Sunday, July 6, 2014

It’s hard to be humble... when you are the perfect chocolate chip cookie

Here's my June column from the Petaluma Post...

Is there any truer American dessert than the chocolate chip cookie?  You might say apple pie, but no we brought that with us from France and Germany.  You might say ice cream, but again that is French.  But the humble chocolate chip cookie was invented by Ruth Graves Wakefield, owner of the Toll House Inn, in Whiteman, Massachusetts. It was a very popular restaurant that featured home cooking in the 1930s. 

Traditionally it is a drop cookie studded with chocolate chips in a vanilla laced butter cookie dough.  It sounds easy, what could go wrong?  Oh so much!  There is an art to it.

When making the simplest things your ingredients are essential.  You will hear chefs say that you should never cook with wine that you wouldn’t drink.  This is true with your cookies; with only 7 ingredients go with the best.

Here at PSC we have cookies on our counter for takeout, our Chocolate Chip cookies rock; that is just not me talking.  We sell close to 3000 cookies just from the counter, not counting all the lunches and parties that have them as well.  I have been asked many times for the recipe, this time I will share.

PSC’s Chocolate Chip Cookie

1 cup butter
¾ cup packed brown sugar
½ cup sugar
2 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2¼ cup flour, all purpose
½ tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
2 cup chocolate chips

Mix flour salt and baking soda, set a side.  Then cream the butter with both sugars, add the egg and vanilla, mixing until smooth and creamy.  Next add the dry ingredient mix until combined, and finish with chocolate chips.  Chill the dough overnight (skipping this step will yield a very different cookie, 12 to 24 hours is preferable).  Now make the dough into 2” balls, and bake at 350 degrees for 10-12 minutes.  Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

Butter - One thing I will say is yes butter, only butter.  I love butter.  Butter is made up of 3 components, fats, solids and water.  Each one of these is an important element, fat is for texture, the solids add great flavor, and the water works as a leavening ingredient.  If substituting shortening you will need to add approximately 2 tablespoons of water to the dough.  If using margarine, then use the stick variety not the soft serve.  But again only use butter!

Sugar - I am a believer in cane sugar, good old C&H.  Many people believe that brown sugar is less processed than white sugar, but in this day and age sorry to say no.  They take white sugar and add molasses back in.  You can use dark brown sugar if you have it but I would use less and add a bit more white sugar to keep the balance.  Sugar is one of the keys to a crisp or chewy cookie.  More white sugar a crisp cookie, more brown sugar a chewy cookie.

Vanilla - Pure and simple, keep it that way. 

Egg - Like most standard recipes this is one large egg.  The volume of 1 large egg is 2 ounces, with about 1.15 ounces of white, and .85 ounce of yolk.  Eggs are very important as they serve two purposes.  They are a binder, holding the cookie together and they also work as a leavener.  Too much egg and the cookies will spread and be thin.

Flour - I stick with all-purpose flour; here at the catering company we don’t carry cake and bread.  Flour will change the tooth of the cookie; cake flour won’t have enough tooth and bread flour with make your cookie too dense.  Your flour will also change throughout the year.  We may edit our cookies once or twice per year for both moisture in the air and the changes in flour. If your cookies are too thin, then add another 1 to 2 tablespoons of flour, and if too thick just the opposite.

Salt - To me it is very important as it accentuates flavors.  I use salted butter so I cut my salt in half.  So often when you have a dessert that just does not hit the point it is missing salt.  If you want to add a decadent touch, before baking sprinkle the cookies with just a few flakes of sea salt.  It will bring the vanilla notes out and sweeten the chocolate chips.

Baking soda - Sodium bicarbonate, this is your key leavening agent.  Baking soda needs an acid to react (this will come from the sugar).  If you use baking powder the cookies will come out with a more cake like texture.

Chocolate chips - I really am a fan of semi-sweet. I think the bitter notes show well against the sweet cookie.  Milk chocolate to me is just too sweet and dark chocolate gets lost.

You’ll see in my recipe that I say to chill your dough; that is one of our secrets.  We make cookie doughs 2 or 3 times per week and store them in a refrigerator, pulling out to bake just what we need at that time.  This changes the texture of the cookie.  By allowing the flour to sit with the moisture from the egg and the butter, gluten protein starts to develop.  That gives us a heavier and chewier cookie.

Now to baking.  We bake everything at 350 degree.  I would rather bake cookies a minute more at a lower temp than brown too much.  Our final secret (don’t tell anyone) happens when you remove you cookies from the oven.  The cookies have risen to a nice dome, and this is where the secret to a chewy moist cookie lies.  The dome is created by steam from the baking soda, butter and egg.  You want to capture that in your cookie, by thumping the cookie sheet, just a little rap on the counter will do.  This will cause the cookie to fall, the condensation will be held inside and add moisture to the cookie keeping it chewy.

Now all you need is a big glass of milk! Enjoy.

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