Chocolate Chip Cookie Tips and Tweaks

I don't trust it when people tell me "MY chocolate chip cookies are the best!" Yeah, no. They may be the best for YOU, but we all have different tastes. Here's how to customize/improve your CCC game.
  1. 1.
    Start with a great recipe
    I'm partial to my own simplified version of the famous NYT/Jacques Torres/David Leite recipe. http://bit.ly/1yR1fGh but if you wanna go to the source recipe, I won't blame you. You can find it at http://bit.ly/1DONffm
  2. 2.
    "Cure" your dough in the fridge.
    This is probably the biggest takeaway from the NYT recipe. Make your cookie dough. Stick it in the fridge (minimum 36 hours - I go to 72 because I like those results). Then bake. And yeah, everyone's all "I'm impatient!" Well make the dough, bake a couple of cookies for instant enjoyment and cure the rest for later! But trust me when I say that after you've tasted the cured dough version you WON'T go back. It's that big a difference. Deeper flavor, more toffee notes, just more everything.
  3. 3.
    Mix up your flours
    Why stick with all-purpose? Sub out some of the white whole wheat (it's less bitter than regular whole wheat but has all the whole grain benefit) for the A.P. flour (I usually sub 50%). But why stop there? Ancient grains like KAMUT flour are awesome in chippers. Whole grains like Teff, Buckwheat & Oat play really well with chocolate and if you can get ahold of it, mesquite flour is a revelation in choco cookies. Sub out up to 25% of A.P. flour for the weirdo flours and you're good to go.
  4. 4.
    Mix up your sugars
    Sure white and dark brown sugar are the standard. But why not try maple sugar? Or coconut sugar! It doesn't taste like coconut but it had trace minerals & a lower glycemic index & tastes wonderfully complex. Both are available at Trader Joe's. Or try Muscavado sugar, a less refined dark brown sugar. Awesome deep molasses flavor. Turbinado will give you a super sweet crunch. Sub all the above sugars for the brown sugar in the recipe (except the turbinado - just sub 1/4 cup of it).
  5. 5.
    About that butter
    If you want to up your cookie game and make it richer try using European style butter (Plugra or Kerrygold make great euro-butter). American style butter had more water in it while European style butter has more butterfat. Remember fat is flavor!
  6. 6.
    About that butter part 2
    But my go-to trick is to brown the butter! Use unsalted butter (American is fine) and place it in a pan. Cook it, stirring constantly until the butterfat solids start to turn brown. Turn off the heat and keep stirring, letting the residual heat brown the fat. Once it is a reddish brown and smells nutty pour into you bowl to stop the cooking. Add the sugars and mix until cool before continuing. Because you've driven off the water in the cooking, add 1 extra tablespoon of butter per recipe batch.
  7. 7.
    Don't overcream your sugar and butter
    A lot of recipes tell you to cream your butter and sugar together until fluffy. But that incorporates a lot of air in your dough. If you want a less cakey more chewy cookie, mix the butter and sugar just enough until there's no visible sugar in the bowl and the mixture is pasty and uniform in color, with no butter streaks. Then start adding the other ingredients. Of course, if you use brown butter, overcreaming is not an issue at all.
  8. 8.
    A touch of salt
    Sprinkle fancy flaky salt on top of the cookie before baking. This has the same effect as salted caramel, it tempers the sweetness and adds a touch of salty surprise crunch. Pro tip: If you have a vanilla bean pod, stick it in a jar and fill it will some coarse salt. Shake it every now and then and a month later you'll have vanilla salt! It's fabulous on choco-chip cookies. Or use it in savory finished (like lobster bisque - which I know you all make all the time).
  9. 9.
    Dry milk powder, nonfat (or whole if you can find it, the best place to find whole milk powder is at natural food stores)
    This is in a lot of pro-baker kitchens. But home bakers don't really think about it. Pastry chef Christina Tosi of Milk Bar uses it a lot in pretty much everything she bakes. She equates milk powder as the baking equivalent to umami to savory food. It adds that extra depth and richness but you can't quite place how or what it is. Remove 1/4 cup of regular flour and add 1/2 cup of the dry milk powder. Or use malted milk powder for a different flavor!
  10. 10.
    Add custom flavors
    Sure everyone is all about the vanilla. But there are a myriad of other extracts out there. Almond extract is my secret weapon, add 1/2 teaspoon for a little nuttiness without the nuts. But try other extracts too. Chocolate extract is awesome. Or Fiori di Sicilia which is a vanilla & orange extract that is sublime (available online). Or add lemon zest, cinnamon or nutmeg to mix it up. Play around! Of course now you're veering into nontraditional choco chip territory but whatevs.
  11. 11.
    Add your vanilla (or other extracts and flavorings) to the butter/sugar creaming part of the recipe.
    Most recipes tell you add the vanilla AFTER the eggs. But adding the vanilla (or other flavoring) to the butter and sugar helps to bloom its flavor. A lot of the flavor components in extracts are fat soluble, so mixing it with the butter first helps intensive the flavor.
