is to figure out which chocolate chip cookie recipe is right for you.

Not only right for you, but right for where you are living! I was so disappointed to move to Texas and find out my mom's tried-and-true, perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe (adapted from the back of the Nestle bag) doesn't work right at higher humidities and, I suspect, different all-purpose flour.
posted by muddgirl at 6:51 AM on December 20, 2013


Personally, I'm psyched to try his new, insane, potato au gratin recipe this year.
posted by Diablevert at 6:53 AM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Where are the oats? I like a hippy cookie.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am so in love with this post. Thank you!
posted by bluesky43 at 6:57 AM on December 20, 2013


sutt: here's a recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen. I cannot vouch for it's goodness, but everything else I've made from Isa Moskowitz has been fantastic. In fact, she has a whole page of vegan cookie recipes, and is co-author of Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar.

Back to the FPP: I really enjoy reading J. Kenji Alt-Lopez's articles, and think that most of the content on Serious Eats is fantastic, but I've often thought they've gotten too liberal with the term "science". Sure, Kenji has some very appreciable methodology, and he is certainly well trained and well credentialed. But having been married to a biochemist for many years, and having several relatives who work in the food science industry, I do have a bit of a hard time with the claim that some dude baking 1,536 cookies in the tiny kitchen of his Manhattan apartment is science (SCIENCE!). Maybe pop-sci, or less generously, pseudo-science. But science?

Nonetheless, these look like fantastic cookies, and with an entire week off ahead, I fully plan on giving these a go.
posted by slogger at 7:14 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Thanks, slogger! I've heard Isa's new book is pretty excellent as well.

Perhaps I'll get to these this weekend. I'll post results here if I do.

I found a recipe that looks like it might be worth checking out, too:

http://kblog.lunchboxbunch.com/2013/06/my-best-vegan-cookie-recipe-yet-plus-7.html

At least the cookies _look_ good. I'm thinking of applying some of the principles from the J. Kenji Alt-Lopez post to these recipes...
posted by sutt at 7:18 AM on December 20, 2013


I don't know if there can be one perfect chocolate chip cookie. I love thin crispy ones just as much as thicker chewy ones, and I've had great, average, and crappy versions of each. The best cookies I've ever been able to make at home were the Jacques Torres recipe, and a 2-day dough rest seemed best.
posted by gimli at 7:19 AM on December 20, 2013


I really like reading about this work on variable control. Thanks!
posted by So You're Saying These Are Pants? at 7:25 AM on December 20, 2013


I'm surprised he so quickly dismisses the idea of adding shortening; that's always been my secret for great cookies. My mom uses all vegetable shortening, no butter, but I usually use half-and-half, so that I can let the butter's moisture rest and link up with the flour in the fridge overnight. The texture is better than butter-only cookies, and the taste is great.

In fact, an old co-worker of mine used to claim he could break down exactly the proportions of ingredients in a cookie merely by tasting it. He was surprisingly good at it when a bunch of us baked cookies to test him, with one exception: when he tried mine, he instantly said, "Wow! That's SO BUTTERY." In fact, there was no butter at all, just shortening!
posted by Greg Nog at 7:37 AM on December 20, 2013



Personally, I'm psyched to try his new, insane, potato au gratin recipe this year.


I made it a couple of weeks ago. It was incredible.
posted by nolnacs at 7:38 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Also I'd be interested to see if you could use other sorts of animal fats for a good chocolate chip cookie. Maybe lard, or bacon renderings, or even duck fat cookies.

Chocolate + Sugar + duck fat would be heavenly I imagine.
posted by vuron at 7:47 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


My wife has been using duck fat in her pie crust, ever since last Christmas when I cooked four ducks and collected enough fat for the year. It's been working out fine and I imagine it would work well for cookies.

Holy shit I'm making cookies with duck fat!
posted by bondcliff at 7:51 AM on December 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


I dunno about bacon fat, man. I'm all for savory-sweet pairings but "distinctively porky" is not how I want my chocolate chip cookies to taste.
posted by Diablevert at 8:21 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


vuron, I made peanut butter cookies with some bacon fat in place of some of the pb. They were greasy (bacon fat isn't a solid at room temp). The pb recipe probably doesn't work well without enough pb, and the smoke/lard flavor was a poor replacement.

Possibly a recipe where shortening will work would work with bacon fat. Chocolate with salty bacon crunches and smokey lard might work very well….

I always have too much bacon fat in the fridge. Time for another experiment!
posted by Wilbefort at 8:21 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


"COOKIE FACT #15: HAND-CHOPPED CHOCOLATE = MOST INTENSE FLAVOR AND INTERESTING TEXTURE"

Interesting and intense are bad things in chocolate chip cookies if you ask me. Don't surprise me with a cookie that has one big ass chunk of chocolate and none in the rest of it. I'd like a bit of chocolate and walnuts in every bite.
posted by vespabelle at 8:25 AM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


As a chemistry professor, I have the following sanguine and erudite comment to make: SCIENCE, BITCHES!
posted by lalochezia at 8:48 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Anyone know a recipe for really good vegan chocolate chip cookies?

Funny, I was just thinking about this yesterday. This vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe is adapted from the one on the back of a package of Ghiradelli semi-sweet chocolate chips (These were vegan when I was, but not sure if they still are. Anyways, I highly recommend these chocolate chips.)

