Thursday, April 23, 2015

salted chocolate chunk cookies

salted chocolate chunk cookies

I would like to go on record as stating that I was not in the market for a new chocolate chip cookie recipe. Maybe I’m getting a little cranky in my advanced food blogging age, but I have found little evidence over the years that there’s anything new to add to the chocolate chip cookie conversation. (See: Item #9.) In fact, whenever there has been a new/perfect/ideal/ultimate/consummate recipe making the rounds and I have eventually caved and tried it, I’m generally underwhelmed, not because they are not good — I mean, I’m not dead inside, no chocolate chip cookies go to waste around here — but because they’re just weren’t new or different or special enough to get me to permanently stray from my go-to. *


what you'll need
my chopped chocolate looks like a keyboard

There is one core recipe for chocolate chip cookies, that which was named after the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts, where Ruth Graves Wakefield’s invention was published in a 1936 cookbook. Most modern versions play off of it in one way or another, always in the pursuit of a “better” cookie but rarely through the practice of simplicity. Some require cake flour, bread flour, or a combination thereof, which has always perplexed me as you’d think a mix of high- and low-gluten flour would average out back to approximately an all-purpose flour level? Regardless, I follow these recipes to the letter, hoping to glean something new.

a slightly crumbly dough

Several use whole-wheat flour, and while they are quite delicious (with the unspoken qualifier for something with whole wheat flour in it), I would rather get my whole grains from toast or grain salad bowls and keep my cookies as tender and devastatingly unhealthy as possible. There’s the recipe that sent almost every one of us scurrying off to track down expensive Valrhona feves, because nothing else would do. Indeed, the results are grand but the ingredient obscurity all but guaranteed we’ve rarely made them since. Many these days have you brown butter, which is of course delicious, but in my findings rarely a flavor that comes through enough in the final cookie to be worth the compromise in tender chewiness, even when water is added as compensation. A good lot of the current ones making the rounds tell you that if you’re going to make the cookies at any size less than coffee shop humongous, don’t expect the results to be transcendent, and indeed, when I make them only spoonful-sized, they’re unitextured and dull.

admirable chocolate to dough ratio

Finally, a popular chocolate chip cookie teaching insists that you rest the batter overnight for best texture and ingredient absorption, which is great if you’re the kind of person who plans your chocolate chip cookie cravings at least 24 hours in advance, i.e. nobody I’ve ever been or met.

ready to bake

So what happened? Once again, I succumbed to the lure of a recipe I heard many people going on about — Ashley Rodriguez’s, of Not Without Salt and Date Night In fame — but this time, I wasn’t disappointed at all. I am, in fact, in love. We have a new house cookie. And get this: it doesn’t use any special flour, the butter isn’t browned, the dough is as good baked the second after you finish mixing it as it is in scoops straight from the freezer days later and it doesn’t require any special chocolate (although hand-chopping a bar — but any brand you like at any budget will do, hello Trader Joe’s pound-plus — into colossal chunks does have its perks). Okay, it does request that you use three different types of sugar but I suspect that you already have them around and if you do not, even two of them will suffice. You will not have an easy time making a mess of this recipe.

salted chocolate chunk cookies
salted chocolate chunk cookies

The results are thick, crisp-edged, soft-but-not-cakey within, finished with a faint crunch of sea salt and absolutely puddled with chocolate ponds and if I’ve done my job well, you’re already halfway to the kitchen to make these. Aren’t you?

salted chocolate chunk cookies

* which are, by the way, the only dessert I make for crowds these days because warm chocolate chip cookies, straight from the oven, even still on their baking sheet, are the only dinner party trick worth having. Let it be known.

Tonight at the 92nd Street Y: At 7 p.m., all 1.5 of me will be on a panel with Dorie Greenspan, Kristen Miglore and Michael Ruhlman discussing what makes a recipe great this evening. If you’re around, I hope you can stop by and join the conversation. [This is a ticketed event. Details and ticket sales over here.]

