Tweaking the Toll House formula
- Blog Post by: Rick Nelson
- September 27, 2012 - 10:11 AM
Does this ever happen to you? A food-porn image leaps off the pages of a magazine and imbeds itself into your cortex. Before you know it, you're scrupulously following the recipe's every word, and each step in the process is raising expectations and appetites. Yet despite your best efforts, the finished product isn't a twin of the one published in the magazine. It's more like a second cousin, from the ugly side of the family.
My latest tragic disconnect between newsstand fantasy and kitchen reality originated with the (phenomenal) new issue of Saveur. To celebrate the magazine's 150th issue, Team Saveur gathered 150 classic recipes, squeezing 101 into print, and diverting the balance to the magazine's website and digital edition. Even a cursory spin through this keeper of an issue reveals an eclectic, never-ending parade of one I-wanna-make-that dish after another.
Leave it to my sweet tooth, which never met a chocolate chip cookie that it didn't totally crush on, to stop dead in its tracks on page 76. And the more I read, the more I liked. What a cool idea: Rather than balling and dropping the dough to form cookies, this recipe, borrowing puff pasty principles, rolls out the dough and layers it. Three layers, to be exact, alternating with several handfuls of chopped bittersweet chocolate. A two-inch biscuit cutter does the rest of the work. What really caught my eye is how the tops of the cookies in the magazine's version appear to have had a puffy outer layer that collapsed, almost like another favorite cookie of mine, the meringue.
Here's how mine turned out. Not bad looking, right? But not quite as stunning as the beauties that emerged from the mighty Saveur test kitchen in midtown Manhattan (which, by the way, is the real-life version of the handsome, lavishly equipped facility that exists in the fantasies of most home cooks).
One possible explanation for the difference in appearance (besides my own baking cluelessness, of course): Saveur's recipe leaves out a finishing touch, or author Sarah Copeland skipped it in the version she sent to Saveur World Headquarters: Just before baking the cookies, Copeland brushes the tops with a beaten egg and sprinkles each cookie with a few grains of fleur de sel (find the details here).
By the way, when it comes to both flavor and texture, this recipe garners nothing but praise. The crackled tops -- a golden, chocolate-pocked cousin to the molasses crinkle -- create an enticingly crunchy outer shell that gives way to a tender, exceedingly rich center. Another welcome touch: The teasingly salty kick, which plays nicely against all that bittersweet chocolate. In the end, I didn't really care that they didn't mirror the magazine's version, because on every other level, they were a phenomenal chocolate chip cookie. The results were so impressive that the spoon-and-drop method now seems like a last-resort alternative.
Here's a peek at the cutting-out-the-dough stage. It's a soft dough, so it's best to work quickly, while the dough remains chilled and relatively firm. The good news is that they're a free-form cookie, so nothing about this process requires an exacting technique.
Ok, I'll admit: The disparity between Saveur's outcome and mine was bugging me, so I baked them again this morning, only this time I included the egg wash.
Glossy tops, yes. But still, nothing that comes close to resembling the image in the magazine. Not that it matters, because Saveur has just handed me my new go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. Who cares what they look like? These things are amazing.
Oh, and I've decided that I prefer them deeply brown, a la the extraordinary chocolate chip cookies at Rustica. I'm also following the sage advice that Salty Tart baker/owner/quote machine Michelle Gayer doled out at a bread-baking contest last weekend at the Mill City Farmers Market. "Do you guys know that color means flavor?" she said. "Don't be afraid of the brown. Put it back in the oven."
SAVEUR’S CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Makes about 2 dozen cookies.
2 ¼ c. flour, plus extra for rolling dough
¾ tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. kosher salt
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ c. packed dark brown sugar
¾ c. granulated sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
4 egg yolks
9 oz. bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped
1 egg, beaten (optional)
Sea salt (optional)
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, combine butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar and vanilla extract and beat until smooth and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add yolks, two at a time, beating well after each addition. Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture, beating until just combined. Transfer dough to a work surface and divide into three equal pieces. Flatten each piece into a 4x6-inch rectangle; wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper. Lightly flour a work surface. Place one dough rectangle on prepared work surface and sprinkle with half the chocolate. Top with another rectangle, sprinkle remaining chocolate and cover with last rectangle. Using a floured rolling pin, flatten stacked rectangles into a 9x6-inch rectangle that is 1 ½ inches thick. Using a 2-inch round cutter, cut out cookies and transfer to prepared baking sheets, spacing cookies 3 inches apart. Gather scraps, reroll into a 1 ½-inch thick disk and cut out more cookies, repeating until no dough remains. (At this point, you can brush the tops of the cookies with a beaten egg, and sprinkle a few grains of sea salt on each cookie). Bake, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking, until cookies are lightly browned and set, about 15 minutes. Remove from oven, cool 2 minutes then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
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