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Perfection comes to those who wait

Friday, 20 November 2009 | Tags: , ,

Those who know me know I am passionate about certain things: a great hotel, the take-no-prisoners party dress, the ratio of cheese-to-crust and the perfect cup of tea with my morning newspaper are just a few. I am quite good, in my opinion, at spotting the best of all of the above (see note at end) and lately I have been having deep thoughts on how to perfect another of my favourite things: the chocolate chip cookie.

I’ve learned that many recipes don’t vary that much in terms of butter, flour, sugar, etc. The differences result in either a more cake-like cookie (when more flour is used) or a more buttery cookie. Which is better is a matter of taste.

But I have recently been doing some research and made a few new discoveries – new to me anyway – that should hold true for every recipe, yet are frustratingly scarce in baking instructions. One New York Times article in particular includes a small collection of these little-known tricks gleaned from a variety of cookie-baking experts.

Being who I am, I decided to put these tips to the test, all in the name of creating the perfect chocolate chip cookie. And I’m happy to report I was not disappointed!

Follow these tips and whatever recipe you use will have people raising their eyebrows in wonderment, smacking their lips and reaching for more.

First – the chocolate is important.

Yes, we’ve heard that before. For chocolate chip cookies, the cookie experts recommend dark chocolate of at least 60% cacao.

What I didn’t know was the importance of using chocolate discs or “fèves” as opposed to chips. The discs help create thin, chocolatey layers throughout the cookie, rather than the concentrated dollops of chocolate you get from chips. As promised, the discs melted into delicate blankets of goodness, infusing just the right amount of chocolate into each bite.

I found delicious gourmet chocolate discs at Whole Foods. Look for gourmet brands like Bernard Callebaut and Valrhona at your local specialty grocery or kitchen supply store.

Second – let the dough rest.

Resting the dough in the fridge for at least 12 hours, but preferably 36, before baking is said to allow the dough and other ingredients to fully soak up the eggs. The result is firmer dough, better consistency, and deeper flavour. I just had to try it.

Using the same recipe, I baked up a batch without allowing the dough to rest, then another batch after the dough had rested for 12, 24 and 36 hours. After 12 hours, I noticed the cookies baked more consistently compared to not resting the dough at all. But after the 24-hour mark, magic set in. The flavour was richer, with clear hints of caramel and toffee, as promised. More of the same at 36 hours. YUM.

I asked several professional and semi-professional baker friends about the importance of resting the dough and every single one agreed, this is paramount. Sigh. Why isn’t this printed in more recipes? I feel like I just discovered Botox, only everyone else has been doing it for years.

Third – size matters.

Make your cookies on the larger side. I tested mine at about 4 inches in diameter. You’ll get a slightly crispy ring around the outside, which gradually, beautifully gives way to the soft centre “bull’s eye”, as described by the cookie masters. Pure, chewy bliss.

Finally, salt.

The recipe I used called for kosher salt in the dough, but just before popping them in the oven, and sprinkled some of my fanciest fleur de sel over each one. That, if I may say, gave the cookies an entirely new dimension. Salty and sweet all at once is a beautiful, beautiful thing.

So pull out your favourite recipe and try the above. I’ll bet my last cookie you’ll be convinced that the ultimate cookie takes days to complete. Be patient my friends. And resist the urge to sneak too much dough while you wait (I didn’t).

NOTE:

  • My latest, great hotel discovery: Parker Meridian in Palm Springs, CA.

  • Alexander Wang is currently making the best, sexiest party dresses (which I will not fit into this holiday season due to all my cookie testing)

  • Ratio of cheese to crust: 50:50 assuming a thin crust (who has room for deep dish?) More of my pizza research

  • Fresh Tracks Breakfast Tea from Namasthé brand

  • Best newspapers are the Globe and Mail and the New York Times (especially on Sundays)

 

 

Thank you to New York Times contributor David Leite’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

 

Join the conversation

On 11 20, 2009 at 05:49:31 PM, Bruce M. said:

Some great tips. I have never tried resting the dough. The salt tip is vital, I find salt greatly enhances the chocolate chip experience. I also found a quick way to get the cookies ready is using an small ice cream scoop to portion and apply the dough to the tray. I have also started using parchment paper (your old nemesis) on the tray. Two other interesting additions to chocolate chip cookies (one at a time, of course) – dried blueberries or dried cherries. Fantastic. Anywhere I could send some chocolate chip cookie recipes?

On 11 24, 2009 at 09:07:17 PM, Eugen B. said:

I’ll second the use of an ice cream scoop, preferably one with the little release ratchet thing. I have them in a variety of sizes for various purposes when doling out dough and it’s way easier than eyeballing or weighing. Another thing I use is Silpat pads. They’re awesome. Easy to clean, nothing sticks to them, and they’re safe for high heat. And, for those who tend to set things on fire … no such problem ;-). I will have to try this trick re: cookies, now that Christmas is around the corner. My kids want to do cookies and who am I to argue.

On 11 27, 2009 at 04:01:13 PM, Anna Wallner said:

Hi Bruce and Eugen, thanks for the extra tips! (Good ribbing on the fire thing too. From both of you! Sigh.) Someone on our Facebook page also mentioned using a pizza stone rather than a pan, so I will also have to try that too. Send any tips to info@annaandkristina.com and it will get to me. Thanks!

On 01 15, 2010 at 09:11:10 PM, Elizabeth P. said:

Of course I am biased because I believe my great-grandmother’s chewy oatmeal chocolate chip cookies to be the best I have ever had but I am willing to try resting them (if I can keep my hands off the dough) because I am curious if I can make this recipe even more delicious by just letting it sit in the fridge. I am intrigued!

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