Thursday, July 31, 2008

Cookie Monsters

Chez Kelman has become obsessed with making the New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe that accompanied an article describing the secret tricks behind superior chocolate chip cookies. This is only reinforced by Not Martha's acquiescing to make same. Though I am intimidated that Not Martha is only concerned about finding a 3 1/2-ounce cookie scoop, while I am more immediately concerned about where in the gastronomic wasteland that is called North Orange County to procure 1 1/4 pounds bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content, AND whether my King Arthur's All-Purpose flour bares any resemblance to cake OR bread flour both of which the recipe calls for and neither of which I can wrap my brain around. It's all ground wheat isn't it?!?

The New York Times recipe helpfully notes that bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves, at least 60 percent cacao content, can be purchased in New York at Jacques Torres or Whole Foods. We have neither of those in reasonable proximity. Luckily, Jacques Torres' website sells

Jacques' House Selection - the chocolate he uses to make most of our products. The bag contains chocolate disks (about the size of a quarter) of his 60% cocoa content dark chocolate. Use this product when baking (no need to chop) or eat right from the bag. Choose your size 2 lbs or 4 lbs!
The 4 lb bag is $20, the 2 lb bag is $12. They recommend shipping via Federal Express Priority Overnight, so that should cost an arm and a leg, though I didn't go through the process to find out how much shipping would cost because it requires you to create and account. How 1990s to require an account? If only we lived someplace like Richmond, Virginia, where we could walk mere blocks to our local candy store. They'd greet us with a "How can I help you?" and we'd reply, "Do you have any chocolate disks?" And they would reply, "You mean fèves? But of course! Would you like at least 60 percent cacao content? Très bon!"

But back in the NOC, our local Stater Bros. has Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, 11.5 oz. for $3.99. Above please see a picture of a single chip. They're not quite the tee pee shape of Nestle's Tollhouse Morsels, but I don't think they qualify as disks or fèves. (Dear Rebecca, she of the "what a cool application of cylindrical coordinates" comment, Please provide the correct geometrical terminology for comparing the pointyness of conical objects. Thank you, Sarah.) While Jacques Torres's disks are allegedly about the size of a quarter, these are slightly smaller than a dime. Regardless, I don't think that will impact this first test batch NEARLY as much as the quantity. The recipe calls for 1 1/4 lbs., aka 20 ounces. So using only one bag, I would have been 8.5 ounces short. So I went back to Stater Bros. for another bag. Unfortunately this was after I had already basically made the whole thing and let it chill in the fridge for 24 hours. So when I went to stir the new chips into the chilled dough, well, it was like trying to mix rocks into already dried concrete. Thinking this might also be a problem when it comes time to scoop them onto the cookie sheet (oh, yeah, I forgot to pick up parchment paper and I don't have one of those rockin' Silpat non-stick baking sheet liners . . . so if you wondering what to get me for my birthday . . .), I took the dough out of the fridge to bring it back to room temperature before trying to stir in and scoop.

On to the flour. First of all, King Arthur Flour has a pretty rocking website for a flour company, including a chocolate chip cookie recipe, which notably calls for their All-Purpose flour. King Arthur does make a bread flour, which it describes as having 12.8% protein compared to the all-purpose's 11.7%.
High-protein flour absorbs more liquid than medium-protein flour. When baking with bread flour, add about 2 teaspoons extra liquid for each cup of flour or more, in order to produce dough that’s the consistency the recipe calls for.
And if you dig far enough down their impressive list of wheat flours, you'll find Queen Guinevere Cake Flour, which is bleached to enable cakes to rise their highest; silky-smooth, for fine-textured cakes; and contains a mere 8.0% protein. This is not to be confused with Sir Lancelot Hi-Gluten Flour, which "is the highest-gluten flour (14.2% protein) available on the retail market today." (Really, the rest of the description is above the MPAA rating of this blog. But apparently it's for pizza dough, bagels, and other "lusty" bread products. But I digress.) So it sounds like this bread flour and the cake flour are at opposite ends of the flour spectrum, lusty Lancelot notwithstanding.

Based on the protein content I'm guessing I could probably substitute the all-purpose for the bread flour (that's a difference of -1.1% protein content). But not only does the cake flour differ from all-purpose in terms of protein content (-3.7%), it also sounds like it's milled more finely and bleached, which has more effect than merely coloration. So now to find a grocery store in this gustatorily forsaken place that sells at least cake flour if not bread flour. Alternatively, King Arthur does have an online store, and I can't imagine it will melt in transit.

