Monday, June 20, 2011

New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookies: Foodies versus Evansville

Cheap Eat Challenge: Watch as our family of 6 tries to eat on $6/day.


I know I'm a little late to the party here, but for Father's Day I finally determined it was time to try the famed New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie. I'd never tried it before because I am perfectly happy with the chocolate chip cookie inspired by my very own sister Katie and made frequently and wonderfully by my very own husband. However. I thought Father's Day called for something special. And there's nothing Kip loves more than a good chocolate chip cookie (except maybe a good brownie, depending on his mood). And every blog I've ever read rave rave raves about the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie--some referring to it as the holy grail of chocolate chip cookie recipes.

Which is why I was surprised when I actually read through the recipe and the NY Times article that accompanied it.

Let's talk about what bugged me, shall we? I need to get it off my chest.

1. This recipe does not use chocolate "chips." It recommends using chocolate discs called feves, which can be found in several pricey stores not to be found in Evansville, IN (though I hear rumors of a Fresh Market). Rightly, the cookie should be called "Chocolate Disc Cookies." It's not that I am opposed to chocolate discs, people. It's just that traditional chocolate chip cookies are not made with them and I am going for the perfect traditional chocolate chip cookie. There are plenty of non-traditional chocolate chip cookie recipes out there that are purely amazing (like the America's Test Kitchen one with browned butter), if a little bit fussy. I was going for traditional, but perfect. For them to start off by using a "chip" that is not even a "chip"--a "chip" that in some parts of the country must be ordered online--to me this was already a big step away from a traditional, accessible, albeit transcendent American treat. I believe cookies can be transcendent without being snobby. I believe that most perfect recipes do not call for elite ingredients. Additionally, I'm pretty sure the original Tollhouse cookies were made with chips. Otherwise I expect Tollhouse would have become famous for its discs rather than its chips. To further annoy the chocolate chip cookie traditionalist in me, the chocolate discs were to be comprised of dark chocolate. Again, I am not opposed to dark chocolate. It is, in fact, one of my primary loves in this world. I especially love it in chocolate chip cookies. But it, too, is not purely traditional. For my cookies I compromised (and used what Evansville could offer me) and I used 1/2 part Nestle Chocolate Chunks (semi-sweet) and 1/2 part Ghiradelli dark (60%) chocolate chips (which are larger than normal chocolate chips).
2a. It calls for nearly double the chocolate (a full 20 oz. of chocolate versus the 11 or 12 oz. that comprises a bag of chocolate chips) that most chocolate chip recipes do.
2b. It instructs that the cookies be huge--1/3 of a C of dough--or a 5 inch cookie. This, it says is necessary for a nice soft middle and a nice crispy edge.
2c. It informs us that these are best warm and should be served warm.
Okay, you're probably wondering what my problem is. I mean, who wouldn't want a chocolate chip cookie with double the chips/discs, that are 5 inches in diameter and served warm. Exactly. And I bet if you took your stand-by chocolate chip cookie recipe (or even something from a boxed mix), doubled the chocolate chips, made them 5 inches wide and served them warm, that you'd have a pretty amazing cookie too. I bet any co-workers or guests you served them too would stare at you with wanton, albeit sugar-crazed eyes and ask you for the recipe. To me doubling the chocolate and the size and telling me to serve them warm is not delivering the perfect cookie. I want a cookie that can stand by itself even if I use less chocolate. I want a cookie that will not send my family into size overload--a cookie that even when small can sport a gooey middle and crispy edge. I want a cookie that is great warm, but that can be amazing the next day too. That, my friends, is a cookie. So far, I wasn't feeling that this is the one I was going to be delivered. Give an ugly girl a boob job and plenty of guys will stare.
3. The NY Times recipe called for bread flour and cake flour to be used in equal weights (8.5 oz. of each). In case you don't know bread flour is bread with a higher gluten content. Cake flour is a flour with lower gluten content. And all purpose flour is flour with a middle of the road gluten content. By combining 2 flours at the 2 ends of the gluten spectrum, I expected us to come up with something that was a whole lot like regular old all-purpose flour. This seemed crazy to me. (And more expensive.) But I am a woman of faith. I understand that sometimes even when things don't seem completely logical, the results can surprise you. I do not normally carry bread or cake flour, so I went to the nearest store to purchase some. They had cake flour (at $3.38 for a mere 2 pounds), but no bread flour whatsoever. It was at this point that New York (motto--"Sea Salt: Sprinkle It on Everything") and Evansville (motto--"Bread Flour: Fact or Fiction) began to feud. I asked the woman who worked there if there was bread flour. She conscientiously looked over all the flour, finally pointing out some of the breadmaker mixes (which have the words 'bread' and 'flour' in their names) and asked if that was it. No, no it was not. "I didn't realize there was something called 'bread flour,'" she said politely, although--in my opinion--a little suspiciously. I gave up on the flour and turned around to find some chocolate chunks. Nothing. Nada. No chocolate chunks. And no Ghiradelli--dark and big or otherwise. I hope Kip knows I love him because I took my baby out into the pouring rain and went to another store. Fortunately for my sanity and the rest of me, they had both bread and cake flours as well as Ghiradelli dark chips and Nestle chocolate chunks. Not only that but the cake flour was cheaper than it'd been at the first store, albeit still pricey for a cheapskate. And the bread flour was downright reasonable at $1.69 for a 5 lb bag. And so, a mere 5 minutes and $12 later (this is a gift, so I've got a little leeway, remember), I left the store. Here again, $12 for a basic cookie--it seemed a little looney. No, I wouldn't use all the flour, but the over $6 of chips would be used. And I hadn't even purchased butter, which I mercifully had at home.

