17 November, 2010

Love = Chocolate Chip Cookies

For the record, a chocolate chip cookie is not just a chocolate chip cookie. Put aside the preferences for chewy or chunky, nuts or pure, cocoa or not. A chocolate chip cookie at its most basic is pretty much love.

Growing up they are the special treat doled out by Mom, whether she made them or not. Our first forays into adulthood are filled with Mom's replacements where we can get them on the occasion of loneliness, break-ups, girls' nights, and stress. When we get our own kitchen we bake them for our boyfriends and girlfriends and friends to give them comfort and happiness and a morsel of love wrapped in chocolate in butter. Then we have kids and we start the cycle all over, baking together and for them to pass on the love.

No one ever answers cinnamon pinwheel when asked what kind of cookies we should bake.

When the controversy over this post, by a pastry chef no less, blew up on my Twitter Feed all I could think about was chocolate chip cookies. It seems other felt the same way too. Check out this post from Abby Dodge, one from Gail at One Tough Cookie, and another one from Jennifer Perillo.

For days all I thought about were chocolate chip cookies. But Mama's had a bit too much love lately, if you know what I mean. Then Jennie responded and I couldn't not make cookies. And if you're going to to do it, then do it with this recipe and do it a few times.

I've been meaning to test out this concept of letting cookie dough rest since the original New York Times piece came out. Frankly though, there is never a world where I can make cookie dough and not bake it right away. Mama needs her love, as do little girls who helped make the cookies and fully expect one RIGHT NOW.

So, I planned a little experiment. One night, after the girls were asleep, I made the cookie dough, using this recipe from Jennifer Perillo. By far it is the best recipe I've ever made and she's happily letting me share it here.

All but two chunks went into the fridge for their little rest. Seriously, who can make dough and not eat a cookie? Waiting is the hardest part of baking chocolate chip cookies. I baked off two chunks for a late night snack.

Those two cookies, however, were not going to be enough to let me know the difference between a fresh dough and one that has rested for 36 hours. But they were tasty! That meant another bowl of dough was made. I used the exact same recipe and made them the exact same way. The only difference is that I had a 2 year old helping me the second time.

While The Monster was at preschool we baked trays and trays of cookies. I was worried about telling them apart, but it turns out that isn't a problem. The rested dough gets more golden in the oven and doesn't spread as much as the fresh dough. Difference #1.

Now I certainly don't need 6 dozen chocolate chip cookies in my house. We took most of the cookies to the playground for an after school treat, and an experiment. I walked around to all the parents and the teacher, asking them to try one of each cookie. I wanted to see if they could taste a difference and if so, which one they preferred. (The kids got some too, but they didn't care at all which bag they came from.)

The first surprise to me was that everyone could tell a difference between the two cookies, by taste alone. It was a subtle difference to me when the cookies were warm, at home. At the park, however, the difference was more pronounced. The fresh dough cookies taste sweeter. Difference #2.

People were trying to guess the difference and the guesses ran from the addition to honey or more sugar to potentially more butter in the freshly baked dough. The people who preferred these ones all thought they tasted more rich.

The people who preferred the rested dough cookies, however, often called them more decadent or gourmet. Personally, I found the difference was the cloying sweetness and that the fresh dough was almost a bit acidic, tasting it at the back of my tongue more than anything. The flavour, overall, of the rested dough is more sophisticated and frankly, mature. Difference #3.

What makes them technically different? Resting allows the liquids in the dough to be better absorbed. This results in a drier, firmer dough that bakes better. Hence, less puddling in the rested dough cookies. And a better texture overall when you bake the cookies to a precise just underbaked. It also encouraged better caramelization of the dough.

The remaining dough in my fridge (from both batches) was baked off the next day, topped with a sprinkling of fleur de sel. By far, my favourite version.

It's winter here now, I'm single parenting again, and I already have dough resting in the fridge for some post school and snow romp love.

