There are probably a thousand of chocolate chip cookie recipes on this earth. It’s amazing, really, how there could be so many ways to make, what is essentially, one single thing. Even a seasoned pastry chef like David Lebovitz has three versions that I know of that he prefers to use. I have probably made/read/researched/rejected about hundreds of these recipes, both the random and the famous, and to this day, I still haven’t found the one for me.
As straightforward and ubiquitous as chocolate chip cookies may be, they are probably the most finicky and particular cookies to make. Even the slightest change in ingredients, proportions, and methods impacts the final product greatly.
Serious Eats CCO J. Kenji López-Alt wrote a painstakingly detailed Food Lab article back in December that explained how each element of a recipe factors in the final product. It’s a very long read, but is, in my opinion, is worth squinting at your iPhone’s tiny screen to read. In it, López-Alt takes us through the creation of his ultimate version of the chocolate chip cookie recipe, working through thirty-two pounds of flour and baking 1,536 cookies in the process.
Kenji López-Alt’s Food Lab article breaks down all the different variables that make up a chocolate chip cookie.
Like a sugar-addled scientist/pastry chef, he kept changing one variable at a time with every batch of cookies he baked. He tested melted butter vs creamed, brown sugar vs white sugar vs corn syrup, baking soda vs baking powder, chopped chocolate vs chocolate chip, and many other variables. He took pictures to illustrate the impact of the recipe alterations to the height, texture, and even the “chocolate dispersal” of the cookie.
The final ingredient list of his resulting Best Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe reads like most typical recipes. He uses butter, eggs, all-purpose flour (thank goodness, this did not need low-protein cake flour, like Jacques Torres’ famous version), and a combination of brown and white sugar. He also makes some key changes to the methods used in the preparation of the dough.
Brown butter and an ice cube
In his preparation method for the butter, López-Alt borrowed from one of the most famous chocolate chip cookie recipes on the internet, the one from Cook’s Illustrated. He uses not just melted butter, but brown butter (butter that’s been melted and heated until the water content evaporated and the milk solids started to brown). The cleanup after making brown butter is a pain, but the beautiful, nutty, and toffee aroma that fills your kitchen, plus the toffee notes it will give your cookies, are well worth the effort.
Cooling down the brown butter is an important step.
To replace the water that had been cooked off in the browning and to help the cooling process along, an ice cube is added to the brown butter. The cooling process continues in the refrigerator, a step that the original Cook’s Illustrated recipe did not have, which resulted in disaster for me during my first two attempts.
Eggs and sugar first
Sugar only dissolves in water (and ingredients that contain water, like eggs), but not in fat.
To me, this was the Serious Eats recipe’s biggest deviation from the typical recipe. Their process starts off with the butter and sugar mixed together. The eggs and the white sugar are whisked first, before you add the cooled (this is critical, unless you want sweet scrambled eggs!) brown butter and brown sugar. Mixing some of the sugar first with the eggs dissolves more sugar than if they were mixed directly with the brown butter. López-Alt explains the science behind it in detail in his article, but it has to do with sugar being hydrophilic, meaning it will dissolve in water (which eggs have), but not in fat.
Patience is a virtue, and a good chocolate chip cookie is worth the wait. Resting and chilling cookie dough develops the flavor and texture of the cookies, and this recipe requires an overnight rest (count your blessings, some recipes recommend a thirty-six hour chill in the fridge). Over the resting period, the proteins and starch break down, resulting in more intense flavors in your cookie.
I did not garnish with sea salt to preserve the cookie’s flavor.
I made the cookies twice, using the same ingredients, except that I used Trader Joe’s chunks in the first batch, and Malagos 65% in the second. I did not add the sea salt garnish, as I didn’t want anything to distract from the flavors in the cookie. The dough was chilled between sixteen to twenty-four hours in the fridge.
The resulting cookies were slightly higher than I was used to, although the plump, chewy middle made for a good textural contrast with the crispier bottoms and edges. I also may have baked them at the wrong temperature twice, since I had unforeseen oven issues on the day I was making them. Flavor-wise, the brown butter goodness does get a little bit lost in the dough, but the hints of nutty toffee flavor are still there.
While this is not the best chocolate chip recipe for me, that’s still David Lebovitz’s salted butter creation, it’s still in my top 2.
Is this the best cookie in the world for me? Alas, no. David Lebovitz’s salted butter recipe only just edges out this recipe as my favorite so far. Still, J. Kenji López-Alt has equipped me with the information and techniques necessary for the thinner, chewier, perfect chocolate chip cookie of my dreams. And thanks to him, I don’t have to go through thirty pounds of flour to make it.