Thursday, June 30, 2011

10 tips for making a perfect chocolate chip cookie

When you’re having a tough day, what can cheer you up better than a warm, freshly baked chocolate chip cookie? It's something about the comforting, nostalgic fragrance of the cookies baking — that buttery-rich scent wafting through the air and stirring up fond memories. (Young or old, who can stop themselves from drooling?)

“Everyone enjoys a cookie the same — kids, grandparents, and adults because they’re simple, but nice,” says Tina Casceli of the famed West Village bakery Milk & Cookies (and recent cookbook author). We visited her shop the other week to find out her secrets for making such delicious cookies (and to sample them for ourselves).

The perfect cookie means something different to each person depending on whether you lean towards the crispy side or the soft, chewy side. We’re not saying one is better than the other; in fact, both are pretty fantastic, it just depends on what you’re in the mood for.

With so many recipes out there and an endless supply of options, it’s hard to just get down to the basics sometimes. To help you make the best cookie you can, we turned to two experts for their tips and advice. Tina shared some basic guidelines as did Ashley Swider, owner of YesUMay Cookies in Charleston, S.C.— maybe some of the best cookies we’ve ever had here at TDM. While we've got chocolate chip cookies on the mind, you can apply their tips to any cookie recipe.

Read what they have to say and then try out some of their delicious recipes below! Also, try throwing cookies on the grill to get the chocolate a little melty and serve them with vanilla ice cream for a fantastic summer dessert.

1. Invest in a Scale
Tina mentions that it’s important to weigh ingredients in baking, and a scale allows you to make a more consistent product, something that is especially important in a bakery. But at home this is also something that can affect the outcome of a cookie recipe.

2. Dark Brown vs. Light Brown Sugar
Swider’s secret to soft and moist cookies? "I typically use dark brown sugar rather than light brown, and for some reason, I’m not going to pretend to be an expert and explain the science, the dark brown gives it an extra bit of density and allows it rise a little more than when you use light brown sugar." If you’ve ever had the chance to try her cookies, then you’d understand what she’s talking about and why you should try it too.

3. The Ingredients
The quality of your ingredients is a very important thing, says Tina. Swider couldn’t agree more: “I think it’s important to use high-quality products and use a good quality chocolate.” She says that for her chocolate chip cookies, she uses about 2 ½ cups of chocolate chips, so though it depends on your preference for cookies, she believes that for one batch that is the perfect amount of chocolate chips.

4. Don’t Overmix

At home, Tina explains that a lot of cooks have the tendency to overmix because they think that everything needs to be incorporated when making the batter and dough, but that actually changes the texture of the final cookie. Swider also notes this as being a common problem. So what does she do? She uses a very low mixing speed and says, “People think that people think that you need to cream the butter, and if you do it so much that the sugar and butter become a spread, then that makes it flat.” She says that it should still be pretty chunky, and you should see a decent amount of butter and sugar. At that point, add the eggs and the vanilla. You'll still see some chunks of butter, and that’s when it will start to get creamier. She says to always do this on a very low mixing speed, 30 seconds.

5. What Type of Mixer to Use?
At home, Tina has a stand and electric mixer but doesn’t recommend using a hand held one. Swider is on the same page. “I always use a Kitchen Aid, I never use a hand mixer, but I guess I did growing up, and it’s the same thing.”

6. Silpat or Parchment?
When baking the cookies, Tina recommends using parchment paper because it allows the cookies to bake better. Swider on the other hand uses a baking spray on the sheet pan so you can literally scoop up the cookies.

7. Type of Oven

While a convection oven is best because the fan really helps in baking, Tina says that you need to learn your oven. “No oven is perfect, so you need to understand your oven and that just because a recipe says to bake something at 325 degrees, it doesn’t mean you have to do it.”

8. Baking
“I think it’s super important to under bake your cookies just a little,” Swider shares. She personally doesn’t like hard cookies, and says that if a recipe says to cook for 20 minutes, “I’d bake it until 18 minutes and see how it comes out. And that extra two minutes might be what makes it crispy and not so great.”

9. Turn the Cookies
Even as we stood there with Tina, in the tiny space behind the counter, she was working frantically getting out the day’s orders and kept returning to the large oven in the back to turn the cookies. She says that this is something that also needs to be done at home to ensure even baking. “People will say to me, oh the cookies in the back are burned, and I tell them they need to turn them.”

10. Last Tips?

Play around and have fun. Try incorporating some of your favorite ingredients into cookies and see what happens. Don’t think too much about it, they’re cookies after all. 

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