Again, our local Stater Bros. provided something just a little off spec. First, the only bread flour available was General Mills' Gold Medal. The options were either "Better for Bread" or "Bread Machine Friendly." I went with "Better for Bread," 5 lbs for $3.99. According to the incredibly informative comments to The Fresh Loaf's post comparing a baguette made with King Arthur flour to one made from Gold Medal flour, the protein content of Better for Bread is 11.3 – 12.3%, which average's out 0.1% more than King Arthur All-Purpose 11.7% and 1% less than King Arthur bread flour 12.8%. So in the end I would probably have done just as well to substitute King Arthur All-Purpose.

Second, the only cake flour our fair Stater Bros. had was in a box like cake mix and was Pillsbury Softasilk Cake Flour, 2 lbs for $3.79. According to Sourdough Home, Pillsbury Softasilk Cake Flour has 6.6% protein, which is 1.4% less than King Arthur's Queen Guinevere Cake Flour.

But all my hemming and hawing about my local lack of baking resources is not going to make these cookies fail. What IS going to make these cookies fail is the fact that I measured the ingredients entirely inappropriately. First, I didn't use a scale. I can see Terri's fiance Donald, an amazing bread baker, shaking his head in dismay already. But that's nothing. I did not even use a dry measuring cup (or for Alton Brown fans a Measuring Plunger). I used a liquid measuring cup. I spooned the flour into the cup, but didn't level it off. So really I just should have dumped it into the bowl and eyeballed it to get the same (in)accuracy.

Dough 1, Batch 1 Report (After 24 Hours Chilling):
Too rich! Which might be because I mixed in extra chocolate chips as I made each cookie. Thus, I probably mixed in too many chips to each cookie.

Also I forgot the sea salt. Bought it, but forgot to put it on the cookies. The salt might temper the dark chocolateness of the chips.

We followed the directions to let the cookies cool on the cookie sheet on top of a wire rack for ten minutes before taking them off the sheet. This made taking the cookies off the sheet much easier than my usual "attack as soon as they come out of the oven" approach. The instructions did not specify a length of time to leave the cookies on the rack. We left them for about five minutes and they were kinda a gooey mess.

But enough grousing. The size was perfect, just as the article described: crunchy edge leading to ring of middle range cookedness, and then a chewy gooey center. And though the chocolate did overwhelm it in this batch, the dough seemed quite good despite my flour anxiety and mismeasurement.

Dough 1, Batch 2 Report (After 48 Hours Chilling):
The sea salt made a HUGE improvement. You can even see the salt crystals sparkle in the picture. I scattered a pinch of sea salt over each cookie and then blotted up the salt that landed on the cookie sheet with the bottom of each cookie.

Also, I didn't mix in any more chocolate chips to the dough, so the cookies probably had a little over half the amount of chips recommended in the recipe. This was also a radical improvement. The higher dough to chip ratio allowed one to appreciate the quality of the dough.

Perhaps due to the longer rest period, the cookies were more puffy when they came out of the oven and more even when cooled.

Speaking of cooling, after we let them cool on the cookie sheet for ten minutes, we then let the cookies cool on the rack for another ten minutes. Less messy, but still warm and awesome.

Dough 1, Batch 3 Report (After 72 Hours Chilling):
Like Batch 2 I didn't mix in any more chocolate chips to the dough, so the cookies probably had a little over half the amount of chips recommended in the recipe.

Also like Batch 2 I scattered a pinch of sea salt over each cookie. But this time I didn't blot up the salt that landed on the cookie sheet. This made the outer crispy edge a little more salty and maybe more crunchy. The higher dough to chip ratio and salty edge were improvements.

The cookies were more puffy than Batch 1 when they came out of the oven. David said they were the same level of puffiness as Batch 2. Again, like Batch 2 this resulted in more even cookies once they cooled.

We then let the cookies cool on the rack for another ten minutes, like we did with Batch 2 and had the same less messy, but still warm and awesome results. We also left a few cookies on the rack for a few hours, then put them in Ziploc bags overnight. They still had a great consistency - crisp edge, midrange cooked ring, moist center - at both lunch and dinner the next day.

