Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Homemade Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate chip cookies may be the first thing I ever made as a kid.  I've learned a few things about the process since then, maybe you'll learn something too.  I welcome any comments or suggestions, as always.

Here's a bit of chocolate chip cookie trivia for you: the inventor of the chocolate chip cookie originally thought the chocolate would remain molten or soft even after the cookies had cooled.  I think I learned that from the stupid trivia they show at the movie theater before the previews begin.  It seems like the kind of fact they would put up there to get you thinking about food so you purchase something at the concession stand.

Ruth Wakefield was that inventor, and the above story is only part of what happened.  I did some searching on the trusty ol' internet here, and found this article from, well, about the history of chocolate chip cookies.  They were invented right here in Massachusetts.  In the 1930's Wakefield and her husband ran a place called the Toll House Inn, and legend has it that she added the chocolate to some sugar cookies expecting it all to blend together.  Because she used NestlĂ© semi-sweet chocolate instead of unsweetened baker's chocolate the chocolate didn't melt; she worked out a deal with NestlĂ© and the Toll House cookie was born.  There is some disparity, however, in the reports of how she stumbled upon the recipe.  I learned from the Wikipedia page that the chocolate fell by mistake into the cookie dough, and only through the urging of one of her employees did Wakefield bake the cookies and not throw out the dough.  So says the employee who supposedly convinced her to keep the dough. Follow the links above to learn more.

You might be thinking, "there's no experimenting going on here, it's just the recipe from a bag of chocolate chips!"  And technically you'd be right, but I've been making chocolate chip cookies for so long I've got it down to a science.  I can make three dozen homemade chocolate chip cookies in under an hour with my eyes closed, especially now that I have the Kitchenaid stand mixer above.  This post fits under the category of tips and shortcuts, because if you follow the recipe as stated you'll waste both time and energy.

The recipe I used came from the package of Trader Joe's chocolate chips.  Every brand of chips has their own recipe and there are minor differences between each one, but there really isn't much of a  difference between the resulting cookies.

The ingredients

Chocolate Chip Cookies

2 1/4 cups all purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup softened butter or margarine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 eggs
1 package semi-sweet chocolate chips

1 cup chopped nuts - optional

Form dough into balls and bake at 375° for 8 - 10 minutes.  Yields about 3 dozen cookies.

The first step is to begin melting the butter.  This is one of the only things I'll use a microwave for, at the low or defrost setting.  I avoid the microwave whenever possible, but the two things I will use it for are melting butter and defrosting bread.  I microwave it for 30 seconds at a time then stir until the butter is almost completely melted.  While the microwave is running I prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Beater attachment

The dry ingredients set aside

Next put the flour, salt, and baking soda in a small bowl.  Not the mixing bowl, but a separate bowl.  Put the vanilla, melted butter, and sugar into the mixing bowl and blend together until creamy.  I use the beater attachment; it seems to work well with chunkier ingredients like the chocolate chips.  Add the 2 eggs and continue to blend.  Next, slowly add the dry ingredients from the small bowl until the dough is well mixed.  Finally, add the chocolate chips.  I chose not to add nuts, although the cookies are good with walnuts or macadamias or white chocolate chips or I will occasionally add Trader Joe's Pecan Praline Granola, which comes out pretty good.  This time I kept it simple with chocolate chips only.

After adding the reserved dry ingredients
Vanilla, butter, and sugar

Adding the chocolate chips

Usually at this point I make the mistake of throwing away the wrapper for the chocolate chips, which also happens to be where the recipe is printed.  Only recently have I started to remember to keep it out so I can refer to the cooking time and temperature without having to reach into the trash and wash my hands again.

Ready to form into balls

Now that the dough is ready it's time to preheat the oven.  The first step of the directions is to preheat the oven, but I find this to be a waste of energy because it's usually preheated before the dough is ready.  By the time you've got one sheet of cookies ready to go in the oven it will be preheated; it's time to preheat the oven to 375°.  Before you do so, make sure both oven racks are near the center of the oven but not right next to each other; this will help the heat circulate when cooking two trays of cookies at once.

Forming the dough into balls

As the oven preheats, form the dough into balls about one inch in diameter.  The chocolate chips don't mix evenly into the dough, and as you form the balls try to pack the chips in.  I use two spoons, as shown, to pack the dough together and scrape it onto the baking sheet.  This keeps the cookies about the same size, although it's almost impossible to make them uniform.  We have three baking sheets, and each sheet holds 12 cookies.  It is possible to get 15 on a sheet but the recipe yields 3 dozen cookies so 12 makes sense.

First tray, ready for the oven
At this point the oven is preheated and ready for the first batch.  I set the timer for 8 minutes, the minimum cooking time, and form the remaining dough into about 24 more balls.  Sometimes you'll end up with a few more, sometimes with a few less.  If I end up with extra dough I'll add it to the existing dough balls before they go in, or conversely take some to form more cookies.  We have three cooling racks to match the three baking sheets, and I get these set up before the first batch comes out.

When the timer goes off check to see that the cookies are ready to come out.  The edges of the cookies should be browned a bit.  If they're not, give them another minute but keep a close eye on them; they can go from undercooked to burned very quickly.  Pull the baking sheet from the oven and set it on a cooling rack.  Give the cookies at least 10 minutes before trying to remove them from the baking sheet; keep the baking sheet on the cooling rack the whole time.

Browned at the edges

The top tray is cooking faster
The second batch will have two sheets of cookies in the oven at once, which will affect how they cook.  Set the timer for 8 minutes again and use that time to clean up the kitchen a bit.  When the time is up check the cookies as before, but keep in mind that one tray will cook faster than the other.  This will vary depending on where the oven racks are and other factors specific to your oven.  I'll pull the tray that is finished, give the timer another minute, and turn off the oven.  It'll keep enough heat to finish the last tray and if you somehow forget about them the cookies probably won't catch fire.

Chocolate lost to the baking sheet

The final pitfall of baking cookies is removing them from the baking sheets.  The temptation is to dig right in and start eating delicious cookies while they're warm.  You run the risk of losing some chocolate to the baking sheet, even if it's nonstick.  Knowing this I'll still eat some right away, and it can help to give the cookies a little twist back and forth, like you're trying to get rid of the static on an old fashioned radio dial.  Twist it a little back and forth and if it's not sliding easily choose another cookie.

When the cookies have cooled enough to remove them, transfer the cookies directly to the cooling racks to finish cooling down.  Time to pour a glass of milk and enjoy!

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