Monday, November 10, 2008

Chocolate chip cookie vs. chocolate chip cookie

What was that line from Mad Max?  "Two men enter, one man leaves." Today my kitchen is a culinary Thunderdome, my oven an arena in which I pit the cookie which has served as my own personal ultimate chocolate chip cookie against a cookie which, on paper, has the scrappy ability to steal the crown right off the former's golden brown and cakey surface. Chocolate chip cookie vs. chocolate chip cookie in the World Series of [baked] love.

The road to chocolate chip cookie perfection is long. I hesitate to refer to it as arduous, as the metaphor refers to cookies and not any sort of journey that has actual risks. But each misstep -- each turn of the ankle into a pothole filled with, say, thin and too-crisp and nearly burnt chocolate chip cookies -- hurts nevertheless. The pursuit of chocolate chip cookie excellence is serious work.

That's why I was so confident when I found "my" cookie that it would always remain the utmost in chocolate chip cookiedom, at least for me. I was set in my ways. Regan Daley's recipe was my default recipe, my go-to cookie, the victor. I considered fashioning a tiny wreath of laurel to crown the chocolatey, cakey masterpiece. But the leaves were too big and, frankly, bay doesn't pair that well with chocolate.

But then last week I stumbled across a recipe for what is billed as the "consummate" chocolate chip cookie. Lots of people say they have the recipe for the consummate, ultimate, best, most phenomenalest chocolate chip cookie in the world (myself included), so I wondered, what makes this recipe any different or better? Well, David Leite traveled his own winding, gravel road to chocolate chip cookie perfection and enlisted the help of many experts and smart cookie people along the way. This was no, I just like this one the best and hence I shall call it "consummate." No. This effort involved research, best practices and awesome food scientist Shirley Corriher for crying out loud. Leite learned things. Things about texture and dough refrigeration and types and sizes of chocolate pieces. And he sprinkled the cookie with sea salt before baking. Never underestimate the delicious power of a dash of salt in your sweet. Certainly Leite's cookie could be a contender.

So this weekend I got to baking. I whipped up a batch of my favorite chocolate chip cookies (which I refer to here as "Daley's cookies," after that recipe's originator) and exhorted Husband to leave some of them for me so that I could perform a highly scientific taste test. I then made Leite's dough and left it to chill the requisite number of hours before baking. I broke the two cookies open, both Daley's and Leite's, and examined them side-by-side. I smelled them, inhaling their intoxicating chocolate aroma. I carefully considered questions of texture -- texture is nearly as important as taste, and in some cases even more so. I called for a second opinion; Husband shared his cookie-thoughts. The dog wanted desperately to weigh in but, alas, chocolate is bad for dogs.

The winner?

Well, Leite's cookies are bigger than Regan Daley's. Like, massive. Giant. If I hurled one at Husband's head, it might knock him out. Husband comments that the Leite dough tastes better raw. (Husband also stated about an hour ago that "In chocolate chip cookie vs. chocolate chip cookie, the winner is my belly." So I'm not sure how much stock you'll want to put in the words of someone so ridiculous.) Leite's cookies are buttery and chewy, with delightful crispy edges. They have bittersweet chips, while Daley's contain chunks of a semisweet baking bar. Yet somehow the bittersweet chips in Leite's cookies taste sweeter. It is magnificently fascinating. The sprinkling of sea salt (or fleur de sel, if you have it) is genius, pure genius. It adds a tinge of salty goodness in every few bites -- not at all overwhelming. On the salt's merit alone, I am inclined to pronounce Leite the winner.

But Daley's cookie is no shrinking violet. It scores points for chocolate shardage -- a sharp corner of baking chocolate poking out from the cookie here and there is a pleasing textural bonus that the Leite cookie doesn't have. This cookie is flakier, not as chewy, not as sweet. Which are good things, especially if you prefer your chocolate chip cookies to have a cake-like texture or if, like my dad, you like moderate sweetness in your baked goods. But I must admit, this cookie is plain in comparison with Leite's confection. Its taste is not as complex.

So as much as I am loathe to turn my back on Ms. Daley, tonight a consensus has emerged in my kitchen. Leite wins. Daley will remain a fixture in my repertoire, however, because Leite's cookies take at least a full day to make and, it must be restated, Daley's recipe is a knockout, too. So when I need a quick fix, Daley it is. But when I have the luxury of time, I will have the luxury of Leite's complex cookie.


Adapted from smitten kitchen, adapted from David Leite

I give some measurements by weight here. I am an advocate for the kitchen scale and would recommend that you all go to Target and pick one up. They're not very expensive and you will be amazed at how often you'll find yourself reaching for it. 

Note: This dough has to rest in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours. Be sure to allow yourself enough time for this step.

8 1/2 oz. cake flour
8 1/2 oz. bread flour
1 1/4 t. baking soda
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1 1/2 t. kosher salt
2 1/2 sticks (1 1/4 c.) unsalted butter
10 oz. light brown sugar
8 oz. sugar
2 large eggs
2 t. vanilla extract
1 1/4 lb. bittersweet chocolate, at least 60% cacao
Sea salt or fleur de sel

Sift cake flour, bread flour, baking soda, baking powder and salt into a medium bowl; set aside.

Using a mixture fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter, brown sugar and sugar together until very light, about 5 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Mix in the vanilla. Reduce the speed to low, add the dry ingredients and mix until just combined, about 10 seconds. Add the chocolate and mix gently to incorporate. Press plastic wrap onto the surface of the dough, then cover the mixing bowl with another piece of plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 24 hours, or up to 72 hours.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with a Silpat or parchment paper and set aside. Remove the chilled dough from the refrigerator and allow it to warm up to a scoopable consistency.

Scoop 6 3 1/2 oz. mounds of dough (about the size of generous golf balls) onto the baking sheet. Sprinkle lightly with sea salt or fleur de sel and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes. Don't over bake! Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet set over a wire rack for 10 minutes, then remove to a rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining dough.

Makes 18 cookies. 


Michelle said...

I can't wait to use my pink sea salt for these cookies!

check out

Dianne said... sea salt. Sounds great!