I think it is appropriate to talk about chocolate chip cookies again because they are such a universal favorite. I was prompted to revisit the topic due to Sam Sifton’s NY Times cooking email, which reminded us that yesterday was Ruth Wakefield’s birthday (born Ruth Graves on June 17, 1903). In 1926, she married Kenneth Wakefield, and 4 years later, the couple bought a building in Plymouth County, Mass., and opened an inn there.
Mrs. Wakefield’s claim to fame is the confection that was known originally as the Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookie, after the Toll House Inn, a popular restaurant that she ran with her husband in eastern Massachusetts.
Legend had it that she was brainstorming about cookie dough while returning from a vacation in Egypt when she first came up with the recipe, a variation on another popular treat called Butter Drop Do pecan icebox cookies.
“We had been serving a thin butterscotch nut cookie with ice cream,” Wakefield recalled in a 1970s interview. “Everybody seemed to love it, but I was trying to give them something different.” Her initial idea was to add melting squares of Baker’s unsweetened chocolate to the cookie batter, but all she had on hand for the experiment was a Nestlé semisweet bar, and she was too rushed to melt it.
Wielding an ice pick, she chopped the bar into pea-size bits and dribbled them into the brown sugar dough with nuts. (Susan Brides, a pastry chef, assisted.) Instead of melting into the dough to produce an all-chocolate cookie, the bits remained chunky as they baked.
In her “Great American Chocolate Chip Cookie Book,” Carolyn Wyman rejected the prevailing theory that the recipe was developed inadvertently. Mrs. Wakefield was too perfectionist a cook. “Confusion is unknown,” a promotional brochure for her restaurant boasted.
“Nowadays, people love the ‘dumb luck’ story of the person who wins the lottery, or invents something because they were doing something else,” Wyman wrote about Wakefield’s innovation. “But what she did was still revolutionary.”
That establishment, the Toll House Inn on Bedford Street in Whitman, eventually expanded from seven to more than 60 tables. It became a destination, famous for its sea foam salad ring (with lime gelatin), lobster dishes and desserts, including Boston cream and lemon meringue pies, Indian pudding and baba au rhum and other recipes Wakefield had inherited from her grandmother or created herself.
She included some of them in a cookbook, “Ruth Wakefield’s Tried and True Recipes” that she published in 1931. Her enduring chocolate chip cookie recipe first appeared in a later 1930s edition.
Her Toll House cookie recipe was reprinted in The Boston Herald-Traveler, and Wakefield was featured on “Famous Foods From Famous Eating Places,” the radio program hosted by Marjorie Husted (who was known as Betty Crocker).
In 1939, Wakefield sold Nestlé the rights to reproduce her recipe on its packages (supposedly for only $1, which has to be the worst licensing deal of all time) and was hired to consult on recipes for the company, which was said to have provided her free chocolate for life.
Nestlé began pre-scoring its chocolate bars for easy baking, then introduced Nestlé Toll House Real Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels which became known as chocolate chips. (For the record, Allison Baker, a Nestlé spokeswoman, said that the morsels do, in fact, melt, but retain their shape because of the way the fat structure of the tempered chocolate is aligned.)
Wakefield’s recipe was printed on the package. (It was later updated to account for the availability of pre-sifted flour and other modern ingredients.)
When Wakefield added the recipe to her cookbook in the later edition, she included this explanatory note: “At Toll House we chill this dough overnight. When ready for baking, we roll a teaspoon of dough between palms of hands and place balls two inches apart on greased baking sheet. Then we press balls with finger tips to form flat rounds. This way cookies do not spread as much in the baking and they keep uniformly round.” This vital step of letting the cookie dough chill and rest never made to the instructions printed on the yellow bag of the morsels.
In 1967, the Wakefields sold the inn. (It burned in 1984.) The couple retired to Duxbury, Mass., where Ruth Wakefield died in 1977.
The appeal of chocolate chip cookies is undeniable. Just look at how ubiquitous they are. They are found in almost every bakery, grocery store, or made at home from a treasured recipe.
I still think that the best chocolate chip cookie is my working of the New York Times article written by David Leite. I believe the investigation Mr. Leite did goes far to understanding the underpinnings of the cookie recipe. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/09chip.html?_r=1&adxnnl=1&pagewanted=1&adxnnlx=1426461985-2l7wZ43hFSY/Tzbyds0I5Q.
