Exotic

Show me a durian, a mangosteen, biryani or fish curry and I’ll probably shrug and say “so what?”

But show me a chocolate chip cookie – any chocolate chip cookie – and you’ll have me at hello.

Exotic is like anything else a matter of perspective. Since I come from a background where the every day  was steeped in nam pla and cardamom but sorely deprived of butter, sugar, and (HELLO!) chocolate chips, you’ll begin to appreciate why for me, a chocolate chip cookie can never be an ordinary thing.

In my head, a chocolate chip cookie is baking and represents everything baking should be – warm, cozy, comforting, buttery-sweet…..and exotic. Plus, there’s something about the scent of these in the oven that virtually announces “America Red White And Blue Apple Pie On A Window Sill Land Of Freedom And Gingham And Blue Jeans”. Many of us love to travel to exotic places via the food we cook. If I didn’t already live here then the number one recipe in my book for kitchen-traveling to the United States would be this cookie.

In the 4th grade, during my years in Bangkok, a friend gave me a gift wrapped bag of Striped Chips Ahoy cookies (80s kids do you remember these?) for my birthday. This may sound cheap-o to you, but let me tell you, it’s the only gift I remember from that year and I received many. I treasured that package, guarded it with my life, didn’t share with anyone and went through it slowly for a whole month, allowing myself one cookie a day so to make the experience last. That gives you an idea what the American supermarket staple meant to a curry-fatigued kid on the other side of the world.

What a long and tragic way we’ve come.

A) They no longer make Striped Chips Ahoy. The entire backside of each cookie was dipped in chocolate! Plus, were the cookies bigger back then or was I just smaller? And why do these companies always stop making the most delicious product in their line-up?

B) I wouldn’t be caught dead buying a bag of Chips Ahoy now. I’m not even sure they should be allowed to call them chocolate chip cookies (more like spongy-sawdust studded with questionable brown pebbles).  At any rate, homemade and/or artisan is what the cool kids do these days.

When I developed an interest in baking I tried out several different recipes, beginning where everyone begins, at Nestle Toll House. I was planning to embark on the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie Quest by baking my way through other recipes that have evolved from the original and taking detailed notes (baker-geek satisfaction). But then, the America’s Test Kitchen / Cook’s Illustrated team (Baker Geek Headquarters) developed a recipe that you just know has got to be foolproof.

I think they might have invented the word foolproof.

I don’t know what exactly their hyper-thorough recipe testing process is but it’s clear that those mad scientists know what the heck they’re doing. I can only dream of having that kind of fine-tooth-combed attention to detail.

So alas, my cookie expedition was over before it even began.

This recipe is genius. What I love is that there are no strange ingredients like bread flour, shortening or gourmet chocolate “discs”. It uses all the basics that we’re familiar with, but the unique permutation-combination of the methodology elevates each step to a whole new level. That’s the kind of stuff I adore with recipe tweaking – nothing fancy, just smart.

An added bonus is that you don’t have to wait for butter to soften which is the step that always annoys me the most. Usually the mood strikes me to bake cookies and then it’s like crap, I have to wait for the butter to soften. Not with this gem.

This is recipe testing at its best. And it makes a super-delicious cookie that tastes the way you want “homemade” to taste, unpretentious but So Good.

Cook’s Illustrated’s Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie (click for link to original recipe)

Ingredients

1 ¾ cups unbleached all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking soda

14 tablespoons unsalted butter

½ cup granulated sugar

¾ cups packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 large egg yolk

1 ¼ cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

¾ cups chopped nuts (optional)

Method

Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment.

Whisk flour and baking soda together in a medium bowl. Set aside.

Now here’s the Baker Geek part – heat 10 tablespoons butter (cut into chunks, melts faster) in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium high heat. You want the butter to get brown and nutty. This is the crucial step that brings the butterscotch-toffee depth to the cookie dough.

Remove the pan from the heat and pour the browned butter into a heat-proof bowl. Chuck the remaining 4 tablespoons of butter into the bowl and whisk until all the butter has melted. (The addition of remaining butter into the nutty butter cools down the whole brown butter situation).

Dump in both the sugars, salt and vanilla. Whisk the whole lot together until everything is fully incorporated. Add in the egg and the egg yolk (less moisture from loss of one egg white = more chewiness). Whisk all.

And now, the really interesting bit – you let it sit. Let the mixture sit for 3 minutes (it’s okay if it’s like 3 minutes and 10 seconds but don’t tell the Cook’s team). Then whisk everything again for 30 seconds. Repeat 2 more times. It sounds insane but the evidence is in the pictures below. You’ll go from a thinner darker looking mixture….

……to a thick, glossy, melted toffee-like mixture. GE-NI-US.

Stir in the flour mixture with a wooden spoon or sturdy spatula until combined and toss in the chocolate chips. Mix. That’s my favorite part because now it finally looks like chocolate chip cookie dough.

Erm, at this point you’re supposed to divide the dough into 16 portions using a #24 cookie dough scoop, or about 3 tablespoons per cookie. Clearly I need to buy the cookie scoop that’s been on my Amazon wishlist forever or a re-education on what constitutes a tablespoon because my cookies ended up GiNORmous. Not a tragedy, but still.

Undaunted, plow forward and place each scoop of dough (whatever the size) 2 inches apart. Bake cookies one tray at a time for 10 to 14 minutes (or a little longer if you have no-sense-of-proportion-ginormous-cookies), until golden brown and well, cookie-like. Transfer baking sheets to a wire rack.

Cool cookies before serving. (Yeah, good luck with that.)