As the younger sibling, I got stuck with the easy stuff: the dry ingredients. The wet ingredients always seemed so much more glamorous. Looking back, I’m not really sure what Jessica and I were doing, because those cookies seemed to take forever to make. I think we must have spent at least an hour making the dough, whereas I can now throw it together in about 10 minutes or less. So I really don’t understand what I was doing that took me so long, especially since my main task involved mixing flour, baking soda, and salt together. Perhaps it was because we were climbing on the counters trying to reach the ingredients and we had to stop to snack on the brown sugar and chocolate chips?
One of my most revolutionary moments in the kitchen as a child was when I made this recipe alone. I was feeling adventurous and decided to go and do something just crazy out there and go off the recipe. The audacity of it all! The secret ingredient? About a tablespoon of orange juice. I got rave reviews on the cookies and just knew that it had to be the orange juice. I flaunted my culinary genius, but refused to divulge my secret ingredient. The next time Jessica and I made the cookies together, I snuck the OJ out and ran across the kitchen to throw it in the bowl when she wasn’t looking. There was no way I was going to share the best cooking secret of the century! I was determined to take it to the grave. Unfortunately, Jessica didn’t seem to care, so I broke down pretty quickly and told her what it was. Over the years I finally stopped adding the juice because it didn’t actually seem to make any difference. But to the ten-year-old me, it was the greatest discovery since chocolate chip cookies themselves. To the adult me, it was the time I learned that recipes don’t have to be followed precisely and that some of the best food and the most fun in the kitchen come out of tweaking and playing around with recipes.
Adding OJ to my cookies was a revolutionary moment where I realized that I could tweak recipes, and America’s Test Kitchen does just that, but to the 10th degree. They make a gazillion versions of the same recipe to try to come out with the perfect one – and one that is perfect every time you try it. I’m kind of obsessed with Cook’s Illustrated and America’s Test Kitchen. Joseph and I subscribe to the magazine, we have an online subscription, and we TiVo all the America’s Test Kitchen shows on PBS. They’ve just never, ever steered us wrong. I’ve also learned more about food and cooking from them than I have from any other source, but even more than that, they’ve given me some of my favorite recipes such as their cream scones, the amazing double chocolate brownies (the recipe to end all brownie recipes), and especially the Thai basil chicken dish. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that it wouldn’t be an extraordinary cookie. One look at the recipe revealed that it begins with browning butter. Yes, please!
Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
from Cook’s Illustrated
Makes 16 cookies
Make sure to use an non-coated skillet to brown the butter. If you use a coated pan you won’t be able to tell when your butter has browned. The butter goes from brown to black pretty quickly (especially if you’re trying to take pictures at the same time – the perils of food blogging!) so be careful.
The recipe calls for semi-sweet chocolate chips (or chunks), but I think I would have preferred bittersweet. Go with whichever you generally prefer. You can use light brown sugar, but the dark brown sugar gives it a deeper flavor and you can’t argue with that. Either way, make sure the brown sugar is fresh and not dried out or your cookies will be drier.
If you’re curious about what tweaks Cook’s Illustrated made and how those changes affected the outcome, make sure to check out the original recipe page that shows the full rundown.
1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (8 3/4 ounces)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 3/4 sticks)
1/2 cup granulated sugar (3 1/2 ounces)
3/4 cups packed dark brown sugar (5 1/4 ounces)
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet (or bittersweet) chocolate chips or chunks
3/4 cup chopped pecans or walnuts, toasted (optional)
Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. Whisk flour and baking soda together in medium bowl; set aside.
Heat 10 tablespoons butter in 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan constantly until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, 1 to 3 minutes. Remove skillet from heat and, using heatproof spatula, transfer browned butter to large heatproof bowl. Stir remaining 4 tablespoons butter into hot butter until completely melted.
Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to bowl with butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is smooth with no sugar lumps remaining, about 30 seconds. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using rubber spatula or wooden spoon, stir in flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving dough final stir to ensure no flour pockets remain.
Divide dough into 16 portions, each about 3 tablespoons (or use #24 cookie scoop). Arrange 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets, 8 dough balls per sheet. (Smaller baking sheets can be used, but will require 3 batches.)
Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and still puffy, and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, 10 to 14 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through baking. Transfer baking sheet to wire rack; cool cookies completely before serving.