The New York Times recipe gave a couple other odd and fussy instructions.

1. The use of chunky salt--both within and sprinkled on top as a compliment to the chocolate. Heaven knows I love chocolate and chunky salt in combination--again, not traditional, but easy enough not to demand my ridicule (even Aldi sells a chunky salt). However, I pretty much knew Kip wouldn't like it--at least the on top stuff. And I'm willing to bet there are others who would taste it and deem it just too salty or different.
2. If you let the dough rest for at least 24 hours, it will be better and more complex than if made that day. Okay, I pretty much know this makes for a better and slightly more complex and buttery-tasting dough because Kip and I often leave part of our dough in the fridge overnight because we don't want to make 36 cookies at once and then have them just go stale (I hear they're even better after 2 days in the fridge and think that this is true as well), but a) I find the difference in taste only slight. It's not like you're going to have the aged dough and be like, "Oh my gosh, this is the best cookie ever" just because the dough is aged. And b) I feel that chocolate chip cookies are one of those hey-wouldn't-it-be-fun/yummy-to-make-some-chocolate-chip-cookies-right-now-because-I'm-totally-craving-them foods. If you're making them for work or a party, that's another thing. But usually we're making them for ourselves and we want them NOW. (But, yeah, maybe we're the only ones.) Thus, I feel that a really great recipe needs to be really great on the first day too.

What I made (because I clearly have an obsessive compulsive disorder):

1. The New York Times Cookie
2. The New York Times Cookie with all-purpose flour instead of a bread/cake flour mix
3. Kip's Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe (in the link you'll see a cookie made with part M&M's--for this I used only semi-sweet chocolate chips with a few leftover Ghiradelli darks thrown in). This was actually an afterthought. After making the doughs for the NY Times variations, I figured I better make Kip's too. I knew we could only decide if the NY Times trumped Kip's by eating them side by side.

How I made them (do you need more proof that I have a disorder):

1.In 1/3 C increments without resting the dough (i.e. baked right after I made the dough).
2. In normal cookie increments without resting the dough.
3. In 1/3 C increments after resting the dough for at least 24 hours.
4. In normal cookie increments after resting the dough for 24 hours.
5. We also tested all the dough--unaged and aged.
6. And we tested the cookies the day after we'd made them--i.e. day old cookies.

The Results:

1. The NY Times were always the flattest.
2. Kip's was always the thickest.
3. The NY Times had a beautiful golden edge.
4. Kip's had the best center.
5. The NY Times made with all-purpose flour was always in last place in every tasting.
6. The doughs were the hardest to tell apart, except that the sea salt ones were saltier tasting.
7. The sea salt was good in my opinion and gross in Kip's opinion. I think if you take cookies sprinkled with sea salt to a non-foody crowd, you're likely to get a mixed or possibly even bad reaction.
8. The sea salt (the kind in the dough, not the kind sprinkled on top) was much more noticeable on the cookies made on day 1 (the un-aged dough) than those made with the aged dough.
9. The aged dough did make for a better cookie, but not so much better that you couldn't make cookies on the first day and plan on them being great.
10. All three cookies were truly pretty awesome.
11. The monster sized cookies were not in any way better than the normal sized cookies. If anything, they were a little peskier as the middles were sometimes a tinge raw when the edges were just right and visa versa.
12. Ready for the biggest and most illogical surprise. Well, have a look at this picture. Go ahead, click on it and look closer. Then tell me which one (left, center, or right) was made with nearly half the chocolate.
How about in this picture?
Kip's cookie came out consistently as the chocolate-y-est tasting and looking. Every. Time. Big cookie, small cookie. Every. Cookie. I used 10 oz. of chocolate in the other recipes and only about 6-7 oz of chocolate in Kip's recipe. With Kip's I was using normal sized chips while with the others I was using a combo of large and chunk chips. I believe that the smaller chips actually end up leaving you with more chocolate in every bite because the little ones can cover more ground. With the larger chips you might end up with a big chunk of chocolate (and it's true that sometimes I'd take a bite and taste nothing but chocolate in the NY Times variations). However, the normal sized chips could be more evenly dispersed (they could also stack, especially in Kip's thicker cookies), leaving you with a sense of more chocolate-y goodness. Without the added expense. Or calories (because this is a health food, right). Or trips to different stores (because your hillbilly store doesn't carry chunks). Ha, take that you snooty 20 oz. of chocolate feves.

