By Emily Paster
I recently visited The Chopping Block, Chicago's premier recreational cooking school, to scout the location for the November 10 Chicago Food Swap. Next to the cooking school's beautiful demonstration kitchens is a small retail shop that sells high-end cookware, hard-to-find ingredients and select cookbooks. So naturally I picked up a few odds and ends. One thing I was very excited to find was fregola, the toasted Sardinian couscous that I haven't been able to locate since my trip to Eatalylast fall.
But the best thing I bought at The Chopping Block was a bag of Callebaut chocolate chips. According to the woman at The Chopping Block, these chocolate chips are not usually sold to home cooks. They are sold in bulk only, but the folks at The Chopping Block buy them and repackage the chips into smaller amounts for home cooks. The chips were bigger than average and the quality of the chocolate unmistakeable. Biting into one of these chocolate chips was like eating a morsel of pure chocolate decadence.
Homemade chocolate chip cookies happen to be one of my favorite desserts. To my mind, they are better than brownies, cupcakes or ice cream. I think it is the combination of a butter-sugar batter with doses of chocolate. I'd rather have small doses of chocolate than a whole mouthful of chocolate.
Homemade chocolate chip cookies also make me think of my beloved father, who could not resist them. My dad was the most disciplined eater you can imagine. He ate undressed Chicken Caesar Salad for lunch almost every single day. He was as fastidious about his diet and exercise routine as he was about everything else. But a homemade chocolate chip cookie could derail all of that. Even his colleagues knew it and once put the following line on a poster of my dad's famous quotes: "Are there any more of those chocolate chip cookies?"
When making chocolate chip cookies. I am pretty faithful to the classic Toll House recipe with a few modifications. First, I like to chill my dough before baking. Chilling the dough, preferably overnight, allows the gluten in the flour to relax after its spin through the stand mixer. Gluten that has had a chance to relax will result in tender, melt-in-your-mouth cookies whereas baking the cookies right after mixing can result in a rubbery texture. Also, chilling the dough spreads out the work over two days, which I find helpful. Make the dough one day. Resist eating all the cookie dough and bake the cookies when you have a spare hour the next day.
My second variation is to sprinkle the tops of the cookies with some finishing salt to get that sweet-salty combination going. I am a complete sucker for sweet and salty in combination. Another one of my favorite treats are chocolate-covered pretzels. I like to use my Himalayan pink salt because I think the color looks nice on the cookies. But any sea salt that comes in crystal form would work nicely.
But honestly, the most important variable when making chocolate chip cookies is the quality of the chocolate chips. Invest in high-quality chocolate chips or chop up a high-quality semi-sweet chocolate bar of at least 50% cocoa. (Avoid milk chocolate chips which result in a cloyingly sweet cookie.) Since my trip to The Chopping Block, I have found Callebaut chocolate chips at my local Whole Foods. These are slightly smaller than the ones from The Chopping Block. But they still make a mean cookie. Are they more expensive than supermarket chips? Sure. Can you taste the difference? Absolutely.
If you can't find Callebaut chips where you live, fear not. First, you can order them online. Second, if you need to find an alternative brand, begin by looking for big chips. Bigger chips melt on the inside giving you those gooey trails of chocolate that you see on commercials. Some other brands that have done well in taste tests are Scharffen Berger and Ghirardhelli. Trader Joe's brand also tests well with a lower price tag.
Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- 1 tsp. kosher salt
- 2 sticks (8 oz.) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3/4 cup light brown sugar
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs at room temperature
- 1 tsp. real vanilla extract
- 8 oz. smei-sweet chocolate chips of over 50% cocoa
- 2 TB finishing salt such as Himalayan Pink Salt
- Sift the flour, kosher salt and baking soda together in a small bowl and set aside.
- in the bowl of standing mixer, cream the butter and the sugars until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes.
- Add the eggs one at a time followed by the vanilla extract.
- Gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter-sugar mixture and mix just until combined.
- Add the chocolate chips and mix, again just until combined.
- Divide the dough in two and roll each half into a log of approximately 2 in diameter.
- Refrigerate the dough overnight.
- To bake, preheat the oven to 350.
- Slice the dough into 1/4 thick cookies and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. (I usualy get about 9 cookies to a sheet.)
- Sprinkle a pinch of finishing salt on top of each cookies.
- Bake cookies for 12 minutes.
- Cool on a wire rack.