Winter in Minnesota, when the populace obsessively focuses on carbs consumption, and conversation inevitably leads to a person's place on the salt-sugar continuum.
During blizzard season, my appetite couldn't be less interested in eating my body weight in Frito-Lay products. Nope, I crave sweets. Preferably of the home-baked variety, if only because a preheated oven helps warm the kitchen.
This is where my February-induced inertia comes in. Convincing myself to bake on a gray, subzero day is going to require a relatively basic recipe. Fortunately, few things are less complicated than pulling together a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
Trouble is, I'm bored with the standard Toll House recipe. You know, the one printed on the back of the Nestlé chocolate chip bag. There has to be a better way, right?
After sifting through cookbooks, polling my Facebook friends and trolling around websites, I pulled together a pile of possible replacements and started baking.
Most displayed varying degrees of Toll House familiarity before veering off in intriguing directions. Some fiddled with ingredients (bread flour, corn syrup, egg yolks). Others tinkered with the process (pressing the cookies with a spatula, mid-bake). Nearly all of them recommended chilling the dough before baking (a step that requires patience but results in a considerable payoff), and most wholeheartedly adhered to the bittersweet-chocolate-is-best dictate. It was a fascinating exercise, and fruitful.
My own little Chocolate Chip Cookie Project led me to five alternatives. All are so delicious — and relatively easy to prepare — that I may never go back to Toll House.
NEW YORK TIMES' CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Makes about 1 1/2 dozen 5-inch cookies.
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. Adapted from the New York Times.
• 1 3/4 c. plus 2 tbsp. cake flour
• 1 2/3 c. bread flour
• 1 1/4 tsp. baking soda
• 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
• 1 1/2 tsp. coarse salt
• 1 1/4 c. (2 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 1 c. plus 2 tbsp. granulated sugar
• 1 1/4 c. light brown sugar
• 2 eggs
• 2 tsp. vanilla extract
• 1 1/4 lb. bittersweet chocolate disks or fèves (or chips, or chopped bars), at least 60 percent cacao content
• Sea salt, for garnish
In a large bowl, whisk together cake flour, bread flour, baking soda, baking powder and coarse salt.
In the bowl of an electric mixer on medium-high speed, beat butter until creamy, about 1 minute. Add granulated sugar and brown sugar and beat until light and creamy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape down sides of bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add vanilla extract and mix until fully incorporated. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Using a spatula, carefully stir in chocolate pieces, incorporating them without breaking them. Press plastic wrap against dough and refrigerate for 24 to 36 hours. (Dough may be used in batches, and can be refrigerated for up to 72 hours).
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Scoop dough into generous golf ball-size mounds (about 2 tablespoons) onto prepared baking sheets, spacing them at least 2 inches apart. Sprinkle cookies lightly with sea salt and bake until golden brown but still soft, 18 to 20 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking. Remove from oven and cool 10 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool a bit more. Eat warm, with a big napkin.