Chocolate Chip Cookies Are Not All Created Equal

[Editor’s note: there isn’t a chocolate chip cookie recipe in this post, but there are links to all the cookie recipes Pen & Fork tested.]

I fell down a rabbit hole.

It all started with a cookie called Secretly Vegan Salted Chocolate Chip Cookie in the “Food52 Genius Desserts” Cookbook. (I reviewed the cookbook here.)

“Secretly Vegan”

I couldn’t believe they were as good as everyone I gave them to said they were, so I made them again. Result: They were.

Secretly Vegan Round 2

Next came San Francisco Cooking School’s whiskey & rye chocolate chip cookies. (Not impressed, tossed recipe.)

While I was remaking the “Secretly Vegan” cookies, I was about to throw away the Scharffen Berger bag of bittersweet baking chunks when I noticed the recipe on the back: Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies from her book, “Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy Melt-in-your-Mouth Cookies.” Well, duh, I made them.

Alice Medrich’s Chocolate Chunk Cookies

Result? Really good cookies and I love that Ms. Medrich is first and foremost a proponent of melted butter in many of her recipes (versus the usual creaming method of cool-but-soft butter and sugar.)

Alice Medrich’s Method

But were Ms. Medrich’s cookies as good as the “Secretly Vegan” cookies, or what about the original, original chocolate chip cookies, the ones we all grew up with, Toll House Cookies?

So I made the Toll House chocolate chip cookies on the back of the Toll House bag. It’s classic. Can’t go wrong, but nowhere on the bag’s recipe, does it say to “rest dough before baking.”

Original Toll House Chocolate Chip

It got a little crazy around here for a while with a tape measure and a scale.

And multiple scoops.

But you really can’t say you’ve tried them all without trying the now famous, 2008 New York Times article featuring David Leite’s “Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies.”

Mr. Leite is a cookbook author, media personality and owner of the long-running, much loved website, Leite’s Culinaria, which won two James Beard awards. (Linda Avery, who wrote cookbook reviews for Pen & Fork from 2010-2017, was Leite’s Culinaria’s Food Editor when the site won the awards.)

What was so noteworthy about Mr. Leite’s cookies that the New York Times felt compelled to share? A long, slow rest for the dough.

You should know that Mr. Leite also calls for two kinds of flours (cake and bread) and chocolate baking “disks” called “fèves” versus chips or chunks.

Leite’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

By now, I’m so far down the rabbit hole that my local grocer knows to stock more butter, more flour and more chocolate. I made Mr. Leite’s cookies, but instead of just making his recipe, I had to do a test. I didn’t have any bread flour or cake flour in the house. I bought them so I could test his recipe as written, but I thought to myself, why not just use all-purpose flour? Who among us keeps cake and bread flour handy? Not me.

Could it be that his ratio of cake to bread flour was equivalent (or close enough) to all-purpose flour, thereby saving an extra trip to the grocery store and buying five pounds of bread flour and two pounds of cake flour?

I made two identical batches: one with all-purpose flour and one with the two flours. In my opinion, there isn’t much difference between the two. They are both freaking good. Maybe the best I’ve tried. Well, at this point, it’s neck-and-neck between the long, slow-rested cookies Mr. Leite has made famous and the Secretly Vegan Food52 cookies, which, by the way, also call for an overnight rest.

Mr. Leite’s recipe makes almost four pounds of dough (other recipes are about half) and the yield is 18 cookies. Which means they are gigantic: Literally five-inches wide.

Leite’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookie

PRO TIP: If you decide to buy both bread and cake flours to make Mr. Leite’s recipe, you can measure out a few batches of the two together and stash them in the freezer for the next time you want to make his cookies.

As long as people like Ms. Medrich, Mr. Leite, Ms. Parks – and others – develop and publish chocolate chip cookie recipes, I’ll be a willing recipe testing guinea pig. And you should know, rabbit holes are comfortable, safe spaces where no one counts how many cookies you’ve had. It’s all in the name of “research.”

5 things I learned testing chocolate chip cookie recipes:

  1. Baking “pieces” or “chunks” are superior to chocolate chip drops that hold their shape during baking. First and foremost because they taste better.
  2. Too much chocolate. Yes, there is such a thing. I’m going to start by reducing the amount of chocolate by 25%. I want a more balanced relationship between the dough and the chocolate.
  3. Every recipe should include metric/volume measures. I weighed one cup of all-purpose flour three times and it varied wildly from the standard 120g grams weight commonly accepted. WILDLY. Invest in a scale and if you can’t, put it on your birthday or Christmas or Hanukkah or Mother’s Day or Father’s Day wish list.
  4. NOT resting the dough is no longer an option for me. But… if I only have 2 hours to rest it, it’s not the demise of the recipe. Not even close. Even 2 hours markedly improves the flavor and behavior of the dough. Ideally, I want to rest the dough at least 12 hours, and the 24-to-36-hour rest Mr. Leite recommends can be convenient in addition to making the best cookie—so far—maybe? (hello Secretly Vegan, I’m looking at you) — that I’ve tried.
  5. Size matters–as does cooking temperature and the temperature of the dough. Mr. Leite’s five-inch cookie is a monster but allows for different textures from the outside to the inside. Personally, I like a one to one-and-a-half-ounce cookie. It just takes less time to cook and the recipe yields MORE cookies to share with MORE people.
    1. Cooking temperature ranges from 350 to 375 in these recipes and I’ve done both and don’t have a preference, just watch the cookies yourself and see what works in your oven. You will not kill the cookies by choosing one temp over the other.
    2. Temperature of the dough also matters, and the cooler the dough, the slower the browning (which impacts the spreading and the doneness of the center). If you can scoop the cookies after you make them and then put them in a single later on a sheet pan to fit in your fridge, that works best, but if you can’t, refrigerate the dough and then let it sit at room temperature for half hour before scooping, and make sure the dough is somewhat still chilled going into the oven.
2 replies
  1. Sharon
    Sharon says:

    Last week I followed a recipe for faux Tate’s chocolate chip cookies. I’m a fan of crunchy cookies. Light brown sugar instead of dark and no egg and you have to knead the dough to pull it together. The cookies were indeed crunchy. And superb. Would definitely make them again. The egg makes them more “cake-like” so without an egg, the dough is very dense and bakes up very crisp.

    • Gwen Ashley Walters
      Gwen Ashley Walters says:

      I think I saw that, if it was Stella Parks from Serious Eats. I like crunchy cookies but like chewy ones better. And now after 2 months of cookie testing, I’m back on my smoothie routine. 😉


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