Living Well: 8 Secrets to The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

October 16, 2012

This post is sponsored by Nestlé® Toll House® Morsels, the perfect special ingredient for all of your family’s favorite treats!

Chocolate chip cookies. Could there be a more perfect cookie in the world? And in my book, knowing how to bake them — and get a consistent outcome every time — is a basic life skill every bit as important as knowing how to properly iron a shirt.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie
tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

Baking chocolate chip cookies is a satisfying task, but baking them with your kids is pretty much heaven! There are lots of steps kids can help with. They’ll enjoy cracking the eggs, spooning the flour, balling the dough. But most of all, they’ll love sneaking chocolate chips to snack on while the first batch bakes, and waiting (impatiently) for the cookies to cool just enough to handle without burning their tongue.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie
tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

There are variations. Thin and crispy with loads of butterscotch flavor. Soft and cake-y, dotted with a few chocolate chips. Or my favorite, irresistibly chewy and chock-full of dark, gooey chocolate.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie
tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

For this tutorial, we’ll go with chewy chocolate chip cookies. But I’ll also share tips for creating different kinds of cookies (like I mentioned above) and include my troubleshooting advice as well. In no time at all you’ll be confidently playing around with your own recipe to make The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

All chocolate chip cookie recipes call for the same 8-10 ingredients: butter, sugar (white and brown), eggs, vanilla (or another flavoring), flour, leavening (usually baking soda), salt and chocolate chips. At the bottom of the post, you’ll find the recipe I work with, but first, let’s talk about ingredients and processes.

As I mentioned with my pie crust tutorial, butter = flavor. Shortening is fine for baking and the cookies will come out looking pretty, but they won’t taste as great. I stopped using shortening because it just can’t compare to straight-up butter.

I prefer to use unsalted butter when baking because I can control the amount of salt in a recipe. But that’s just preference.

Secret #1: Butter should be at (cool) room temperature. This means it’s pliable and you can press your finger into it. If you use butter that is too soft, your cookies can end up greasy and oily. It also won’t cream as well with the sugar.

Microwaving butter to soften results in unevenly softened butter — usually a very melted center. The best way to bring your butter to proper temperature is to cut it into pieces and let it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes while the oven is preheating and you’re gathering all of your ingredients.

Creaming is the process of beating butter and sugar together until it’s light and fluffy. This is important for chewy, delicious cookies. The sharp edges of the sugar help aerate the butter. (We’ll save the science lesson for another day, just trust me, you don’t want to skip this step.)

Secret #2: I start by creaming my butter by itself with an electric mixer, then adding the brown and white sugars.

While we’re on the subject, an electric hand mixer or stand mixer is the way to go for creaming. The stand mixer is a little quicker, but more people have a hand mixer, so that’s what I’m using in these pictures.

The picture on the left shows the creaming at the halfway point. The picture on the right shows properly creamed butter and sugar. It’s lighter in color and very fluffy.

Most recipes call for a combination of white and brown sugars.

White sugar will help give cookies a nice crisp edge. The brown sugar, because of its higher moisture content, will lend chewiness. Brown sugar is white sugar with molasses added back into it. There is also dark brown sugar which has more molasses and will give an even stronger butterscotch flavor to the cookies.

Secret #3: Using all white sugar will give you hard, crunchy cookies. All brown sugar will give you tender, chewy cookies. Play around with the ratio until you get the cookie how you like it. I tend to use almost all brown sugar, with just a little bit of white.

Eggs should also be room temperature. When you add eggs to the creamed mixture and they are cold, the mixture will curdle. This can affect the way the cookies bake and lead to uneven results. If this happens, let the mixture sit for a few minutes until it warms up and then continue beating. It should eventually come back together.

A quick way to get an egg to room temperature is to place it in a bowl of warm tap water for about 10 minutes before using it.

Secret #4: Eggs should be added one at at time and beaten well between additions to keep the mixture nice and emulsified.

Vanilla is the traditional flavoring for chocolate chip cookies. You can also add a little of another extract for a variation — almond is one of my favorites. The debate between pure vs. artificial vanilla can get heated. Use what you like. I like a good tablespoon for plenty of vanilla flavor.

I like to use unbleached all-purpose flour for most of my baking needs.

Secret #5: How you measure your flour is more important than what kind you use. I prefer to spoon the flour into my measuring cup and scrape off the mound with a butter knife. I find that when I dip the measuring cup into the flour and drag is up along the side of my flour bin, I get too much flour in the cup.

Another great way is to weigh out your ingredients. One cup of unsifted all-purpose flour weighs 4.5 oz. or 125 grams.

And that brings me to sifting. I don’t usually sift the flour for cookies. A quick whisk is all the flour usually needs. (This is not the case for making cakes, however.) Sifted flour will weigh less than unsifted flour. I whisk after I measure the flour.

