Chocolate Chip Cookie Olympics
I remember sitting on my parents bed watching the opening ceremony of the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. I was eager in anticipation to watch the Women's (really girls) gymnastic team. I would study their moves, watch with my jaw dropping at Dominque Dawes floor performance and wonder why my mom didn't enlist me on my path toward gold medaldom (copyright Kamille) at age 2. However, once it hit the Atlanta Olympics, where the US Women clinched the gold title with Kerri Strug's renowned performance on the vault, my interest in the Olympics had hit a standstill. Not only have they hit a standstill, but a divorce of the relationship.
As I sat around a table of friends discussing how they couldn't get enough of the Winter Olympics in Vancouver and how they're a bit sleep deprived as a result, I hated to respond, because I was afraid of the obvious scorn. I piped in a bit sheepishly, "Yeah, well, I haven't watched one ounce of Olympic coverage this year." Looks were given. Them trying to be courteous without telling me of my ignorance.
So there you have it. I'm not an Olympic watcher. It honestly doesn't interest me that much anymore. I understand why people get all excited about it (the various cultures & people represented, the nostalgia, etc, etc); but, really, it's something I'm not crazy about. Instead, I have spent the past two days preparing for what I call the Chocolate Chip Cookie Olympics.
Now, this is something I get excited about. A chocolate chip cookie can bring people together or tear them apart. You understand. You walk into a coffee shop and they have those big chocolate chip cookies in the big glass container and you pause. You really want to eat one, but you wonder if they meet the criteria. You could possibly end up hashing out $1.50 - 2.00 on a waste of your daily caloric intake. I would wager to say that there is nothing quite as disappointing as biting into what looks like the promise land flowing of chocolate chips & butter to find a C.C.C. disguised as a dry sand-like substance floating around your mouth. We've all been there. So I set out to make three different chocolate chip cookie recipes, where I would present them to my tasters and they would judge & award gold, silver, & bronze.
I first made these Superlative Chocolate Chip Cookies from Cooks Illustrated in late summer (click on the above picture and it will take you there). These cookies probably have one of the most superb flavor profiles you'll find. I chose this recipe, because it is my favorite chocolate chip recipe. The recipe calls for chocolate chips & toasted pecans. There are chocolate chip recipes masquerading as "chocolate chip cookies," but they're not true to the definition. The ones that include oats, dried fruit, nut butters, coconut, etc. They're good for sure, but for the sake of all things being equal. I was on the search of a true chocolate chip cookie, no strings attached. So for this round, I took out the toasted pecans to make it equal among the other two candidates.
The other two contestants were the classic N.Y. Times chocolate chip cookie & a recipe claimed as the best chocolate chip cookie from 'Not Without Salt' blog. A word why these two were chosen. My friend Paige loves to bake equally as much and I would say enjoys food more than I do (that's a compliment by the way). She has mentioned that these are her family's chocolate chip cookie of choice. After I posted on the Superlative C.C.C., she commented that her & her husband Stephen still found their aged cookie to be better. I still never made them. Then, a couple days ago, a friend Julie emailed me about the best cookies she ever tasted with sea salt on top. Guess which cookie she was talking about? Yup! N.Y. Times C.C.C. So they were enlisted immediately. And the last cookie was enlisted because Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt was the former Pastry Chef of Ciao Thyme in Bellingham. I trusted the head chef Matio Gillis' opinion of Ashley, so when she said her's were the best, I thought, "heck, I need to try them." And so goes the C.C.C. Olympics.
I made each of the cookies warm to order, so all of the tasters ate them warm. I however, didn't make them equal in using the same type of chocolate for each, which caused a bit of discrepancy in the final tasting (but I did take that into account for the final tallying). I will go through each cookie stating the Pros & Cons.
Pros: Tasters said these had the best flavor of the three. They noted, "buttery, salty, caramel & toffee, nutty...tastes like a blondie in cookie form...chewy, with crisp edges." These cookies don't need to sit in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours to get those flavors, like the N.Y. Times cookie. They don't require a mixer, just a whisk.
Cons: Texture didn't win as big on these. Although they were chewy, they lacked the combination of soft, chewy that one taster found she liked in the "Subway Chocolate Chip Cookie." Upon sitting at room temperature, these cookies tend to dry out a bit faster. One taster said that he didn't care for the chocolate in these cookies, compared to the N.Y.Times one. However, I did use different chocolate chips in both, so had I used the same kind, the outcome could have been different. Doesn't make as many cookies as the other recipes.
