The perfect chocolate chip cookie – part one

Last summer a chocolate chip cookie recipe from the New York Times set the food blogosphere on fire. I didn’t have my own food blog and I wasn’t reading any others regularly at the time, so sadly I missed all the fun. It’s probably a good thing – it would all have been too much for me and I would have expired in a heap of exhausted tears like an overexcited four year old at a birthday party.

But over the past few weeks, since first trying these divine cookies at my sister’s place, I’ve been having fun following the debate. The recipe in question contains some oddities for sure, which have been debated and re-debated and debated some more. Here’s my take.

Flour. The recipe calls for a combo of cake flour and bread flour. Why? I have no idea. There’s got to be something textural in it, but not being an expert on the science of flour, I would have thought they would all but cancel each other out. I had bread flour but no cake flour so I substituted plain (all purpose).

Salt. The recipe calls for a sprinkling of sea salt flakes over the cookies before baking. Oh, that tease of salt flakes on your tongue sets your tastebuds alight! It may sound strange at first, but I don’t know why I wasn’t aware of this idea sooner. I am evangelical about salting food properly, and salt and chocolate in particular are a magical combination. I’m not sure if kids would like it, so I’ll allow you to omit the salt if you’re making this for the knee-high brigade. Otherwise, include the salt.

Chocolate feves. These are little disks of chocolate, which apparently settle in the cookie in such a way that you get layers of chocolate in every bite. I actually prefer the odd batter-only bite in my cookies – anyone else agree? Plus I didn’t have a clue where I would buy such a thing. Good quality 70% Green and Black’s organic chocolate had to do for me.

Chilling. Basically the central tenet of the recipe is that you must chill the dough for at least 24 hours. Apparently it gives it time to absorb all the liquid and allow the flavours to develop. Well, I had a coworker on my hands ready to blacklist me if I didn’t provide treats the next morning, so I didn’t have 24 hours. The dough got 1.5 hours' chilling time. Practically sacrilege.

You’ve probably noticed that I didn’t exactly follow the recipe to the letter. But you know what? They were still outrageously good: chewy on the inside, crispy on the outside, with amazing butter flavour and a lovely sweet-saltiness. One of the best I’ve made.

Next comes the real test – following Margaux’s lead, I am going to bake subsequent batches at 12, 24 and 36 hours and see if that chilling period really does make all the difference. Stay tuned!

Chocolate Chip Cookies
Recipe from the New York Times, adapted from Jacques Torres

Makes around 3 1/2 dozen 3 to 4 inch cookies.
2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons natural vanilla extract
1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chopped chocolate (or chocolate disks)
sea salt

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In a mixer with a 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 vanilla. Reduce speed, add dry ingredients and mix until just combined. Turn off mixer and drop in chocolate pieces mixing until incorporated. Refrigerate dough for 24 to 36 hours (or 1.5 hours, if you’re Hilary).

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350F/176C. Line baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. Scoop large-ish mounds of dough (the size of small golf balls) onto baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until cookies are turning brown but are still soft, 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Dough can be refrigerated for a few days and used in batches.