Salt is a huge flavor enhancer in sweets. Because I tend to use unsalted butter, I have more control over the amount of salt. Start with what the recipe says and taste it. If you like, add more until it tastes just right to you. If it’s too salty, make note of it on the recipe and use less the next time. Unfortunately there’s no way to take the salt back out. If you use salted butter, you might want to use about 1/4 tsp. less salt than the recipe calls for. Whisk the salt and the baking soda in with the flour so it’s evenly distributed in the dough.

If you should decide to use whole wheat flour in your cookies, use a little less than you would if it was regular flour. The whole wheat flour will absorb more of the liquid from the other ingredients.


Secret #6: You don’t have to follow your recipe word for word when it comes to the flour. That’s not always the case with other baked goods. But with cookies, there is a little room for experimenting to find what works best. Factors like humidity, climate, altitude, and brand of flour can affect how much flour a cookie dough needs. (So can slight variations in the water content of the butter or eggs you use.)

And now for the best part…the chocolate chips.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

As I said, I like a generous amount of chocolate chips in my cookies. I like dark chocolate chips. My kids really love white chocolate. My husband likes milk. As long as there are plenty of them, everything is fine. :)

Now let’s talk about the baking process — this includes baking sheets, temperature, and time.

Cookie sheets come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. I’ve tried many, many different kinds and always come back to a basic, stainless steel rimmed baking sheet. In my experience, dark non-stick sheets often burn the bottoms of the cookies.


I prefer to line my baking sheets with parchment (NOT waxed) paper or silicone baking mats. Baking cookies on silicone baking mats or parchment paper will give you evenly baked cookies. You’ll be less likely to get cookies with burned bottoms and raw middles. Bonus: parchment makes clean-up a snap! If you don’t have access to either of these, greasing the cookie sheet works too.

Secret #7: To make the cookies uniformly sized (for even baking), I like to use a small spring-loaded ice cream scoop to spoon out the dough.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

Once you’ve got your cookie dough onto the baking sheets, it’s time to close that door and set the timer.

Some people prefer to bake cookies one sheet at a time. If I have extra time, I will do this. Rotating your baking sheets back to front, top to bottom halfway through baking time will also produce evenly baked cookies. Most cookies only need to bake between 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of the dough balls and the temperature of your oven. (Invest in an oven thermometer if your oven is inconsistent and adapt it accordingly.)

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

Let cookies rest on cookie sheets for a few minutes before transferring to cooling racks.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

Secret #8: Let cookie sheets cool completely before baking the next batch of dough.

TROUBLESHOOTING & VARIATIONS

Now for those variations I promised, as well as a few helpful hints for troubleshooting.

FLOUR: The cookies on the left were made with the exact amount of flour called for in the recipe, the cookies in the middle had a little more flour, and the ones on the right had about 3/4 cup more flour. All were baked for the same amount of time on the same cookie sheet.

With practice you’ll learn how much flour to add. A good thing to do is to always bake one or two test cookies to see how the cookies spread in the oven. If they spread too much, you can add more flour.

If you go overboard and add too much flour, add a little milk or water until the dough comes back to where you want it.

TEMPERATURE: These cookies spread too much. I already mentioned adding more flour to the dough. But you can also lower the baking temperature.

The cookies in the picture were baked at 375 degrees F (right), 350 degrees F (middle), and 325 degrees F (left) for about the same amount of time — give or take 60 seconds.

You can also chill the cookie dough which will help inhibit the dough from spreading.

MELTED BUTTER: The cookies on the top were made with melted butter and a higher ratio of white sugar. The cookies didn’t brown very well. The cookies on the bottom had more brown sugar. They are both chewy because of the melted butter.

There are recipes that call for melted butter. If you go this route (and I do sometimes), use 2 Tbsp. less per 1/2 cup of butter so your cookies aren’t greasy. Skip the creaming process.

WHITE SUGAR: The cookies above were made with equal amounts of white and brown sugar and more flour. They were firm and not chewy or crisp.

tutorial for the perfect chocolate chip cookie

BROWN SUGAR: These cookies were made with all brown sugar. They are very chewy and very soft.

CAKE-Y: These are super soft, cake-y chocolate chip cookies. For these cookies, use an extra egg, about 1/4 to 1/2 cup less sugar, more flour, and a tablespoon of milk. (These were a hit with my kids and husband.)

DARK BOTTOMS: The cookies in this picture were baked on parchment (left) and a greased baking sheet (right). If you prefer darker bottomed cookies, skip the parchment.

My Version of the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Ingredients:
1 cup (8 oz.) butter, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 Tbsp. pure vanilla extract
2 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Beat butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Add the brown sugar and beat for 5 minutes on high speed until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for another minute after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix well.

Whisk together the dry ingredients. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture in two or three additions, mixing on low speed just until the flour is incorporated. Stir in the chocolate chips using a silicone spatula or the mixer on low speed.

Using a small ice cream scoop or tablespoon, drop balls of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving a few inches of room between them. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheets front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking time. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for about 10 minutes before transferring them to a cooling rack.

Makes about 3 dozen cookies.

——

This was a lot of information. If you made it to the end, congratulations! I think we can say you are now officially a cookie pro. : )

P.S. — Do you like living well? Here are all the secrets.

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