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Cliff Notes: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

#Cliff Notes: Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Dad holding a plate of browned butter chocolate chip cookies

 Cliff Notes is a new series on Joy the Baker, authored by, my favorite baker and my favorite Cliff – MY DAD! Dad is the inspiration behind so many of the classics here on the blog.  You know him and love him for his Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (the subject of today’s lore), Buttermilk Pancakes and of course the best Sweet Potato Pie on the planet.  With Cliff Notes, Dad dives deep into the family history of these recipes and really, they’re a delight.  I have to say, I’ve learned so much about the details of these family recipes as Dad has put these notes together.  I hope you enjoy this big warm welcome to our Wilson family kitchen.  xo Joy

When I was a kid, I looked forward to when Mother would fancy up my lunch pail with Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies that she made at night after I had gone to bed. I always knew there was something special in my Roy Roger lunchbox as I walked to school; the smell of chocolate pepped up my stride. At lunch time, I didn’t have to tell my friends I brought chocolate chip cookies; the aroma wafting from my lunch pail in the cloakroom said it all. Growing up, Toll House was synonymous with homemade chocolate chip cookies. It still is. Millions of households have been making this iconic cookie for more than 85 years thanks to Ruth Wakefield, who ran the Toll House Inn with her husband in Whitman, Massachusetts. She began making these cookies using Nestlé’s Semi-Sweet Chocolate Bars she cut in pieces and added to her dough. On Pinterest I found her original recipe “From the Famous New England Inn.” She called her cookies “Toll House Chocolate Cookies.” In 1939, Ruth sold the recipe to Nestlé and the rest is history.

So, what sparked my desire to tamper with a legend? After all, the standard had already been set. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? For 20 years, I, along with millions of others with an insatiable sweet tooth, subscribed to this philosophy. We live our lives, get into a routine, buy a bag of chocolate chips, and make these cookies in our sleep. Almost. How many of us know the Toll House recipe by heart? Two sticks of butter, two eggs, ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup granulated sugar, 2 ¼ cups flour, yada, yada, yada… The cookie dough is sticky, the edges are rough when you spoon-drop them on a cookie sheet, and when they’ve cooled after baking, they’re a little on the flat side. The cookie itself disintegrates in the mouth after about five or six chews, leaving you with a mouth full of chocolate that you continue chewing as it melts before you swallow. After the chocolate high, you may wonder what the cookie itself tasted like. Don’t get me wrong, I love this! For 20 years, this was how I thought a chocolate chip cookie was supposed to look, and what I thought a chocolate chip cookie was supposed to do inside the mouth.

It wasn’t until the 1970s when Wally Amos opened a cookie store on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood that I began to reassess the level of satisfaction a chocolate chip cookie could bring me. Famous Amos Chocolate Chip Cookies! Those cookies were the bomb! They were soft and crispy, they sat up nicely, and you could savor the texture and flavor of the cookie, with the chocolate chips being a complement to the cookie. Shortly after my awakening, a new mall opened in my neighborhood, and one of the shops inside was Mrs. Fields Cookies. As I goggled at the big, beautiful, luscious cookies in the display, I was mesmerized! We’re talking gourmet style! They didn’t look anything like the cookies my mother had packed in my lunchbox. When I sunk my teeth into one of those creations—the chewiness, the tenderness, and the crispiness, all in one bite! —I knew I was fine dining. I could taste the butter—oh yes, the butter! —the brown sugar, the salt, oh, and by the way, the chocolate chips, and not one ingredient overwhelmed the other. I was experiencing a veritable tastebuds extravaganza! From that day forth, I began my quest to create a chocolate chip cookie that wowed me like Famous Amos and Mrs. Fields!

Dad holding a plate of browned butter chocolate chip cookies by the window.
Handwritten recipe for chocolate chip cookies

But first I needed to figure out the chemistry of ingredients and how they respond to one another. Too much of a wet ingredient makes for a flat cookie. Too much flour can create a dry or cakey cookie, and too much of an add-in, such as chocolate chips, nuts, raisins, etc., can take over the other ingredients. Ruth Wakefield’s original recipe had two 7-ounce semi-sweet chocolate bars she’d cut up. That’s 14 ounces, which is about 2 ¼ cups—the same amount as the flour in the recipe! No wonder the cookie dissolves into candy after a few chews. The Toll House recipe of today has 2 cups of chocolate chips to 2 ¼ cups of flour—still a lot of chocolate. Of course, it’s a matter of personal preference but I tend to want to taste more than chocolate in a chocolate chip cookie, and I’m not particularly fond of watching my gorgeous cookies flatten out and get bumpy. (Chilling the dough helps but it doesn’t change the fact that it has a lot of liquid in proportion to the flour.) The perfect cookie, in my opinion, comes from discovering the right balance of wet and dry ingredients to create sturdier cookie dough.

In my experimenting, I discovered three essential things:

  • Ingredients should be precise, and for this, I recommend using a digital scale and measuring the ingredients in grams. For example, 1 cup of sifted flour weighs less than 1 cup unsifted flour, and depending on how you spoon or scoop unsifted flour into a measuring cup, you’re going to come out with a different weight almost every time. Weighing the ingredients guarantees accuracy.
  • Reduce the amount of liquid in an ingredient without sacrificing the essence of that ingredient. Browning a stick of butter (113 grams) evaporates about 23 grams of water from the butter. That’s significant! And what you gain is more robust flavor. A win-win! Also, egg white is 90% water, so if the cookie recipe calls for 2 eggs, discard the white of one of the eggs. It will yield drier cookie dough and produce a flavorful, tender, and chewy cookie.
  • Cut back on the chocolate chips. WHAT? ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR MIND? It’s a chocolate chip cookie, for crying out loud! Why would you do that? My answer is, it’s a chocolate chip cookie, all right, but it’s still a cookie. I’ve discovered that one heaping cup of chocolate chips (about 209 grams) is just the right amount needed to make you thoroughly enjoy the browned butter, the chewiness, the saltiness, and the actual gumption of the cookie and still know you’re eating an astonishingly delicious chocolate chip cookie. Add chopped cashews, pecans, or walnuts to the dough for that extra pazazz. But don’t go nuts (ha-ha bad joke), ½ to ¾ cup is sufficient.

Find my best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe here!


Xo Cliff

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