kitchen firsts: the silpat + ode to chocolate chip cookies
Every night after dinner, around 10 o’clock, Stephen suddenly announces that he wants some dessert. I’m not really in the habit of making desserts regularly on weeknights, so at that point I usually say tough cookies and make him fend for himself. But once in awhile, if the mood strikes, I’ll agree to make something sweet, and Stephen’s late-night dessert of choice is usually cookies.
The problem is, Stephen is somewhat of a cookie aficionado. Anyone who knows him knows that more often than not, a cookie can be found in his pocket no matter how absurd it might seem that one would be there (at least if we ever get lost in the woods, I can pretty much count on a cookie being there to sustain us). Having eaten so many cookies in his life, he really knows what he likes and doesn’t like, and so the process of agreeing on a cookie recipe can be arduous. Unless it’s one of those “I definitely need a snickerdoodle” moments, we usually have the same conversation:
Me: What kind of cookies do you want?
Stephen: Well, you know what I like…chocolate chip!
Me: Yeah, I guess…is there anything different you want? Like, what if we tried mint chocolate chip cookies?
Stephen: (frowny face) Why would you do that?
Me: Ok, what about chocolate chip cookies with oatmeal?
Stephen: Ew, no…
Me: Well could I just add pecans or something?
Stephen: I don’t know…I guess if you have to…
Me: What, even that is too much?
Stephen: Well, it’s just that as far as I’m concerned, the perfect cookie has already been made. Any alterations or additions to the concept of the chocolate chip cookie merely detract from its simple, zen-like perfection (this is a direct quote).
And thus the battle ends, either with me making chocolate chip cookies à la Stephen, or us not even making cookies at all. Stephen says that me suggesting all these interesting cookie combinations makes him feel “provincial” and unadventurous (if the shoe fits…), so I guess I had better learn that it needs to either just be chocolate chip cookies or something completely out of that realm.
When I was younger, I remember trying to bake chocolate chip cookies in my parent’s kitchen, and due to my inexpertise or our 1940’s oven or my recipe or who knows what, the cookies always turned out horribly– overspread, brittle, simultaneously burned and uncooked…yucky. These results seemed to withstand different trials with the same recipe and different recipes, and after awhile I actually kind of had a block about making and even eating chocolate chip cookies. That is, until I started living with Stephen and realized that not making chocolate chip cookies was not an option. Since then, I have tried quite a few chocolate chip cookie recipes and I have gathered that there are specific things you can do to make your cookies turn out different ways. I can’t really explain why without consulting america’s test kitchen, but I hear it makes a difference using melted butter vs. softened butter, whether you chill the dough before baking or not, and there are different recommended oven temperatures…anyways, it’s complicated.
Things are further complicated by the fact that different people have different expectations of their chippers. Second even to debates like chunks vs. chips, nuts vs. no nuts, dark chocolate vs. milk, and the chocolate chip to dough ratio, you have to consider that some like them thin and crisp, others thick and chewy, others soft or gooey. With all those variables floating around it becomes hard to sort out what you actually like and what recipe to use to get there. I’ve long been frustrated by the desire to find a recipe that I consistently like and confused by the zillions of “best” recipes out there, but finally, I think I’ve found the one! I like my cookies to be crisp around the edges but still with a pronounced chewyness– they don’t have to be thick or soft, but they need to have a chewiness that lasts beyond the first hour after they come out of the oven, and these cookies really accomplish that.
The basis for this recipe came from America’s Test Kitchen (via Serious Eats), although I have adapted it a bit– their recipe is too vanilla-y for me, has too many chocolate chips (call me crazy), and also requires too many bowls for my tastes (I’m sure that if I say that too loud, someone from Cook’s Illustrated will swoop down and explain to me why it’s really crucial to keep wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls, but I am lazy when it comes to dishes and I insist on one-bowledness when I’m cooking past 10 pm). The great thing about this recipe is that if you bake the cookies for just 15 minutes, until they’re set but not browning, they will come out soft and chewy delicious. If you leave them in for a minute or two longer, the resulting cookies will be crunchier and chewier around the edges, but still soft and chewy in the middle. And if you leave them in for about 20 minutes, they will come out evenly crispy but not at all burned. So really, the delicious chocolate chip cookie flavor is there, but it’s choose-your-own-adventure when it comes to the final texture. What more could you ask for? So give these a try, and let me know if you have a recipe you think tops it. In the meantime, these babies will be lining Stephen’s pockets unless something better comes along.
Oh, and about that whole kitchen firsts thing– let’s not forget the silpat! I received a silpat for my birthday a few months ago and our house has been rather empty of baked goods since then, so this was my first experiment using the silpat (and it’s martha stewart cousin) to make cookies. I have made these cookies before using just parchment paper, and I have to say that while parchment paper achieves the easy slide-off factor, the silpats made the cookies sooo evenly browned! And the martha stewart version seemed to work just as well as the other silpat, so that’s a bonus for Martha. I will totally admit that a silpat is definitely a non-necessity when it comes to kitchen tools for the non-professional baker, but it sure made the cookie baking easy, and I like to think it’s a little more eco-friendly than using a ton of parchment paper? Anyways, testing out the silpats was a good excuse to make these cookies, and that’s good enough for me!
My (currently favorite) Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, via Serious Eats
Makes about 32 cookies
1.5 sticks unsalted butter, melted and cooled (at least somewhat, depending on how impatient you are for cookies)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 whole egg + 1 extra yolk
1 tsp vanilla
2 cups + 2 T flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 heaping cup chocolate chips (or more if you want)
optional: 1/2 cup chopped nuts (go a little easy on the chocolate chips if you’re adding nuts, the dough can only hold about a cup and a half of stuff total!)
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Melt your butter in a small bowl and let cool while you grab all your ingredients. If you want to be reeeally one-bowl about it and you have a big enough microwave, you could melt the butter and let it cool in the medium-large bowl you will eventually use for the whole dough process.
In medium-large bowl, add melted butter, brown sugar and white sugar. Beat well with an electric mixer (if you really don’t want to dirty your beaters, you could probably do this by hand, just make sure it gets really nicely mixed for a minute or two). Add egg and yolk and vanilla and mix again until smooth.
Add dry ingredients to bowl and gently mix in with a wooden spoon. Stir until all is incorporated. Then add chocolate chips (and nuts if you’re using them).
Using your hands, roll dough into balls and place on a lined baking sheet (I used two different silpats, but you can also use parchment paper instead), about two inches apart. Don’t skimp on the space or they’ll run together and ruin the symmetrical circles you normally get from these even-spreaders.
Bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on how you like your cookies– 15 minutes for just-set-softies, 16-17 minutes for slightly crispier edges, and 20 minutes for cookies that will be evenly crispy throughout. Allow cookies to cool on the cookie sheet for about 5 minutes to set up a bit more, then remove to a cooling rack.