Jennifer Perillo's Very Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 36 3 inch cookes (or 4 dozen slightly smaller ones)*

4 cups flour (18 ounces)
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 sticks butter, softened (8 ounces butter) (1 cup)
2 cups sugar (15 ounces)
2 tbsp molasses
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
12 ounces bittersweet chocolate discs (or chocolate chips)

In large bowl whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt. Beat butter, sugar and molasses until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla extract. Beat until well mixed. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate discs (chips). Let sit in the refrigerator overnight before baking, and may be stored this way for up to two days. Yes, I realize this is the very hard part.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with silicon mats or parchment paper. Gently form dough into 1 1/2 to 2 inch (1 to 1 1/2 inch) balls and place 2 to 3 inches apart on prepared baking sheet. Bake for 15 minutes (13 minutes in my oven) on middle rack. Remove from oven and let cool on pan for 2 more minutes. Transfer cookies to a rack to cool completely if you have any will power left.

*The notes in italics are my personal changes due to ingredients on hand, preferences, and my oven.


Rachel said...

Beautiful post! Yes... chocolate chip cookies bring memories of childhood. My favorite part was always licking the spoon. I'm definitely going to give this one a try sometime... we'll see if it tops my current favorite ;)

Jan @ Family Bites said...

Love this and the idea of letting the cookies rest. I guess I know what I'll be making this weekend!

Roving Lemon said...

Do you think the resting process still has the same effect if you freeze the cookies between making and baking? Maybe I'll have to extend the experiment....

Jennie said...

Cheryl, this post made me weepy. So poignant and true how a simple little cookie creates such a connection to our past, present and future.

Knowing my recipe lives in your house now too is why I do what I do for a living.

And I love, love, love that you did the park taste test. What better way to do research that go out in the field!


Mr. Jackhonky said...

I always let my dough rest for at least 48hours sometimes longer. I like the caramelization that occur when I do and the chewiness that you can't get from fresh dough. Good salt onto is key as well!

@Roving Lemon, I make batches, let it rest in the fridge for a few days and then I measure it out into balls and freeze them in a ziplock bag. I'm not sure how it would be if you just froze it. Let us know the results when you do!

Fareen said...

Mmmm...those look good! Wish you had done the taste test tomorrow, so I could have tried them :)

The Yummy Mummy said...

I love this post. And I love that you bake with so much love, right from your heart.

I also love that you made people test the cookies at the playground. How awesome is that? I can picture you walking up to strangers with a tray of cookies, forcing them to conjure up all their Top Chef critic words and weigh in on the cookies. I bet you wrote everything down on a pad. You must be the most popular parent in town.

You know I don't bake often. But I might actually make these cookies. Thanks to you for that inspiration.

xo Kim

elle said...

Cheryl, the salted tops sound scrumptious. Where would you find fleur de sel?

Michelle (What's Cooking with Kids) said...

YUM! Love your recipe testers and am thrilled I learned from you - rest the dough :-) Who knew?

Jennifer said...

What a sweet post. And what a good idea for an experiment. I've wanted to try the resting thing, but like you, it's impossible for me to let cookie dough "rest" for an hour, let alone 36. If there's really such a difference, though, I may have to just bite the bullet (or something sweeter) and do it.

Kaytee said...

Very interesting. I might need to try letting my dough rest next time I make some chocolate chip cookies.

Vincci said...

Neat experiment! And I totally understand what you mean about the cookies - they weren't big in my house during my childhood, but when friends started having parties and I would offer to bring a treat, what did I bring? Chocolate chip cookies! So many memories...

Dr. CaSo said...

I have never been able to make eatable cookies so I'm definitely going to try the rested version, maybe it'll make a difference :) Thanks!

hannah @ Bake five! said...

i love a good chocolate chip cookie anytime. But does the rest dough give a more earthy taste?

Pretty. Good. Food. said...

Mmm, looks delicious! I never get tired of chocolate chip cookie recipes :)

Lunch for Two said...

Beautiful post. Plus, it's great to know that you can actually improve the taste of the cookies and do some work ahead of time. Thank you so much for posting this and this wonderful recipe with the molasses...

Joyce said...

I never thought there would be a difference between fresh and rested. I pop my dough in the fridge all the time!
Great looking cookies!


kirbie said...

I've been really curious as to the difference, esp since I don't have the patience to put cookie dough in the fridge for three days. This was a great post. And now I think I will have the willpower to put some dough for resting so I can taste the difference.