(WASHINGTON POST) - A pastry chef and a 10-year-old walk into The Washington Post. There is no punchline. Those are among the people we asked to judge some of the most popular chocolate chip cookie recipes on the Web.
Arguably more American than apple pie, this cookie – which celebrates its 80th birthday next year – is adored for its simplicity and nostalgic nature. Because opinions differ widely about how the perfect chocolate chip cookie should taste, the Internet is swimming with recipes claiming to be “the best”, often promising results that would be super-chewy, crispy, extra-chocolaty or even health-conscious.
We wanted to single out one recipe as victorious (and probably stir up some controversy in the process), so we tried 10 of the most promising recipes and narrowed down the options to six, based on popularity and notable ingredients or baking techniques.
We made sure that each one produced distinguishable differences in flavour. Then we tapped local bakers to sacrifice their afternoons and glucose levels and offer their opinions of the finished products. And boy, did they have opinions.
One cookie was so gooey, it needed multiple napkins to eat; one was so dry, a tester almost spit it out; and one was so dense, our 10-year-old judge could not even break it in half. So which recipe took the cake, er, cookie?
The judges included Caitlin Dysart, executive pastry chef at Centrolina in CityCenterDC. She was named a semi-finalist in 2015 for the outstanding pastry chef award by the James Beard Foundation and was a nominee in 2013 for Food & Wine’s people’s best new pastry chef award. The Virginia native describes her ideal chocolate chip cookie as “medium-rare in the middle with about a quarter-size piece of soft”, and when the recipe calls for walnuts, she recommends subbing in pecans because they pair better with brown sugar.
Maya Jindal, 10, was another judge on the panel. She was a former contestant on Food Network’s Kids Baking Championship. The gregarious fifth-grader lives in Great Falls, Virginia, where she loves to bake sweets and traditional Indian dishes for her family. Her favourite type of cookie: not too crispy. (Her favourite joke: “What did Yoda say when he sold his car? May the Porsche be with you.”)
The least favourite cookie among the judges was clear: a shortbread variation that they found too dry and crumbly. The unanimous winner – titled The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Joy the Baker – was hailed for its chewy centre and sprinkle of coarse sea salt.
The 2014 recipe, one of the blog’s 10 most popular posts, took founder Joy Wilson more than a year to perfect and was inspired by her father’s penchant for cookies with a strong butter flavour.
“He used to add Orville Redenbacher popcorn oil to his dough,” Wilson said when we called to tell her the good news. “I thought there had to be a better way to intensify the flavour, so I tried browning the butter.” Clearly it worked.
The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
The nutty taste of brown butter, a good dark chocolate chip and a final sprinkling of salt work in concert to lift these cookies to star status – named the best-tasting chocolate chip cookies by our expert panel. You can chill the dough for 30 minutes before shaping and baking, but in testing, we found that the delay did not make much of a difference. The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days, or wrapped well and frozen for up to three months.
Adapted from a recipe by Joy Wilson of JoytheBaker.com
16 Tbs unsalted butter, half at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp molasses
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2¼ cups flour
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp baking soda
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
Flaky or coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
1. Melt the chilled half of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, swirling it in the pan occasionally. It will foam and froth as it cooks, and start to crackle and pop.
Once the crackling stops, keep a close eye on the melted butter, continuing to swirl the pan often. The butter will start to smell nutty and brown bits will form in the bottom. Once the bits are amber brown (2½ to three minutes or so after the sizzling stops), remove the butter from the heat and immediately pour it into a small bowl, bits and all. This will stop the butter from cooking and burning. Let cool for 20 minutes.
2. Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and pre-heat to 180 deg C. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper. Combine the remaining 8 Tbs of room-temperature butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for three to five minutes, until the mixture is very smooth (but not quite fluffy). Reduce the speed to medium-low; beat in the vanilla extract and molasses until well incorporated.
3. Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl, along with the granulated sugar. Beat for two minutes (medium-low), until smooth; the mixture will lighten in colour and become fluffy. Reduce the speed to low; add the egg and egg yolk, beating for one minute, then stop to scrape down the bowl.
Add the flour, kosher salt and baking soda; beat on low speed just until everything is incorporated. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and pecans and finish incorporating all of the dry flour bits into the dough.
4. Scoop the dough in 2-Tbs-size balls onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 5cm between the balls. Use a light, two-fingered pinch to sprinkle each portion of dough with coarse or flaky sea salt. Bake in the upper and lower racks for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for five minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
5. Repeat to use all the dough.
Makes 36 cookies