Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The "Consummate" Chocolate Chip Cookie

A few months ago, the New York Times featured an article and recipe for the ideal chocolate chip cookie. The blogging world of cooks and bakers obsessed over the piece all summer, testing, refuting, and perfecting the article’s hypotheses. The recipe is based on Jaques Torres’ (a renowned chocolatier) classic recipe, but also relies on contributions from several other prominent bakers who are also featured in the article, including Mary Rubin of City Bakery in New York City, Herve Poussot of Almondine in Brooklyn, and Dorie Greenspan, the celebrated author of several baking books. Here’s a glimpse of the article:

Like the omelet, which many believe to be the true test of a chef, the humble chocolate chip cookie is the baker’s crucible. So few ingredients, so many possibilities for disaster. What other explanation can there be for the wan versions and unfortunate misinterpretations that have popped up everywhere — eggless and sugarless renditions; cookies studded with carob, tofu and marijuana; whole-wheat alternatives; and the terribly misguided bacon-topped variety.

All this crossbreeding begs the question: Has anyone trumped Mrs. Wakefield (former owner of the Toll House Inn, who is credited with creating the first chocolate chip cookie in 1930) ? To find out, a journey began that included stops at some of New York City’s best bakeries as well as conversations with some doyens of baking. The result was a recipe for a consummate cookie, if you will: one built upon decades of acquired knowledge, experience and secrets; one that, quite frankly, would have Mrs. Wakefield worshipping at its altar.

I’m clearly behind the rest of the blogosphere in my recent attempt to recreate these cookies, but that's largely because it took me so long to gather the necessary ingredients—particularly, the bittersweet chocolate discs (with at least 60% cacao content). Eventually, I found a variety of discs at a specialty grocer in Minneapolis. Unfortunately, I’m yet to find them locally.

I finally made the cookies last week and released them for tasting and judgement at Thursday night's chili party. The process is unique and definitely requires patience, as the recipe recommends chilling the dough in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours prior to baking. After 72 hours, I sprinkled sea salt on the golf ball size dough balls, as the recipe suggested, and then baked them in the oven. The cookies definitely looked beautiful, very plump, evenly baked, and airy. Consensus seemed to be that they tasted great, too. I, however, thought they were a little dry. I prefer more of a chewy/gooey chocolate chip cookie. To each his own. But I definitely enjoyed this science experiment, and learned new tips that I can incorporate into my favorite cookie recipes.

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