Just FYI, the first two batches were 6 cookies each. The third batch was 9 cookies, so the recipe as I executed it yielded 31 good-sized cookies. As far as real serving size goes, I would say three cookies are the max anyone could eat in one sitting. More reasonably, assume folks will eat one cookie, maybe two per person.

From this round of dough I have come to the following conclusions.
  • The sea salt is absolutely necessary.
  • One 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, is plenty.
  • Follow the instructions for letting the cookies cool on the sheet for 10 minutes, then let them cool at LEAST another 10 minutes on the rack. The quality is not negatively impacted by cooling.
  • If you're patient, letting the dough rest 48 hours will actually produce a prettier cookie.
I tried to scientifically respond to Rebecca's question, "how different is the NYT recipe from the normal toll house recipe (other than the resting and size) and do you think it's worth it?" But when I proposed that we make Tollhouse cookies to compare with the NYT cookies David refused saying, "Why would we ever make such inferior cookies again?" So I think that translates to "It's worth it." These are definitively the best chocolate chip cookies we have ever made.

Dough 2, Batch 1, 2 & 3 Report (After 0, 24, and 48 Hours Chilling Respectively):
Oh what a difference a chip makes. Out of expediency I used a 12 oz. bag of Trader Joe's Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips. I didn't let the refrigerated ingredients get to room temperature before assembling the dough. And with the first batch I didn't even wait one hour much less 24 before slapping 'em on a pan and throwing them in the oven. Oh, yeah, and I let the Hubinator do the sea salt sprinkling. Batch 1 result: practically inedible salted cookies. Let's call them brined cookies. Now, part of it was David and his super-sized pinch of salt per cookie. But I think the secondary answer is that the semi-sweet morsels were too weak for the recipe.

Even with batch 2, which was 24 hours later and entirely salt free, the chips just didn't have the impact that the 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate had. And without the salt, the dough was not fabulous. Not horrible, but not fabulous. Also, other than the saltiness, there seemed to be no difference between Batch 1 and Batch 2, so is waiting 24 hours really all that important? Or were we so overwhelmed with the saltiness of Batch 1 that we couldn't accurately compare Batch 1 to Batch 2?

David sprinkled Batch 3 with a light pinch of sea salt per cookie which improved the taste of the dough and slightly improved the wimpiness of the chips. Batch 3 didn't taste brined, but it was still insufficiently chocolatey. Nonetheless, I didn't partake of any Batch 3 cookies until well over 24 hours after they were cooked and their consistency was still AWESOME. This batch, like the rest from Dough 2 were nowhere near as awesome as Dough 1. If they had turned out like this the first time I made them, I probably would not have bothered to make another dough from this recipe. I probably would have gone back to my normal toll house recipe and just made each ball of dough golf ball sized, as David is convinced that the texture is solely attributable to the size, and probably cooling tactics.

All three batches in this round of dough had a VERY different look that then first dough's batches. The cookie surface had more fault lines. And the cookie dough seemed paler. So much for my "48 hours of dough resting makes prettier cookies" theory. Any thoughts on why that might be the case?

From the second round of dough I have come to the following conclusions.
  • The sea salt is absolutely necessary, but it can go horribly, horribly wrong.
  • While one 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, is plenty, one 12 oz. bag of Trader Joe's Semi Sweet Chocolate Chips is not.
  • These cookies really do stand the test of time (well, if "time" means 24 hours in a Ziploc bag).
  • I am not entirely convinced that letting the dough rest 48 hours will actually produce a prettier cookie.

I'm glad to see Not Martha is still obsessing over this recipe and confessing to making mistakes (she forgot the vanilla). Also via Not Martha, Orangette confirms my substitution of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate, but from what I can tell she used a full 20 oz. rather than one 11.5 oz. bag.

Dough 3, Batch 1 (After 1 Hour Chilling):
I was hoping this would be the perfect execution. I used one 11.5 oz. bag of Ghiradelli Premium Baking Chips, 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate. I let all the ingredients get to room temperature before combining. I measured the dry ingredients using dry ingredient measuring utensils. I even spooned the flour into the measuring cup and leveled it off with the back of a knife just like my Home Ec teacher Mrs. Beck taught me. I applied a modest pinch of sea salt to each cookie. I let them cool for 10 minutes on the sheet and then another 10 minutes on the rack.

