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Your Chocolate Chip Cookies Can Be Even Better

February 21, 2014

Lauren Salkeld

Even when chocolate chip cookies are bad, they’re still pretty good. But that doesn’t mean you should settle for sub-par cookies, especially when you’re the one wearing the apron. Here are five super easy tricks for baking better chocolate chip cookies.

Upgrade Your Ingredients: Chocolate chip cookies require very few ingredients so it’s important to use the very best when baking. This is especially true for butter, vanilla, and chocolate. Seek out European-style butters, which contain slightly higher fat content and less water. Ireland’s Kerrygold is a great option; it’s widely available and often more affordable than other imported butters. Always use pure vanilla extract, never the imitation variety.

You can make chocolate chip cookies with just about any chocolate. Stick to high-quality brands, and read labels to make sure there are no unidentifiable ingredients. If you like the way chips hold their shape, Ghirardelli’s are readily available and quite good, while Guittard is popping up at more and more stores. Chocolate discs or feves like the ones sold by Valrhona melt more than chips, so your cookies will have layers of chocolate rather than small chunks. It’s a different experience but many people love it. Chopping up bar chocolate is another option, and allows you to really customize your cookies.

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Mix a Lot and Then Only a Little: The expression, “cream the butter and sugar” is one of the most commonly misunderstood steps in baking. At this early stage in a recipe, before any flour has been introduced, there is no risk of over-mixing. Now is the time to really let that stand mixer (or your arm) do its job, which by the way, is to make the sugar crystals cut into the butter and create air pockets that will help the cookies rise in the oven. While under-creaming isn’t the end of the world, it does mean that when you add the eggs, the dough will seem curdled (sprinkle in a tiny bit of flour to help bring it back together) and the final texture won’t reach its full potential. Once you do add the flour, keep mixing to a minimum. The liquid in the dough will activate the gluten in the flour and the more you stir, the tougher your cookies will be. Make sure the flour is fully incorporated but be careful not to over do it.

Chill the Dough: While it might be difficult to let a bowl of cookie dough sit it the fridge for 24 to 36 hours, this is, hands down, the best thing you can do to improve your chocolate chip cookies. Without getting too science-y, giving your dough an extended rest and chill, allows the ingredients to fully combine and that helps create beautifully browned cookies with more pronounced caramel notes. This trick requires very little effort, just a bit more time and patience. If you don’t have a full 24 hours, chill your dough for 12 or even 6 hours. Whatever you can spare is worth it.

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Use (More) Salt: Just about every chocolate chip cookie recipe calls for salt and there’s good reason. Salt amplifies the chocolate and tones down the sweetness, making for a more balanced cookie. Recipes typically call for table salt but you can safely use an equal amount of fine sea salt in its place. Sea salt is more expensive but some bakers find table salt has a metallic or chemical-like flavor. Kosher salt is another option but brands vary so substitutions are less straightforward. Also, kosher salt is typically coarse, which isn’t ideal for most baking. Larger salt crystals, whether kosher or sea, are, however, great for lightly sprinkling on top of cookies. This is definitely a matter of taste, but in keeping with the on-going trend for salty-sweet desserts, salted chocolate chip cookies have been really popular recently. Flaky Maldon sea salt is our preferred finishing salt for cookies (or just about anything really).

Reconsider Your Baking Pan: Heavy-duty baking sheets or pans, lined with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper are the best surface for baking chocolate chip cookies. Avoid thin baking sheets, which can warp and lose their shape, and also stay away from any pans made of dark aluminum, which absorbs a lot of heat and has the annoying habit of burning the bottoms of cookies.

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Makes about 28 large (4 1/2-inch) cookies

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (16 ounces) 

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment or wax paper.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl.

Beat together butter and sugars in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Lightly beat 1 egg with a fork in a small bowl and add 1 3/4 tablespoons of it plus 2 remaining whole eggs to butter mixture, beating with mixer until creamy, about 1 minute. Beat in vanilla. Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture until just blended, then stir in chips.

Scoop 1/4 cup batter for each cookie, arranging mounds 3 inches apart, on 2 baking sheets. Flatten mounds into 3-inch rounds using moistened palm of your hand. Form remaining cookies on additional sheets of parchment.

Bake, 1 sheet at a time, until golden, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool and continue making cookies in same manner using cooled baking sheets.

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