Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe and How I Tried to Changed It
|Chocolate Chip Cookie|
A story of snobbery, arrogance, and lots ofsalted butter.
Growing up, there was one cookie, and one cookie only, in my mind and in my heart: my grandmother's Cowboy Cookie.
Correction: there was only one cookie recipe, not one cookie—you can never have just one Cowboy Cookie.
Cowboy Cookies came in batches of approximately 400, the already large yield doubled and placed in a Tupperware container on the buffet table of my grandma's house for 13 grandchildren to reach into endlessly until they vanished. They're the cookies my grandmother makes, and my mom, and my aunt. Like that famous patriarchy-laced chicken dish, Cowboy Cookies have apparently lured men into our family. They're really just oatmeal chocolate chip cookies, but who cares? In my family, they're magic.
Cowboy Cookies were the first stop on my journey to becoming a chocolate chip cookie snob. As a small jerk, I'd turn up my nose at anything in a package, and only begrudgingly ate cookies from friends' home kitchens. And then, as I grew older, I became even snobbier. I proclaimed my loyalty to the CCC at City Bakery. I read, over and over again, this New York Times article. I discovered the life-altering recipe for World Peace Cookies. And after all of this, I became arrogantly convinced that Cowboy Cookies...weren't that great.
Oh, I still ate them. Usually three in one sitting. It's just that now, I'd eat them thinking about how much better I could make them.
So a few weeks ago I did what nobody should ever do. I messed with a treasured grandmother's cookie recipe. Here are the tweaks I made, and how my Cowboy Cookies turned out.
First, the original recipe.
The Original Cowboy Cookie
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups Crisco
2 cups sugar
2 cups brown sugar
4 cups oatmeal
2 tablespoons vanilla
12 ounces chocolate chips
My Improvement Ideas
When I started experimenting with improving the recipe, the things that needed to be done seemed obvious.
1. Nix the Crisco for butter. Obviously.
2. Use chopped high-quality chocolate. Instead of chocolate chips, because chips have additives. Also: because chopped chocolate means more gooey, chocolatey layers. The chocolate appears as a strata across the cookie, and oozes out when you bite in.
3. Up the salt. Because I love an extra-salty cookie, and because Cowboy Cookies have always tasted a little one-note to me.
4. Halve the recipe. Because I don't have 13 grandchildren.
But that wasn't all. I had some distinct ideas about how to improve the texture of the cookie. Cowboy Cookies are absolutely delicious when they're warm and hot out of the oven, but they don't have that ideal textural mix of crispy edges and soft—but also chewy and not pillowy—middles. To get that, I took a few more steps.
1. Increase the brown sugar to white sugar ratio. Based on research, I thought subbing more brown sugar for some of the white sugar would result in a chewier texture, with a slightly more caramelized flavor.
2. Add some whole wheat flour. I'd replace some of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour because I like the nuttiness it imparts. I also thought it would add a bit of structure to the cookie, making it less soft, and giving a better balance between crispy and chewy.
3. Rest the dough for 24–36 hours. The much-discussed 24–36 hour resting period is proven to dramatically improve both flavor and texture. (Feel free to educate yourself on this matter if you, like me, care way too much.) Still, I wanted to make the resting period optional in my new recipe. Not everybody can wait for cookies.
3 Things I Learned Along the Way
1. Replacing Shortening with Butter Means Spreading—a LOT of Spreading
I thought replacing the shortening for butter would be the simplest improvement I could make to these old-school cookies. Not so. My first round of butter cookies spread so badly they were one giant inedible blob on a sheet pan. (This is when most of my cookie arrogance disappeared.)
Spreading would turn out to be the greatest obstacle of my cookie tampering. Determined to use butter, I ultimately solved the problem by chilling the cookies for 15–20 minutes in the freezer. (Or chilling for 24–36 hours—more on that later.)
2. Oatmeal Cookies Need a Ton of Salt
In my new cookies, I tried adding salt in increments. I tried using sea salt (which is saltier) instead of kosher. Still, the cookies tasted flat and under-seasoned. (Somehow more so than the original recipe—I'm not sure what that was about!)
In the end, I pulled a tip from the internet-famous cookie of the moment. In her Salted Butter and Chocolate Chunk Shortbread recipe, cookbook author Alison Roman claims that using salted butter results in a more nuanced—and more deeply salty—flavor. She was definitely right about this—I loved the Cowboy Cookies with salted butter. And yet that still wasn't enough! When I handed the recipe over to be cross-tested in the test kitchen, tasters found the cookie to be under-seasoned. They ended up having to add an additional teaspoon of salt to get a balanced cookie. This is likely because the added oats in the recipe soak up much more salt than just a regular flour cookie—think about how much salt you have to add to balance your morning oatmeal!
3. The Cookies Needed Reduced Leavening Agents
After I turned the cookies over to the test kitchen, they ended up decreasing the leavening. Everyone tasting the cookies in the test kitchen agreed that they tasted metallic. They decreased both the baking soda and the baking powder to 1/2 tsp. soda and 1 tsp. powder. It seemed strange to me, since I had never tasted any metallic flavor in my grandma's recipe. But, according to Kenji Lopez-Alt, brown sugar is more acidic than white. Acid reacts more readily with powder-based leavening agents. I can't be sure, but maybe increasing the brown sugar contributed to the metallic flavor.
3 Things I Was Right About
1. The Chocolate Chunks
Gooey layers of chocolate always win. I mean, just look at that photo above.
2. Butter Does Result In Better Flavor
Even if there's spreading. And it's not too much trouble to quickly chill the dough in the freezer.
3. A 24–36 Hour Resting Period Is Key
It does result in more developed flavor, a cookie that's a deeply golden brown with more complex caramelized flavor, and a better textural variety. It's really a long hydration period, which allows the slow-moving moisture in eggs to fully incorporate into the dry ingredients in the batter. I also liked the deeper caramel notes and the nutty flavor that the whole wheat flour and increased brown sugar added.
After overcoming the many obstacles, adding the chopped high-quality chocolate, increasing the brown sugar, and adding the 36 hour rest time, I got a cookie with the texture and flavor I was hoping for. By technical, worldly standards, I improved my grandmother's recipe.
And yet when I tasted it side-by-side with the original, I couldn't exactly say that it was better. Just different.
In the end, I guess I got the cookie I set out for. The fancy cookie with real butter and great texture and the strata of chocolate. But the sheer difficulty of the exercise made me dial back on my CCC cynicism. I think I may have even regained a little bit of childish wonder. After all, my final conclusion was that my grandmother's Cowboy Cookies are still, in fact, magical. Would a true cookie cynic say that?