But I was about 1/4 cup short of regular sugar, so I added an extra 1/4 cup of brown sugar instead. Would confectioners sugar been a better alternative? Also, a certain sifter, in this case meaning "one who sifts," had no intention of waiting 24 hours for the first batch. It was all I could do to convince him to let me chill the dough for one hour. So a perfect execution it was not.

End result: The sifter said they were yummy, but crunchier and a little flatter than before. I concur. I noticed some chips fell through the cooling rack, which hadn't happened before. I think I could have had an even lighter hand with the sea salt, but the sifter disagreed.

Addressing Rebecca's questions from the comments:
1. would cookies taste just as good if made without resting as with resting?

Based on Dough 2, I would say yes, the taste isn't what changes so much as the prettiness. Though I'll double check that with Dough 3.

2. would the toll house recipe with sea salt be good?

Hell to the no. Based on my experience with Dough 2, if you use the standard semi-sweet toll house chips and add salt, your cookies will taste like you dipped them in salt water instead of milk.

3. would resting the toll house cookies do anything?

Might make them prettier. If you're baking from scratch, then the effect of resting should be the same. Obviously if you're baking from the tube of pre-made dough there are enough preservatives in there to ensure no difference.

4. or, what about the toll house recipe with better chocolate and sea salt (starting to move away from the recipe, but still)

I suspect the different flours, different amount of vanilla extract, different proportions of brown and plain sugar, and different cooling directions would have a significant difference. But it would be worth testing.

5. would making bigger toll house cookies make them have the same texture as the nyt cookies?

I don't know if it would make them have the same texture, but I bet it would improve the texture immensely. Again, this would be worth testing. I think you could probably make one standard toll house dough, split it in half, add 1/2 the required toll house chips to one half, and add 1/2 the required 60% cacao chips to the other half. Then make some of the toll house cookies (a) regular sized with sea salt, (b) regular sized without sea salt, (c) golf ball sized with sea salt, and (d) golf ball sized without sea salt, then wait 24 and 48 hours and repeat. And make the 60% cacao chipped toll houses golf ball sized with sea salt, and without sea salt, then wait 24 and 48 hours and repeat. I think that should cover all the permutations to provide data regarding each of your questions. Feel free to make this into a flow chart or spreadsheet.

Dough 3, Batch 2 (After 24 Hours Chilling):
I did something a little different this time. I didn't let the cookie dough warm up before scraping out dough to roll into cookies. So they were a little colder when they went into the oven. And they weren't as perfectly spherical because the cold dough was harder to squish into spheres. I was also a little lighter on the salt, a pinky pinch instead of an index pinch. And just three finger rubs instead of until all the salt was out from between my fingers.

End result: Yum! Just right salt. Probably could have left them in a little longer than the low end 18 minutes, as the centers were more gooey than usual. Though this might be resolved through further cooling (one survived the feeding frenzy, so we'll see if that's the case tomorrow after lunch). Not as crunchy as Dough 3, Batch 1, which may be a function of all the liquid ingredients having a full 24 hours to combine with the dry ingredients. Nor as flat as Dough 3, Batch 1, which I attribute to both the coolness of the dough AND the ingredients having time to meld. Fewer chocolate chips fell through the cooling rack than in Dough 3, Batch 1, but still more than in previous doughs. This may be a function of The Sifter being in charge of removing the cookies from the sheet after the first 10 minutes of cooling in both batches of Dough 3. Or it may be a function of our crap turner, in this case meaning "an implement used to separate cookie from cookie sheet." For the size of these cookies, I really need a bigger metal turner. Though I think I used the same turner The Sifter did, but if I designate this Sifter Error, I might never get help in the kitchen again.

Check this out, the bakers at King Arthur's blogged about modifying their chocolate chip cookie recipe in ways suggested by the New York Times article. Very interesting.

Dough 3, Batch 3 (After 48 Hours Chilling):
Only gave a few minutes for the dough to warm up. So not as cold as last batch but not as warm as previous batches. Also a tiny bit more sea salt than last time.

End result: Fantastico! Super caramelly goodness. 48 hours resting (and maybe the excessive brown sugar?) really does make a difference. Is that a Maillard reaction or what?