J. Kenji López-Alt has done an extensive analysis of the science and variations in chocolate chip cookies, and his article is linked here:
America’s Test Kitchen’s version of a chocolate chip cookie involves browning more than half of the butter used in the cookie to enhance the butterscotch notes in the final cookie, and that can be adapted to any variant of a chocolate chip cookie.
The 2008 NY Times recipe is mostly derived from Jacques Torres’ bakery chocolate chip cookie. It uses both bread flour (more gluten and protein) and cake flour (less gluten and protein) in equal amounts (8 ½ ounces of each). I now make the recipe using 17 ounces of King Arthur all-purpose flour, because I tried making the cookies with the bread and cake flour combination, and I found no real difference to the one made with the King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour. There are differences in protein content of bleached and unbleached cake flours. Protein content of the Softasilk bleached cake 6.9%, King Arthur Unbleached Cake Flour Blend 9.4%, Unbleached Self-Rising 8.5%, Unbleached Pastry 8%, KAF Unbleached All-Purpose 11.7% KAF Unbleached Bread Flour 12.7%. No matter what flours are used, I strongly recommend that ingredients are weighted, not dry measured, for increased accuracy. I do think there are variations in the commercial varieties of flour, and I have switched to using King Arthur flours in all my cooking and baking.
Update 5/14/2023: I got in contact with David Leite to ask the question of the importance of using the different flours, and he referred me to a video he made with Amy Traverso on instagram that is the whole story of the 6 months of research behind the article. Bread flour will impart more chewiness and pastry flour more tenderness. Jacques Torres uses pastry (not cake) flour and makes minor adjustments to the ratio of pastry to bread flours depending on how much moisture is in the air on a particular day (more bread flour if the day is dry, more pastry flour if it is humid). Pastry flour varies in protein content from 8 to 10% depending on the brand and is unbleached versus the bleached cake flour at 7 to 8% protein. The bread flour is more sensitive to ambient moisture and will absorb more, and will also absorb more hydration from a longer resting time (from the eggs in the batter).
David also stressed the importance of using couverture chocolate rather than chips, the need to hydrate the dough for 36 hours, and the benefits of serving a warm cookie. He also takes the tray out of the oven halfway through the baking time (the cookies have started to flatten and the chocolate to melt) and he sprinkles sea salt on the cookies at that point and returns the tray to the oven to finish baking.
The Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie
Original source The New York Times
- 17 ounces King Arthur unbleached all purpose flour
- 1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons coarse salt
- 2 ½ sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
- 1 ¼ cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces)granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
- 1 ¼ pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content (see note)
- Sea salt.
- Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl. Set aside.
- Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined, 5 to 10 seconds. Drop chocolate pieces in and incorporate them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours.
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Set aside.
- Scoop 6 3 1/2-ounce mounds of dough (the size of generous golf balls) onto baking sheet, making sure to turn horizontally any chocolate pieces that are poking up; it will make for a more attractive cookie. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Transfer sheet to a wire rack for 10 minutes, then slip cookies onto another rack to cool a bit more. Repeat with remaining dough, or reserve dough, refrigerated, for baking remaining batches the next day. Eat warm, with a big napkin.
- Disks are sold at Jacques Torres Chocolate; Valrhona fèves, oval-shaped chocolate pieces, are at Whole Foods. Ghirardelli makes a wonderful 60% cocao chip, available at Cost Plus and other retailers. Belcolade 60% cocao nickel size discs are found on Amazon.com.
Also, as the article details, let the cookie dough rest and hydrate thoroughly for 12 to 36 hours (the longer the better). It definitely makes a difference in the end result. I did tests at 1 hour, 3 hours, 12 hours, 24 hours, and 36 hours. At 36 hours, the cookies are much more complex, with caramel and toffee notes in the taste that is extremely pleasant without being overwhelming. The 3 ½ ounce size of each cookie make a monster five inch cookie, with the 3 rings of flavor that Mr. Rubin talks about in the NY Times article, but in my oven, it cooks in 14 to 15 minutes. A 1 ½ ounce size produced a 3 inch cookie, and took 11 to 13 minutes to cook. This is less of a monster, but with similar taste, but with a less pronounced 3 ring effect.
I use a combination of Ghirardelli chips and Callebaut 60% cocoa. I buy a 5 kilogram “bar” and slice off the needed amount with a knife, and then use the knife to create small chunks of chocolate (with the added benefit of tiny residual chocolate bits and powder which gets thrown in as well). The combination creates a very interesting mix of texture and enhanced chocolate intensity. I will also use the Belcolade discs to get a bigger and more intense chocolate bite to the cookie (Belcolade Belgian Chocolate – Dark Bitter-sweet Chocolate Discs, “Noir Superieur”, 60.0% Cocoa, 11 Lb./5kg. Bag found on Amazon).