The recipe originally calls for 2 1/4 cups of flour, but I held back about 2 tablespoons for a chewier texture. If you like a denser, crumbly cookie, use the full 2 1/4 cups.

Egg substitute (for 2 eggs)
2 tsp Baking Powder
1 tsp Baking Soda
4 Tbsp Flour
6 Tbsp Water

Cookie ingredients
11 1/2 ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Baking Chips
1 cup Smart Balance margarine, softened
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar, packed
3 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/8 cups unsifted flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup walnuts or pecans, chopped (optional)

Heat oven to 375ºF. Whisk egg substitute ingredients together in a small bowl; set aside. Stir flour with baking soda and salt; set aside. In large mixing bowl, beat margarine with sugar and brown sugar at medium speed until creamy and lightened in color. Add egg substitute mixture and vanilla. Mix on low speed until incorporated. Gradually blend dry mixture into creamed mixture. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips. Drop by tablespoon onto ungreased cookie sheets. Bake for 9 to 11 minutes or until golden brown.

So, to reiterate the recipe for egg substitute for baked goods (equivalent to one egg) for use in other recipes:

1 tsp Baking Powder
1/2 tsp Baking Soda
2 Tbsp Flour
3 Tbsp Water

I used this with much success in many different cookie and cake recipes. If a recipe called for more than two eggs, I generally wouldn't have attempted it though. I think Smart Balance is the best vegan margarine for baking.
posted by fozzie_bear at 9:02 AM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not aged, but browned butter is central to Cook's Illustrated Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie, too. I've made it. It's delightful. Recommend. Would eat again.
posted by atomicstone at 10:20 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


For an egg substitute, I've used this with some success in the past.*

*Not vegan, though I like to flirt with vegan cooking.
posted by slogger at 11:08 AM on December 20, 2013


The chopped dark chocolate is wonderful and something I stumbled on myself when I didn't have a bag of chips, but found one of those giant bars from Trader Joe's in the back of the freezer. If the chocolate is cold enough, you can run it through a food processor and it won't melt from the blades. Makes it easy to chop it as fine as you like. I've played with going all the way down to powder, but like it best at around pea size or a little smaller.
posted by Eddie Mars at 12:14 PM on December 20, 2013


Don't chop chocolate by hand. My parents ran a cookie store when I was growing up and I spent hours every weekend chopping up 50 pound bars of white chocolate.

The worst part...it was white chocolate, so you couldn't even snack on it while you worked!
posted by Eddie Mars at 1:03 PM on December 20, 2013


You don't eat the chocolate chip cookie you want, you eat the chocolate chip cookie you have.
posted by Mick at 1:04 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Back to the FPP: I really enjoy reading J. Kenji Alt-Lopez's articles, and think that most of the content on Serious Eats is fantastic, but I've often thought they've gotten too liberal with the term "science". Sure, Kenji has some very appreciable methodology, and he is certainly well trained and well credentialed. But having been married to a biochemist for many years, and having several relatives who work in the food science industry, I do have a bit of a hard time with the claim that some dude baking 1,536 cookies in the tiny kitchen of his Manhattan apartment is science (SCIENCE!). Maybe pop-sci, or less generously, pseudo-science. But science?

That's identity-based reasoning which propagates an us-versus-them kind of ideology, that undermines scientific epistemology. Science doesn't care what institution a practitioner is affiliated with; as long as you have verification by iteration and predictability, you are doing science. See for example Daniel Dennett, Lawrence Krauss and Massimo Pigliucci on the limits of science (even as they themselves gloss over the issues somewhat).

Real, professional scientists are not so closed-minded as to classify things as "Science" (euphemism for Big Science) xor "popular science". Feynmann, amongst others, would be rolling in his grave.

In fact I'd say that "pop science" is precisely this distorted image of scientists-in-research-labs-only. That's not what science is about.
posted by polymodus at 3:53 PM on December 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you don't want to wait 36 hours (or even overnight), you can vacuum seal the dough (previously).
posted by AceRock at 5:00 PM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know this is kind of the whole schtick of food lab, but Lopez frequently overcomplicates his recipes for what I feel are very marginal terms. This does not obviate the many pieces of good advice in the recipes, but I feel it's the kind of cooking which makes as many people hate cooking, as love it. Also the "science" is often extremely questionable - not wrong in its assumptions, necessarily, but often failing to account for a wide range of other variables that can have more influence (e.g protein/ash/gluten content and of flour, humidity, etc etc). I think in pursuing its platonic ideal, Food lab sometimes forgets the things that influence us outside the recipe, like ingredients, time and willpower at hand.

Specifically on this recipe, I was surprised - and a little disappointed - he didn't investigate the use of cornflour in cookies, which is something I've seen in more than one place recently. I must say, I made these recently, and they were very good indeed. I am now a cornflour convert.
posted by smoke at 8:54 PM on December 20, 2013


I made these cookies. The aging helps, the browning of the butter didn't make such a difference (compared to normal aged cookies), but the brilliant move which I sort of had guessed before but always been too lazy to do was to chop the chocolate up instead of using chips. I didn't cover the cookies with sea salt because I don't like salt.
posted by jeather at 4:53 PM on December 28, 2013


Also I made the cookies way smaller because small cookies are better.
posted by jeather at 4:55 PM on December 28, 2013


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