Dough 4, Batch 1 (After 0 Hours Chilling):
I apologize for the lack of picture. Post hoc salinization is effective. Translation: I forgot to put the sea salt on before baking, but put it on after they came out of the oven and they tasted just as good. I actually made the recipe right on the button this time, so that's a first. Well, then I forgot the salt and cooked this batch right away instead of waiting, but the rest of this dough's batches will be as good as they can be. Also, just for a change, I tried using plain old generic iodized salt in the dough instead of my super fancy co-op natural salt and I've got to say, no gritty picnic at the beach this time around. Guess I'll go with industrialized salt from here on out.
Dough 4, Batches 2 & 3 (After 24 & 48 Hours Chilling):
Check out the maiden voyage of my shiny new Calphalon Non-Stick Baking Mat. It really does work like a dream. Though when it's all wet and soapy in the sink it's slipperier than a greased weasel. These two batches were perfection. I could taste the richer more caramelly taste of the dough. The salt was just right. The amount of chips was perfection. I used up the last of my cake flour and went ahead and bought more because picky flour requirements or no, these cookies are in my baking arsenal to stay.

Just so all our New York Times chocolate chip cookie data can be found in one place, I've added this index to other posts on Gnomicon and elsewhere about The Cookie.

Click here to return to Gnomicon home page

6 comments:

Bob said...

I like your feves discussion. The Richmond chocolatiers mostly don't speak French, but the essence of the conversation is exactly right. [For those seeking specifics, although Richmond has a surprising number of chocolate specialists, who you can see at the Chocolate Festival at the University of Richmond each year, Sarah is thinking about the lovely Carytown shop "For the Love of Chocolate" (another testimonial here)].

Also, indeed, how 1990s to demand an account before a site will accept your money.

I also like your repeating "at least 60%..." which just highlights that the NYT obviously doesn't know if more cacao would actually taste better, but it would be more expensive, which is after all what chocolate chip cookie recipes are all about.

(Sarah says: I can't imagine greater than 60% would taste better. David even suggested trying less than 60%, but I think once I get the correct amount and the salt, that should do the trick.)

I had NO IDEA that King Arthur flour was so hip.

I love your very careful descriptions of your very careless baking. It reminds me (in the best way, of course) of a really earnest junior high lab report.

Rebecca said...

Wow. I'm amazed by your dedication to the cookies. One day you'll stumble upon a super grocery store and all your cooking needs will be met. I'm not sure what the proper term is for the different chip shapes are called - I haven't had to use them in class. When I'm back from my trip, I'll do some research. Hope your round two comes out better. Are you going to use fewer chips? More refrigerator time? Different flour ratios? Fascinating! Out of curiosity, how different is the NYT recipe from the normal toll house recipe (other than the resting and size) and do you think it's worth it?

Thalia said...

"As far as real serving size goes, I would say three cookies are the max anyone could eat in one sitting."

HAHAHAHAHAHA, HAHAHAHAHAHA *gsap* HAHAHAHAHA

Hi, do you know me? If you put cookies in front of me, I will eat them all until they are gone, even if I am hurting my own belly.

Dude. Now I want chocolate chip cookies. I don't suppose you want a House Leech - I mean, guest - to eat your cookies and run around with the dogs and oogle your fabric, do you?

Because I could throw myself on that cookie grenade if need be.

Sarah said...

Actually, Thalia, we're currently interviewing for house leeches and three of the ten knowledge, skills, and abilities of a successful candidate include eating our cookies, running around with our dogs, and ogling my fabric. The other seven are classified, but may include yet are not limited to shopping at the farmers' market and swimming in the pool. We have openings beginning in September.

Thalia said...

I can do that. Lead me to the Farmer's Market, the Getty, and the fabric stores. I will pack comfortable shoes, amorphous yoga pants, and a sunhat.

And moisturizer.

Rebecca said...

So, the questions that remain are:
1. would cookies taste just as good if made without resting as with resting?

2. would the toll house recipe with sea salt be good?

3. would resting the toll house cookies do anything?

4. or, what about the toll house recipe with better chocolate and sea salt (starting to move away from the recipe, but still)

5. would making bigger toll house cookies make them have the same texture as the nyt cookies?

I guess I'm going to have to make some cookies myself and experiment. Good thing the semester starts soon and I can push them off on other people.