I’ve published my seminal recipe for chocolate chip cookies on Eating Berkeley before and have since tweaked and experimented with the recipe nearly every time I visit home. After almost two years of making cookies from scratch, this is my distillation of how every ingredient affects the final product. Hopefully, this information will help you to work on the recipe best suited to your personal tastes.
Browning the butter takes advantage of the Maillard reaction in addition to caramelization — two processes that introduce flavors to food due to chemical changes in proteins and sugars. Butter is about 18% water (some of which is lost during browning), so adding a splash of water to the browned butter off-heat ensures the dough doesn’t get too dry. Finally, using your senses of sight and smell to identify when the butter is properly browned engages your senses while cooking, a key to making food suited to your personal taste.
Obviously, this wouldn’t be a dessert without sugar. Brown sugar is actually just white sugar plus molasses, providing a source of chewiness in a recipe such as cookies. I prefer using dark brown sugar (as opposed to light brown sugar) to give the cookies that extra depth of flavor and texture. Some recipes call for ¾ cup each of brown and white sugar; I found that left the cookies much too bland, which is why my recipe calls for a sum total of two cups of sugar.
Eggs provide structure to cookie dough via emulsification — a chemical process that binds water and fat, which ordinarily repel each other. The white part of the egg, known as albumen, contains protein, which provides some chew. Egg yolk contains fat, which adds some extra fudginess to the cookies. I’ve experimented with using three egg yolks instead of the standard two eggs, but in the end, I found it made the dough too crumbly.
A mere teaspoon is hardly enough to make a noticeable difference in flavor in a recipe that produces almost two dozen cookies. Vanilla extract is a solution stabilized in alcohol, a volatile compound, so the vanilla extract in this recipe mostly helps the dough smell incredible both in its raw state and while it bakes.
All-purpose flour is called as such for a reason: it’s well-suited for everything from cookies to cakes to roux. I suppose you could use bread flour for some added chewiness, but unless you make a lot of breads and pizza doughs, you’re going to be left with a giant bag of flour that can’t really be repurposed for anything else. I find that using some elbow grease to develop the gluten in all-purpose flour is an excellent way to get perfectly chewy cookies.
In this context, salt helps bring chocolate chip cookies to their bliss point — an actual metric in the food science industry that maximizes deliciousness via an optimal ratio of sugar, fat and salt. It took a lot of experimenting for me to figure out the amount of salt that’s barely perceptible but still noticeable enough to put an involuntary smile on your face.
Baking soda is simply a leavening agent that gives some height and internal crumb structure to the cookies.
Being the titular ingredient in chocolate chip cookies, chocolate provides that iconic flavor we all know and love. There are actually quite a few ways to amp up the form factor of chocolate in this recipe: Use bittersweet chocolate (about 60% cacao) instead of milk chocolate so the cookies aren’t too sweet, use Guittard chocolate since they make the absolute best you can find in a grocery store and chop up bars of chocolate instead of using chips to introduce some heterogeneity to the cookie dough. Flecks and deep pockets of molten chocolate are much more exciting than uniform chips.
Now that you know what makes a great chocolate chip cookie, go ahead and make a batch. Be sure to reserve the obligatory amount for yourself, then share the cookies with others alongside a glass of cold milk.