Kip's Take:
Kip's favorite every single time with perfect consistency was his own recipe. And Kip's was a blind tasting where I mixed up the order of the cookies he was tasting.

My Take:
The New York Times. Did that catch you off guard? Yeah, me too. Because I have been dissing on them pretty much this entire post. I didn't really want it to be my favorite. It still was. Not by a landslide (I had to keep tasting the different types of cookies--it was brutal work, but I made it through.) But they were my favorite in almost every tasting. They had a lovely crunchy caramelized-tasting buttery edge. I love that in a cookie. Really. I have been known to eat off the buttery caramel-y crispy edges of cookies--leaving a haggard bunch of misshapen looking centers behind. I think I have the cake flour to thank for the superior edge. The finer, less gluten-y (and therefore potential for crispier) flour was probably what did it. Although. And this is a big although. Although, I didn't find them so supremely more amazing that I felt they were worth fussiness or a trip to the store. In fact, even after selecting them as my favorite, I still couldn't help feeling that the NY Times recipes was just a normal old recipe dressed up with a lot of fussiness. And that bugs me. In people and cookies both. There was just nothing so absolutely drop dead perfect-in-every-way about it. Sure, it had a great edge, but it had its flaws too. For example, on the day after test, Kip's cookies were clearly better--by a long shot better. Crispy edges can't make it through storage--they soften up. Thus, on the next day, the softest, thickest cookie was the winner. So maybe the NY Times cookie is just the best party cookie--time to think ahead and age the dough; and then they all get eaten on the same day.

In conclusion:

1. If you're a crispy edges person, the NY Times cookie is probably the one for you. If you plan to eat it on the first day. Also, if you don't have cake and bread flours on hand, it's not worth a trip to the store or the extra expense to buy them. Rather, reduce the flour in your normal cookie recipe by a couple of tablespoons. Sometimes Kip does this with his cookies to get a richer butter-y-er taste. You also get a flatter cookie, but if you're an edges person, the trade off will be worth it.
2. If you're a soft chewy center person, make Kip's cookies. They are truly so amazing. Also, if you plan to have them around for a couple days, these are the superior cookie to make. (As an added note: If you're going to be storing cookies for a few days, undercook them by one minute. Doughier (no, I don't mean raw--just less golden) cookies stay yummy longer, although they're not my favorite on the first day.
3. ***Save yourself some money, calories, and effort and just use a reasonable amount of regular old chocolate chips (generally about 1 bag for a normal sized chocolate chip cookie recipe).
4. Don't worry about sprinkling your cookies with sea salt. Unless you're a foodie and that's your thing. In which case, go for it.
5. Spare yourself the monster 5 inch cookie. Unless, of course, you like monster cookies. In which case, there is no way I'm getting in your way.
6. If you've got a cookie recipe you love, do not spend an entire day and a small fortune making three different half recipes of cookies that will come out tasting quite nearly the same and all really good. Unless you have a mental illness that you embrace. In which case, I'll be right over to help.

10 comments:

  1. I just recently saw another post about these infamous NY Times cookies. I may actually have to make them now...if we can find the ingredients in central IN!
    BTW, small world: The hubs is from Eville, too.

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  2. Wahoo. That is a small world. You'll find the ingredients, and seriously--skip the chocolate discs.

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  3. I love how you did a little CCC research of your own. Thank you so much for telling me about your results. It now makes a whole lot of sense why I didn't get the same taste experience that everyone else seems to have had. I guess I'm going to have to give this recipe a second chance and do things right this time. But, I think I'll use chocolate chips like you did.

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  4. Well, you got that CCC bug in my brain, so I have you to thank. I can't wait to see what your #1 pick is and give it a try.

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  5. I love how thorough you were with your experiments - speaks to the old biology major in me ;-) And of course, now I'm craving CCCs!

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  6. Thank you for making me laugh out loud with this post - especially with comments about good recipes not needing to be pretentious. This is the first time I've stopped by, but I've got you bookmarked now.

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  7. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  8. you are amazing that is not a disorder that is dedication to the max!
    thank you for sharing your experiment :D

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