  12. 12.
    Nuts!
    Nuts are a totally polarizing thing to add to chocolate chips but if that's your jam, toast some pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts or pistachios (my fave) in a dry skillet until fragrant then chop and add in. If you want the crunch and texture but don't like nuts AT ALL can I suggest cacao nibs? They are the roasted beans from which chocolate is made. They add crunch and texture but also add an earthy chocolate taste without the weird pasty texture that a lot of nut haters complain about.
  13. 13.
    Let's talk chocolate
    I can write a whole list about chocolate choices but if you want to up your chocolate chip game skip the chips! Chips are designed to hold their shape at higher temperatures. Which is fine but if you want ooey gooey melty chocolate chip cookies, get a bar of chocolate and chop it up. It will melt and make the cookie more chocolatey. You'll find you can even get away with using less chocolate this way. It's totally worth the extra 3 minutes to chop.
  14. 14.
    Let's talk chocolate part 2
    Use a variety of chocolates from white to milk to semi to bittersweet and you'll get more complexity as well! And even if you just like dark, use different brands and cacao %. From semi-sweet to bittersweet to artisan chocolate to grocery store chocolate, all chocolate tastes different with different tasting notes (like wine or coffee). Why not use that to your advantage and mix them up in the cookie. Even just 2 different chocolates will make a difference.
  15. 15.
    Let's talk chocolate part 3
    Save a handful of chopped chocolate and tuck them into the top of your unbaked cookie before baking them. That way the cookies look chock full chocolate (this is actually an old a food styling trick). Your cookies will look you got them from a bakery. Better yet, place a couple of chunks of chocolate on the hot cookie right after you pulled them out from the oven. The chocolate will melt and look even more awesome.
  16. 16.
    Bigger is better
    I want my chocolate chip cookies about 5-inches in diameter. That way you get the magical inner circle of awesomeness where the cookie dough is just set right. Make dough balls that are somewhere between a golfball and a baseball (3 1/2 oz if you have a scale). Squish them down into 2 1/2-inch disks (about 1/2 to 3/4-inch thick). Place 2 inches apart. They'll spread to about 5-inches. Split in half if the cookies are too big for you (but who are we kidding? You're going to eat the whole thing!)
  17. 17.
    For chewy cookies
    Underbake slightly. Bake until the edges are golden brown and inner cookie part is just set. Remove from oven and let cool on the hot baking sheet for 10 minutes before moving to a cooling rack. The residual heat will continue to bake the cookie.
  18. 18.
    For crisp cookies
    Bake until the edges are deep golden brown and the center is a nice golden brown. Don't overbake but let the cookies sit in the hot baking sheet for 10 min before moving to a cooling rack. The residual heat of the baking will continue to bake the cookie. Use parchment paper instead of a silicon pad. And use more white sugar than brown sugar. Also swap 1 egg for 2 egg whites.
  19. 19.
    Pro tip #1: Chop a bunch of chocolate and store it in ziplock bags
    To speed up chocolate chip making, set aside 15 minutes one day and just chop up a bunch of bars and store the chunks in ziplock bags. Make sure to label each bag with the chocolate type and brand. That way you can make cookies on the fly without having to chop, which is a mental barrier for a lot of people and why they reach for the easier chocolate chips.
  20. 20.
    Pro tip #2: Freeze the dough!
    People always complain about the "curing" time. But once they taste the result they understand it's worth the wait. But next time you make chocolate chippers make 2 batches. Let all the dough cure. Bake up your 1st batch & portion out the other batch into pre-measures cookie dough disks. Put them in a ziplock bag and freeze them. Now, whenever you want cookies, just pull out a couple of disks, let them defrost on the counter for 30min. Bake as normal! Or bake frozen for a couple extra minutes!
  21. 21.
    Pro tip #3: Let's talk chocolate part 4
    If you want to get fancy, melt some chocolate and dip one side of the cooled cookie in it. If you time the coolness of the melted chocolate, (wait until it starts to cool & thicken) you can even dip and set the cookie on their edge, so the chocolate pools and makes a "foot" (refrigerate your baking sheet w/parchment paper on it so it's cold first.) Refrigerate the cookies standing up until the chocolate is firm. Then serve the cookies vertical on a plate! Instant impressive dessert.
  22. 22.
    Bonus: this photo of a cookie I'm developing for my book using some of the tips I listed above.
    I wasn't going to include a chocolate chip cookie recipe in my cookbook because it doesn't fit the concept exactly and I thought it too basic. But making this list convinced me otherwise. I'm still tinkering with this recipe. I'm not sure what to call it yet but my partner taste tested it and approved it.
  23. 23.
    Also, feel free to ask questions about any of the above. It's why I numbered them, instead of bullet-pointed them. Easier to reference.
  24. 24.
    Pro tip: make friends, so you don't end up eating all the cookies yourself while sitting on the couch with your cat
    Suggested by   @mlh