Sunday, December 6, 2009

Chocolate chip cookies, perfected

Wednesday, Dec. 02 2009
When you're the Life Sherpa, days and nights are constant searches for inner
peace, enlightenment and ways to beat football spreads. Sometimes, I come close.

Except when it comes to making chocolate chip cookies. Batches have been baked,
recipes have been refined — and nirvana has been reached. Nothing left but to
pour the milk and share:

My quest began with the recipe on the Nestle Toll House chocolate chips bag.
Being a guy, I just HAD to tweak it, find more power in that engine. I got help
from food scientist Shirley O. Corriher and the crew at "America's Test

I wanted to make the cookie softer, but only the center. I like a crisp crust
and bottom. So instead of "‰3/4 cup of white sugar and 3/4 cup of brown sugar,
I switched to one cup of brown and 1/2 cup of white. I learned from Corriher's
"BakeWise" (Scribner, $40) that the less white sugar you use, the chewier the

In "The Best of America's Test Kitchen 2010" (America's Test Kitchen, $35),
Charles Kelsey recommends reducing the amount of flour to enhance chewiness.
(Also reducing the amount of butter keeps the fat-to-flour ratio right.) He
recommends stirring the wet ingredients, letting them sit for a few minutes,
stirring again, then sitting, then stirring a third time. This allows the sugar
to caramelize more easily and contributes to the crispy crust.

I also didn't like the way Toll House cookies spread out, and I've found ways
to remedy that.

First, melt the butter completely. That separates the water from the butterfat,
which produces more gluten when mixed with the flour. This gives the cookies
more chew and a slightly stronger structure. Second, refrigerate the dough
before baking. An hour is the minimum, three hours is better, overnight is

I increased the vanilla extract from one teaspoon to one tablespoon. Why? I
love vanilla; no other reason.

The best idea came from Corriher: Grind up toasted pecans or walnuts and mix
them with the flour. This is in addition to the chopped nuts many stir into the
cookie dough. The earthy flavor of the ground nuts accentuates the sharp flavor
of the dark chocolate chips and also seems to reduce spreading.

So that's how I arrived at the perfect "Sherpa Chocolate Chip." If anyone can
convince me I'm wrong, well then, I guess I'll just have to bake more cookies.