Update: This post was featured on Saveur's "Best of the Web", November 24, 2009. As featured in Bay Area Bites, June 10, 2009. Ah, the chocolate chip cookie. A classic. An American icon. A comfort so versatile, it is as satisfying raw as it is baked. I'm sure we've all sampled our share of this pervasive sweet treat, from those that were passable (but got the job done), to those that reached heights of heavenly decadence. I had one such cookie lately that made me wonder: What makes the ultimate chocolate chip cookie?
After deep introspection, I came to the conclusion that it must satisfy a trifecta of textural perfection. It has to be crunchy, chewy, and gooey. I was reminded of David Leite's fantastic NYT chocolate chip cookie article that came out almost a year ago, in which he described this much sought after "bull's-eye" of cookie greatness. When you first bite into the cookie, the crisp outer ring should break with a nice crunch, giving way to a satisfying chew, and progressing to near gooeyness in the center of it all. If done right, you should still be able to feel the sugar granules of the cookie dough on your tongue here. And then, of course, there is flavor. The ultimate cookie must envelope you with all the homey flavors of butter, sugar, vanilla, and rich chocolate. Generous, copious amounts of quality, semi-sweet chocolate in each bite, please! Now, I've made dozens upon dozens of chocolate chip cookies before, but how come mine just never seem to reach the ultimate level of amazingness that my favorite bakeries achieve? What is their secret? As I learned from Mr. Leite and his arsenal of choco chip experts, it's all about patience. The trick is to let the dough rest between 24-36 hours before baking them! I mustered up all the self restraint I had, gave it a shot, and was amazed at what a difference it made. As predicted, my cookie had a richer golden color, better texture, and had a significantly more complex flavor. The extra time allowed all the egg, butter and sugar to meld and soak into the flour so that when they baked up, the toffee caramel notes bloomed. Plus, a sprinkle of sea salt at the end adds an extra dimension to the sweetness. Use the best ingredients you can. I went with my old faithful, unsalted, European Style Sweet Butter from Straus Family Creamery, and E. Guittard’s 61% Cacao Semisweet Couverture wafers. The quarter-sized baking discs melt well and cool with a pretty sheen. They also make for gorgeous, thin strata of luscious chocolate throughout the cookie. Use an ice cream scoop to create golf ball sized mounds of dough that are all even. I experimented with flattening versus not flattening the mounds before baking. With the ice cream scoop mounds, not flattening resulted in a prettier cookie that was a little cakier. My favorite batch resulted in using a ½ cup scoop, creating baseball sized mounds, and flattening it slightly so that the cookie spread a bit. The final product was a cookie with wow factor. BIG wow factor. The perfect thing for a special birthday care package. Now that's the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. Recipe: NYT Chocolate Chip Cookie, Adapted from Jacques Torres