What’s the secret to a soft-on-the-inside, crisp-on-the-outside chocolate chip cookie?
The thing about chocolate chip cookies, Lisa, is that they’re very personal, but luckily I, too, pledge allegiance to those crisp edges and soft, gooey centres. Getting that balance of textures, says Helen Goh, recipe developer at Ottolenghi, comes from using 50% caster sugar and 50% light or dark brown sugar: “The brown sugar adds that butterscotch flavour, while the caster sugar keeps it from going completely soft.” The brown sugar adds something else, too: “The molasses gives that warm feeling that reminds you of being a kid and having the last scoop from the bowl or a cookie fresh from the oven,” says Nicola Lamb, co-founder of pop-up bakery and online pastry school Puff.
Chocolate is, of course, key, and you don’t get many more well-versed in the stuff than chocolatier Paul A Young. His tip? Don’t scrimp. “Buy a bar that you love, whether it’s single origin, blended, Bournville or flavoured, like chocolate orange,” he says, which he then chops into chunks of varying sizes.
Goh agrees: “It’s nice to have irregular bits of chocolate, so you’ve got shards and fine, powdery bits marbled through the dough.” She suggests mixing milk and dark for contrast, while Lamb ups the ante by sticking a chocolate feves (disc) on top of each cookie, guaranteeing “a beautiful big chocolate chip” for all.
So far, so simple. However, the cracks appear at the question of resting and baking. Flora Shedden, owner of Aran bakery in Highland Perthshire, chills her dough for at least half an hour, Young freezes his for 20 minutes, to keep the middles cold (“There’s more chance of it being gooey that way”), while Goh and Feast’s own Tamal Ray bake it straight away. For Lamb, however, resting overnight (aka four to eight hours) is key: “It allows you to get that thickness. If you put them straight in the oven, everything spreads out.”
Ovens are notoriously unreliable, so get to know yours. Lamb goes big, baking 75g balls of dough at 170C for 10 minutes: “They should be puffed up, and when you take them out and cool, they will almost deflate, and that’s when you get that crackly top.” But stay alert. “Undercook your cookies,” warns Shedden, who removes hers “when they’re still looking slightly raw in the middle” for peak chewiness. To be safe, make like Ray, who bakes a “test cookie” first, removing it when it starts browning at the edges.
Once you’ve cracked your base recipe, nuts (cashews and pecans), spices (Goh uses cinnamon, nutmeg or cardamom), rye or buckwheat flour, chopped chewy caramel (Ray’s favourite) or sourdough starter are all good additions. Shedden uses oats, to aid chewiness (you use less flour), while Young goes for the double with the cookie sandwich, filling it with Nutella (other brands are available), buttercream, mashed banana or toasted marshmallows. Lamb uses the latter to make “a filthy cookie” with brown butter, caramelised white chocolate and walnuts. “If I’m going to change it up, then I normally do something really silly, something that makes people smile, because that’s what cookies are about.”
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