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Swift: A chip off a new block — bread flour, cornstarch and refrigeration are the secrets to chewy cookies

Making the best chocolate chip cookie is serious work, but it can be seriously worth it. Tammy Swift / Forum News Service1 / 2
2 / 2

I believe three things in life need to be chunky. One is peanut butter. The second is babies. And the third is chocolate chip cookies.

I feel so strongly about plump, chewy cookies that I’ve dedicated years to trying to find the perfect recipe. Granted, this is not important enough work to grant me a Pulitzer Prize, although it has successfully given me full-itzer thighs.

Fortunately, the internet is packed with blogs and recipes about the key to the perfect chocolate chip cookie. This included one completely bananas recipe that required refrigerating your cookie dough for a MINIMUM of eight hours. (Let’s face it: If you have that kind of self-control, you probably don’t need cookies in the first place. You might as well eat a nice kale loaf.)

However, I do know that refrigerating cookie dough — even for a half hour — makes a difference.

I once interviewed a food chemist who rocked my cookie-baking world with two game-changing facts:

  1. The revered Toll House cookie recipe actually needs extra flour added, because today’s flour isn’t as “strong” as it was when the recipe was first developed in the 1930s.
  2. The key to soft cookies is to allow the dough to chill, which solidifies the fat in the cookies, allows the sugar to gradually absorb the liquid in the recipe and lets the ingredients truly blend. As a result, they’ll spread less while baking, but be more flavorful afterward.

Ultimately, I decided to combine several of these tricks in one batch to see if I could create a cookie so pillowy soft that it could serve as a cloud for the world’s tiniest angel.

My basic recipe came from Sally’s Baking Addiction blog, which had slightly different ingredient ratios than the iconic Toll House recipe, required at least one hour of chilling and included cornstarch. (The latter is a thickener, so it creates a cookie that stands head and shoulders above the crowd.)

Sally also is a purist when it comes to butter. She insists the butter must be room temperature — still cool to the touch, but showing an indent if you press your finger into it. When butter is exactly the right temperature, Sally says it allows sugar to perfectly aerate the fat, creating little air pockets and light, fluffy baked goods. Experience has taught me that microwaving butter to soften it usually melts it, producing pancake-flat cookies in which the chocolate chips jut out like kittens hiding under a bedsheet.

Although Sally insisted people follow her instructions exactly to get “the best” soft cookie, I obviously have trouble following rules. I substituted the all-purpose flour in her recipe with bread flour, which many online cooks touted for creating soft, chewy cookies. I also became impatient with her directions for rolling the dough into balls rather than simply dropping them on the cookie sheet to bake.

You’re not the boss of me, Sally — what with your successful baking empire and beautifully lit portrait that suggests you have never cherry-picked all of the marshmallow pieces out of an entire box of Lucky Charms. Hey, I took 4-H. I know… stuuuff. They’re called “drop cookies,” so I’m going to drop ‘em, dangit!

The first batch turned out fluffier than the standard Toll House recipe. They deflated slightly as they cooled, and did not look nearly as chunkalicious as the perfect creations featured on her blog. But they were darn good: tender and chocolatey — with a fine-grained texture that either came from the cornstarch or the overnight refrigeration.

In an effort to build a bulkier cookie, I did obediently roll the second batch into little balls. And Sally was right: These did create perfectly round, stout cookies, with even more height than the first batch. The bottom line: In your quest for chunky, chewy cookies, you need room-temperature butter, chilled dough, bread flour, a pinch of cornstarch and – hardest of all – patience.

Here is Sally’s recipe (with a few Tammodifications).

Chocolate Chip Cookies

Ingredients:

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) butter, room temperature (not softened in microwave)

3/4 cup packed brown sugar

1/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg, room temperature

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

2 cups bread flour (spooned into measuring cup, not scooped, and leveled)

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 1/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips (I used milk chocolate, so sue me)

Directions:

In a large bowl using a hand-held mixer or stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar and sugar together on medium speed until combined and creamy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Scrape down sides of bowl as needed.

In a separate bowl, combine flour, cornstarch, baking soda and salt. Add into the wet ingredients, then beat on low until combined. The cookie dough will be slightly thick.

On low speed, fold in chocolate chips. Cover dough tightly with aluminum foil or plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour and up to 2 days. Chilling is mandatory for this cookie dough.

Remove cookie dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Once chilled, the dough will be slightly crumbly, but will come together when you work the dough with your hands. Roll balls of dough, about 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough each, into balls.

Bake 10-12 minutes. The cookies will look extremely soft when you remove them from the oven. They will slightly deflate as you let them cool. If desired, while the cookies are still warm, press a few extra chocolate chips into the tops. This is completely for looks!

Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at tswiftsletten@gmail.com.

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