Chocolate chip cookies

After almost 20 years of baking various chocolate chip cookie recipes, I’m pleased to announce that the search for a perfect formula is done. I’ve found it and I never, ever will stray from it. Thank you internet, thank you Twitter, thank you food blogs.

I’d about given up on baking cookies, except for at Christmas. While my affection for a chocolate chip cookie borders on psychotic, I’d never been able to make a truly stellar batch.  To me, a good chocolate chip cookie is crisp on the edges, and gooey in the middle, a bit sweet and a bit salty, the perfect foil for a steaming cup of coffee. Yet whenever I tried making them they came out flat, or all puffy and cake-y. Often, the dough tasted better than the finished product.

Then a few weeks ago a tweet caught my eye about recipes that took off because of the internet, or something to that effect, and because procrastination is my middle name, I clicked. There, buried between tomato sauce with butter and onion and kale chips, I spied what is supposedly the best chocolate chip recipe ever, according to the New York Times. Time stopped at that moment. Angels might have started singing. I had a list of home improvement projects and friends I hadn’t seen in weeks, but I knew that weekend I would devote myself to making these cookies.

Fortunately, the recipe for these is super simple, especially when weighing your ingredients on a scale as opposed to measuring in cups. I had time not only to make cookies, but to finish painting my foyer, try Area Four (not a fan), make a pork roast and do several loads of laundry that weekend.  And the cookies? O-M-G. They were everything you want in a cookie. Even my sister, who’s sweet tooth is almost non-existent, ate three of them.

The premise of the NY Times version of this cookie is that you have to let the dough rest before baking it. While I did that with half the batch and found it made a mighty fine cookie, the half that got cooked right away were nothing to scoff at. Also, this recipe calls for chocolate discs, but as I’d just invested in some Guittard chips, I decided to go with them, and they seemed perfectly suited.  Lastly, I kept forgetting to sprinkle salt over the cookies before I baked them, but the ones with salt were definitely better. So try not to forget, OK?

I also took a tip from Orangette and scooped the dough into cookie-sized balls before refrigerating it. Much easier. Also, it enabled me to have a plate of ready-to-bake cookies in the fridge all week. Friends coming over? No one wants to eat three-day-old cookies. Instead, pop a few in the oven 20 minutes before guests arrive. They will think you’re a saint. And your house will smell great.

Make these cookies. You belly will thank you. Your loved ones will thank you. The internet will probably thank you too.

Chocolate chip cookies
(adapted from NY Times)

2 cups minus 2 tablespoons (8 1/2 ounces) cake flour
1 2/3 cups (8 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 cups) unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups (10 ounces) brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (8 ounces) white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
12 ounces best-quality chocolate chips (at least 60 percent cocoa)
Sea salt to sprinkle

Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a medium-sized bowl and set aside.
Using a mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in the vanilla. Reduce speed to low, and add dry ingredients a little at a time, mixing until just combined.

Remove paddle attachment and add chocolate chips. Stir in with a wooden spoon (by this time the dough is likely too stiff for the paddle). Use an ice cream scoop to create balls of dough about 3 ounces each. Place on a plate or tray, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night. Dough can be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 4 days.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, and put dough balls on the pan (8 cookies on a standard-sized cookie sheet is about right). Sprinkle lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 15 to 18 minutes. Let cook a few minutes in the pan before transferring to a wire rack.

Makes about 20 big cookies.

Sweet and salty 7-layer bars

Sweets were rationed when I was a kid. My mom was a Type 1 diabetic, and so sugar was scarce in our house to begin with. But there was also a subtle fear that her disease might be genetic, and hence my sister and I were routinely shepherded to the Joslin Clinic to get tested. I developed a taste for Tab early in life: it was the only soda I was allowed. My sister and I had to chew sugarless gum, and my mother rationed M&Ms to 10 at a time in Dixie Bathroom Cups.

Released into other people’s homes I’d inevitably gorge on as much sugar as possible. Brownies. Fruit roll ups. Rainbow sherbet. My mother routinely busted me at the convenience store (she forbade me from going) at the end of the street where I’d spend hoarded dollars and filched quarters on Lemonheads, Starbursts and Bit-O-Honeys. Though I faced getting grounded if I got caught, I couldn’t keep myself away from those shelves of sugar.

The absolute apex of desserts in those days was the 7-layer bar. Cloyingly sweet, with several kinds of confections, they were the antithesis of everything I was supposed to have. I wonder now what adults of other kids must have thought of my insatiable sweet tooth. I was like an addict. Never one for restraint, I would eat them until I was cut off, they were gone, or I had a belly ache.

Eventually, vanity and sanity kicked in. As I got older, my tastes matured and Blow Pops and Swedish Fish no longer seemed like reasonable snacks. Even my beloved 7-layer bars lost their luster. All that sticky sweetness was suddenly too much. I kind of forgot about them until last week when I was going through my recipe box trying to figure out what to bake for an office pot luck. “Man, I used to love these,” I thought, looking at the recipe card written in my 17-year-old handwriting. In need of something quick and easy to bake, I decided to resurrect an old favorite.

In deference to my adult self, I made a few key changes to the recipe. Rather than going with the typical milk chocolate morsels, I used Guittard extra-dark chocolate. With so much other sweet stuff in the bars, these deep, dark chips add a bit of contrast. I also sought to counter the sweetness by using smoked almonds rather than plain ones. I’m a sucker for smoked anything, and I think the almonds work wonders here. The result is a bar that’s true to my childhood favorite but suited to my adult tastes. I’ve fallen in love all over again.

Sweet and salty 7-layer bars
1 stick melted butter
1 1/2 c. graham cracker crumbs
1 can sweetened condensed milk
1 cup Guittard extra dark chocolate chips
1 cup chopped smoked almonds
1/2 cup butterscotch morsels
1/2 cup flaked coconut

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees. Combine melted butter and graham cracker crumbs and press into the bottom of a 13×9-inch pan. Drizzle sweetened condensed milk over the top, then add chocolate chips, almonds, butterscotch and coconut and press into pan. Bake for 25 minutes and let cool completely before cutting. Makes 16 bars.