Or you could buy these, instead: Grocery shopping is a pain. Ashley Rodriguez recently created a mix for her famed cookies — gorgeously packaged and gift-ready — and you can buy it right from her site. Be warned: don’t watch the video if you think you’re strong enough to resist these. [Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie Mix for sale]

One year ago: Lamb Meatballs with Feta and Lemon
Two years ago: Ramp Pizza
Three years ago: Classic Ice Cream Sandwiches
Four years ago: Crispy Potato Roast
Five years ago: Blue Cheese Scallion Drop Biscuits
Six years ago: Pasta with Favas, Tomatoes and Sausage
Seven years ago: Almond Cake with Strawberry-Rhubarb Compote
Eight years ago: Margarita Cookies

And for the other side of the world:
Six Months Ago: Cauliflower Cheese
1.5 Years Ago: Apple Slab Pie
2.5 Years Ago: Pear, Cranberry and Gingersnap Crumble
3.5 Years Ago: Roasted Pear and Chocolate Chunk Scones

Salted Chocolate Chunk Cookies
From Ashley Rodriguez’s Not Without Salt (site) and Date Night In (book)

A couple recipe-specific notes: The version I originally made from the Not Without Salt site called for light brown sugar, says you can bake the dough right away and calls for 8 ounces of chocolate. The version in the (excellent) Date Night In book calls for dark brown sugar, says the dough is best after resting in the fridge for a day or two, and calls for only 6 ounces of chocolate. The good news: both versions work perfectly, but I must insist you use the full half-pound (8 ounces) of chocolate. You will not regret it. In both versions, like most baking recipes, the dry ingredients (salt, flour, baking soda) are to be mixed separately but I’m a lazy cook, and include my own hack below to skip this. Finally, yes, that’s 360, not 350 degrees as the baking temperature. Rodriguez says the extra 10 degrees makes for a better cookie, and I’m not one to argue with such clear mastery of the chocolate chip cookie arts.

So what makes this cookie different? Being me, the second I took the first spectacular bite of the cookie, I lined the recipe up to the Toll House classic because I needed the language to be able to explain what was different. And I found that for the same amount of butter, Toll House cookies use much less sugar, much less flour, a bit less baking soda, less salt and less chocolate. I reiterated this my husband, who I like to torment with boring recipe babble as often as possible, and he — proving once again that he always listens, swoon — said “wouldn’t that just mean that there’s more cookie batter?” Duh, RIGHT. In fact, you could flip what I said to note that this uses a little less butter and egg than the cookies you may be used to and the result is a worrisomely crumbly dough — “The dough exists only to hold the chocolate in place,” says Rodriguez — that bakes up like a freaking dream, mostly because it barely encapsulates almost unseemly-sized puddles of melted chocolate and the whole thing is finished with flakes of sea salt, as all chocolate chip cookies on this earth should forever be.

I swear, I took almost an entire breath while typing that last sentence. (I’m lying. I took a bite of cookie instead.)

Yield: Approximately 18 to 24 cookies

1/2 cup (4 ounces or 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 tablespoons (25 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoons (25 grams) turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw; you can use more brown or white if you don’t have this, but the subtle crunch it adds is delightful)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (165 grams) packed light or dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
Heaped 1/4 teaspoon (or, technically, 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoon) fine sea or table salt
1 3/4 cups (220 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 pound (225 grams) semi- or bittersweet chocolate, cut into roughly 1/2-inch chunks with a serrated knife
Flaky sea salt, to finish

Heat oven to 360°F (180°C) and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat.

In a large bowl, cream the butter and sugars together with an electric mixer until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add egg and vanilla, beating until incorporated, and scraping down the bowl as needed. Beat in salt fine sea or table salt and baking soda until combined, then the flour on a low speed until just mixed. The dough will look crumbly at this point. With a spatula, fold/stir in the chocolate chunks.

Scoop cookies into 1 1/2 tablespoon (I used a #40 scoop) mounds, spacing them apart on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle each with a few flakes of sea salt. Bake for 11 to 12 minutes, until golden on the outside but still very gooey and soft inside. Out of the oven, let rest on baking sheet out of the for 5 minutes before transferring a cooling rack.

Extra dough — I know, what’s that?! — can be formed into scoops and frozen on a sheet until solid, then transferred to a freezer bag. I’ve baked these right from the freezer; they need, at most, 1 minute more baking time. You could also form them into a 2-inch log, freeze it, and slice and bake the cookies off as desired. The only difference I’ve noted between the cookies baked right away and those baked a day or more later is that the older cookie dough is less puffy when baked.


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