Despite what Dorie Greenspan says, I think this cookie is fine without the addition of a sprinkle of sea salt. There is enough salt in the dough and I think the salt counterpoint on the top of the cookie is overkill. Timing is everything with this recipe, from the resting of the dough in the refrigerator to the exact cooking time (just a light color to the top of the cookie without the edges getting too well done) to the resting on the cookie sheet for 5 to 10 minutes before the transfer to the wire rack. It pays off to do a small test batch to get the timing right for your oven and the size of your cookie. The 5 to 10 minute rest on the cookie sheet after it comes out of the oven finishes the cooking process, so don’t forget or prolong the time.
As usual, nothing but the best ingredients gives the best results, and this is particularly true concerning the chocolate. The cookie will taste very different if made with Nestle’s semi-sweet morsels, or horrors, with milk chocolate chips. I believe the higher percentage of cacao in the bittersweet chocolate gives a better counterpoint to the sweetness of the cookie dough. Nuts can be added if desired (I use 1 cup of raw chopped pecans into a recipe but chopped walnuts works well too).
There is one more thing that will make cookie making much easier. Making the cookie balls from the refrigerated dough is a bit of a pain to do, and I’ve come up with a better solution. Once the cookie batter is done, form your cookie balls with the help of an ice cream scoop. I weigh each ball to get a consistent and equal cookie (whether the 1½ ounce or the 3 to 3½ monster cookie).
I have been making the 1½ ounce size and it is easy to combine 2 cookies to make a monster cookie prior to baking. I put the 1½ ounce balls in a ziploc bag for the 36 hours rest. It is also easy to freeze the cookies after the 36 hour rest, and for those with instant gratification issues, having a supply of cookie dough in the freezer makes baking on a whim much easier. Wait 20 minutes after removing from the freezer and press the ball to flatten the disc prior to baking. Whether using the dough after the refrigerator rest, or using the frozen dough after the 20 wait, cooking on a silpat or parchment paper with the baking sheet is a must for good results.
Now, I’m going to give alternatives to my choice as the best chocolate chip cookie. Why? Everyone does not have the same preferences, and one must allow for variants, and sometimes, it is good to do something a little different.
Kathleen King has built a cult type following for her Tate’s Bake Shop chocolate chip cookies. They are flat, and very crisp, but have a nice buttery mouth feel. She published the recipe for her cookies in 2005 in her Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook.
Tate's Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe from Tate’s Bake Shop Cookbook by Kathleen King
Makes 4 1/2 dozen 3-inch cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup salted butter
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 large eggs
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets or line them with Silpat. In a large bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda, and salt. In another large bowl, cream the butter and sugars. Add the water and vanilla. Mix the ingredients until they are just combined. Add the eggs and mix them lightly. Stir in the flour mixture. Fold in the chocolate chips. Don’t over-mix the dough.
Drop the cookies 2 inches apart onto the prepared cookie sheets using two tablespoons or an ice cream scoop. Bake them for 12 minutes or until the edges and centers are brown. Remove the cookies to a wire rack to cool.
My second favorite chocolate chip cookie is a “double” chocolate chip cookie, the winner of 2600 entries in the Orchards’ 1987 cookie contest. It is a dark cookie not from melted chocolate, but from the use of unsweetened cocoa in the batter.
Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
Author: Junior League of Las Vegas
Recipe Type: American Classics, Chocolate, Cookies, Desserts, American
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp baking soda
1 cup butter, softened
1 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
1 large egg
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa
2 Tbs milk
1 cup chopped pecans, or walnuts
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips, (1cup)
1. Combine flour and baking soda, set aside. Cream butter with mixer, add vanilla and sugars and beat until fluffy. Beat in the egg. At low speed beat in cocoa, then milk. With a wooden spoon mix in dry ingredients just until blended. Stir in nuts and chocolate chips.
2. Drop by rounded teaspoonfuls onto nonstick cookie sheet. Bake at 350° F. for 12 to 13 minutes. Remove from oven and cool slightly before removing from baking sheets.
Yield: 3 dozen
Oven Temperature: 350°F
For some, the remembered and cherished tastes of our childhood is paramount and nothing satisfies as much as the original “Toll House Cookie” but I hope you look beyond the yellow bag of your youth and delve into the delights of better chocolate than Nestle or Hershey!