Technique: The caramel, toffee, nutty taste comes from melting the butter and toasting it; rather, than the typical creaming method. By melting the butter, you're taking out some of the liquid found in the solidified butter and lends to a chewier cookie. Also, by using one egg & one egg yolk, you create more chew and take away the protein found in the extra white, which cuts back the dryness factor. I chilled this dough for 12 hours in the fridge and measured all the ingredients; as well as, measuring each cookie to 3 1/2 ounces to bake.
Pros: The tasters were unanimous about loving the texture on this cookie. As one taster mentioned sheepishly, "It tastes like, don't judge me, but like the Subway cookies, a bit of chew, softness, chocolate chunk, and melds together well." Another taster said, "as a chocolate chip cookie purist, this one wins for me. This is what I think of when you say Chocolate Chip Cookie." For me, I did two tastings. One at 36 hours of aging the dough and another at 41 hours, and I would say that this cookie tasted better the second time. The first tasting I didn't taste strong notes of toffee, caramel, or butterscotch like the article said it would have at 36 hours. However, I did taste it at the 41 hour mark. They still have softness after sitting on the counter (wrapped up) 24 hours later.
Cons: They take 36 hours in the fridge before they're ready. And if you want more depth of flavor, leave them in there up to 72 hours (reminded me of how long a baby can stay in the womb once the mama's water breaks--weird, huh?). The flavor wasn't as stand out as the Cooks Illustrated.
Technique: What makes these cookies stand out is letting them sit in the fridge for up to 36 hours before baking them. And you sprinkle sea salt on top to let the flavors pop. By letting the dough age, you're allowing the proteins in the flour meld with the butter, sugar & salt to create a broader flavor profile. You also use two different flours (cake flour & bread flour), which create a wonderful marriage in the chemistry arena of the baking process. Cake flour with low proteins doesn't suck up liquid like bread flour; rather, cake flour's low protein creates a softer, paler end product along with the protein creating steam with the liquids. Bread flour with it's higher protein browns faster and sucks up the liquid. So if you only used cake flour, you would have a cakey cookie, lacking any chewiness or a bit of a crust. However, if you only used bread flour, you would end up with a very brown, crisp cookie. Hence the perfect marriage. I also used 60% & 70% cacao, along with some milk chocolate chunks in this dough.
Pros: This was the least loved. Tasters said it was fine, and a nice fall back option. The dough was a bit above average (C+). The sprinkling of sea salt added that pop flavor. I could note a bit uniqueness in the crust, which might be attributed to the use of Turbinado sugar. I had a bit of caramel tones.
Cons: Too much chocolate (the recipe called for quite a bit), lacked anything special about it. It was okay, but not the best.
Technique: I went ahead and let this one sit in the fridge for 36 hours too, but it never aged as well as the N.Y. Times cookie. If I were to make these again, I wouldn't use as much chocolate as the recipe called for, because it ended up feeling like you were eating chocolate with some cookie, not the other way around. Sprinkling Fleur de Sal on top before baking lends something extraordinary to even the most ordinary chocolate chip doughs.
The tasters were not unanimous in their decisions. One said her favorite was the Cooks Illustrated. Three other tasters said the N.Y. Times one was their favorite. And as one taster said, "Although the flavor of the C.I. cookie is superior to the N.Y. Times one, the N.Y. Times has great texture and slightly inferior flavor, but makes it a better cookie since it meets both standards--regardless if the flavor isn't as superior."
So if you have time on your hand (41 hours to 72 hours), make the N.Y. Times cookies. However, if you want warm cookies right now, make the Cooks Illustrated. The comparison between the two reminds me of Michael Phelp's Miracle finish. So you be the judge and make both--let me know what you think.
Gold to N.Y. Times
Silver to Cooks Illustrated
Bronze to Not Without Salt
Update (2/28/2010): I did not use the feves talked about in the N.Y. Times recipe. Instead, I bought a pound of chocolate from Trader Joe's (70%) and cut it into smaller chunks with a serrated knife. I did the same with some milk chocolate I have in bulk. You could use packaged chocolate chunks as well. I feel like the chocolate chip texture doesn't hit the spot as well as chunk form.