Winter in Minnesota, that time of year when the populace obsessively focuses on the creation and consumption of carbs.
For me, that means sweets. The easier-to-make, the better, since sub-zero temperatures tends to blanket me in a kind of hankered-down inertia. And in the world of baking, little is less complicated (and more satisfying) than pulling together a batch of chocolate chip cookies.
This wasn't exactly a New Year's resolution, but I've decided to designate 2015 as the year when I adopt a new chocolate chip cookie recipe ideal. Specifically, one that surpasses the classic Toll House formula. You know, the one printed on the back of Nestle's semisweet chocolate chips package; I think I've had it committed to memory for more than 30 years, that's how long -- and how often -- I've been baking it.
(So far, I have four recipes that I want to test-drive. If you've got one that you'd like to share, please send it my way, to email@example.com).
The first comes from an unlikely source: Thomas Keller. The nation's highest-profile practitioner of haute cuisine might not be the top-of-mind source for a plebian chocolate-chip cookie fanatic, but then a friend reminded me of "Ad Hoc at Home," Keller's coffee table cookbook from 2009.
Naturally, this invaluable hands-on guide to Keller's brand of cleaned-up comfort-food fare contains a chocolate chip cookie recipe, and it's a doozy.
What I appreciate about this recipe is that Keller subverts the familiar Toll House process in several intriguing and ultimately winning ways.
First, butter. Instead of the whole room-temperature thing, he prefers the butter cold. It's cut into small pieces, as if you're preparing a scone or a pie crust rather than a cookie (not to worry; the diminutive shape makes even the coldest butter fairly malleable under the force of the mixer's paddle). That half-hour you needed to devote to drawing the butter to room temperature? It's gone. Hello, impromptu chocolate chip cookies.
Here's another departure from tried-and-true chocolate chip cookie practices: No vanilla extract. I've forever associated that flavor with chocolate chip cookies, so it felt odd to leave such a key element on the sidelines. But since Keller calls upon dark brown sugar (rather than the far more standard golden brown sugar) the cookies take on a slight (and utterly delicious) molasses cast. You know what? I ddn't miss the vanilla, at all.
When it comes to chocolate, Ad Hoc's version bolsters the familiar semisweet taste with bittersweet, a 50/50 mix. Instead of using chips, the recipe calls for chopped chocolate bars, and includes a brilliantly Thomas Keller-ey tip: he shakes the chopped chocolate in a fine-mesh strainer to remove any "dust," a step that ultimately keeps the cookies' appearance clean and tidy.
On the rate-a-taste scale, the results are nothing short of terrific, a deeply golden, not-too-sweet treat that caters to adult cookie tastes. They might start out as a ball of dough, but these are cookies that spread out as they bake, their centers collapsing into wrinkled semi-flatness under the stress of all that butter, sugar and chocolate.
Texture-wise, they're nicely crispy, especially on the bottom; all that dark brown sugar richness yields a heck of a lot of caramelized goodness. Yet the thin-ish insides (this is not a thick cookie) remain gently chewy, and not the least bit doughy.
Ease of preparation? A total snap.
Is this a recipe worthy of a repeat performance? Absolutely.
CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
Makes about 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
Note: From "Ad Hoc at Home" (Artisan, 2009) by Thomas Keller.
2 1/3 c. plus 1 tbsp. flour
3/4 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. kosher salt
5 oz. 55 percent chocolate, cut into chip-size pieces (about 1 1/4 c.)
5 oz. 70 to 72 percent chocolate, cut into chip-size pieces (about 1 1/4 c.)
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces, divided
1 c. packed dark brown sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.
Working in several batches, place chopped chocolate in a fine-mesh basket strainer and shake to remove any chocolate "dust," discarding small fragments.
In a bowl of an electric mixer on medium speed, beat half the butter until fairly smooth, about 1 minute. Add brown sugar, granulated sugar and remaining butter and beat until mixture is light and creamy, about 3 to 4 minutes. Using a spatula, scrape down sides of the bowl. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down sides of bowl as necessary. Reduce speed to low, add flour mixture and mix until just incorporated. Stir in chocolate.
(Dough can be refrigerated, shaped or unshaped, for up to 2 days, and frozen for up to 2 weeks; shape cookies on a baking sheet and freeze until firm, then transfer unbaked cookies to a freezer container. Defrost cookies overnight in the refrigerator before baking).
Shape 2 tablespoons dough into balls. Arrange 8 cookies on prepared baking sheets, leaving 2 or more inches between them (cookies will spread). Bake until tops are no longer shiny, about 12 minutes, rotating baking sheets halfway through baking.
Remove from oven and cool for 2 minute before transferring cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. Cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 2 days.