February 6, 2013

The Maine Ingredient: Can't-miss tollhouse cookies? Can do!


Have you ever wondered why, even though you make the same tollhouse chocolate chip cookie recipe over and over again, it doesn't always come out the same?

click image to enlarge

Using the proper quality ingredients – at the proper temperature – will result in a delicious cookie every time.

Photo by Elizabeth Poisson

Maybe you changed one thing but weren't really conscious of it. Maybe the butter got left on the counter, and after your hour-long conversation with your best friend, was soft when it went into the recipe.

On the other hand, maybe you needed to make your cookies quickly for a last-minute dessert for school that your child just told you about that morning, and the butter came out of the fridge cold and hard as a rock.

Why do these variables matter?

The cookies I've been in search of all my life are the ones that are chewy in the center with a lightly crispy exterior. The edges are round, not some flat pancake slope like a long beach at low tide. The flavor is big and rich, and the whole thing just sings. For a long while, I wondered how bakeries got their cookies to do this. For a longer while, I thought I was destined to never really love my chocolate chip cookies. Sigh.

Nope, not true. One or two happy accidents, some thorough research and few dozen test recipes later, and I do believe a consistently great chocolate chip cookie is possible.

For starters, let's talk ingredients.

FLOUR: It has to be all-purpose, with enough gluten to keep every thing together and little enough gluten that things don't get tough. I use King Arthur all-purpose flour. Factoring in all the bread making that happens in our house, I go through a 20-pound bag in short order.

BUTTER: Unsalted butter gives you the opportunity to adjust the salt yourself rather than have it decided for you. In addition, unsalted butter is typically a higher grade; salt will mask some off flavors of lesser-quality butters. And the temperature of the butter matters quite a bit. Chilled, softened or melted butter will all combine with the sugar in different ways and cause different results. Chilled butter is not usually recommended when attempting to cream with the sugar in a recipe. Softened butter will cream easily, giving you a light, fluffy emulsification. Melted butter gives the opportunity to add the toasted flavor of browned butter, which is what I prefer the most.

SUGAR: White, light brown and dark brown sugars are all created in a similar way, save the amount of molasses that they contain, with white sugar having none and dark brown sugar having the most. Molasses has moisture-retention properties and can help encourage cookies to remain chewy. Too much, however, and the cookies just won't get done in the center.

EGGS: The more local, fresh and farm-raised, the better, of course. Room temperature is also helpful. If you refrigerate your eggs, an easy way to bring them to room temperature is to place them in a bowl of warm water while you are measuring out the rest of your ingredients. Ours are from our own hens, which vary in the size and shape of the eggs they produce. To get two large eggs for this recipe, I'll sometimes combine a really large egg that would be considered jumbo with an egg that in the grocery store would be labeled medium-sized.

VANILLA: Homemade or real, not imitation, please. Almond extract is also a fantastic substitute.

CHOCOLATE: Well, what can I say? Who doesn't love good chocolate? Use what you can afford.


1 cup (2 sticks) cold, unsalted butter

2 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

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