No matter how hard you try, how often you bake, and how many variations you try you will not create a chocolate chip cookie which will be unanimously declared as the best cookie. If you’ve gone this far through life, you’ve probably realized that people have a habit of disagreeing with one another. This extends to cookies too.
If you ask your friends and family what their ideal cookie tastes like you’ll get conflicting results. Some want a cookie that’s light, others want it dense. Crunchy versus crumbly. Thin versus thick. The list goes on. You’ve probably realized by now why the perfect chocolate chip cookie does not exist. But why is this a good thing?
It’s a good thing because we’ve had to figure out how to make different types of cookies for different types of people. We’ve become masters of the cookie game, and like a mad scientist knows how to tweak his formula to get different potions, so too do we know how to tamper with a cookie recipe to get different results. All it takes is a little knowledge
The basic elements of a cookie
Some cookies have dark chocolate chips. Some cookies have milk chocolate chips. And some cookies, though nobody has yet figured why, have raisins.
The presence of these ingredients vary, but there are some ingredients which all cookies have in order to qualify as a cookie:
This is the foundation of your cookies. Without it you would be eating eggs baked in sugar. Flour also provides gluten which will directly influence the final texture of your baked little devil. Bread flour has more protein and can produce more gluten, making cookies chewy.
Sugar not only affects sweetness, but when mixed with fats it introduces air bubbles to the mixture which lightens the texture. It also steals water away from the flour’s starch making a cookie hard and crispy. White sugar hardens once it’s baked, whereas brown sugar remains soft and malleable.
This is the main source of water for your mixture. Why not replace it with water? Because it also provides proteins which help bind flour together, and the fats moisten the final product. If you remove eggs you’ll have made shortbread instead. It will also provide fat to the mixture, and you can change the ratio of egg whites to yolk in order to get a different texture.
And only butter. Margarine is not a good substitute. Neither is lard.
Butter adds flavor which the others simply cannot. As it melts during baking it also moistens the flour and sugar, encouraging the cookies to spread thin. It will also add more fat into the dough which inhibits gluten formation giving you a tender texture.
Tampering with the elements
Now that we know the basic elements of a cookie, we know what to tamper with to get varying results. The below illustrates how to get two very different textures: crispy or chewy. Most times you will not want to lean too heavily into on or the other. Experiment with the ratios, and keep a notebook with the mixtures you try. Iterate, and reiterate until you find the mix that’s just right for you.
Making your cookies crispy
- Use a higher ratio of white sugar to brown sugar. White sugar hardens after baking, making the final product brittle.
- Use more sugar overall. The higher ratio of the sugar, the more flour it will absorb giving a dry, crisp texture
- Use whole eggs instead of just the yolk. This increases moisture, making your result crispy.
- Use softened/room temperature butter. This allows you to build tiny air pockets into the batter while mixing. It also prevents the dough from becoming too wet and difficult to handle.
- Use All-Purpose flour or cake flour. These have less gluten in them, and again: less gluten means less chewiness.
Making your cookies chewy
- Use a higher ratio of brown sugar to white sugar. Brown sugar does not dry up to become brittle once baked, and instead it will make your cookie soft. It also adds acidity, which can activate baking soda, leavening the batter and increasing air pockets. Air pockets = chewy cookie.
- Substitute some sugar with honey. It’ll make a more toffee-like cookie which is soft and bends easily rather than snapping.
- Reduce the overall amount of egg white. This will reduce moisture in the cookie, making a more cake-like mix.
- Use less fat in the mixture (butter, egg yolks, etc). Fat inhibits gluten development. Gluten makes things chewy.
- Substitute all-purpose flour with bread flour. Bread flour has more protein which results in more gluten. More gluten = more chewy.
Kick it up a notch
Now that you know how to change up your chocolate chip cookies, here are a few tips to make any version better:
Bake the dough at a higher temperature (375F / 190C) so that the edges are crisp, but the centre remains soft, giving you different textures in every bite. They’re done when the edges turn dark.
Use an ice-cream scoop to get even sized cookies every time. Give them enough space on the baking tray so that they don’t fuse together. Use multiple baking trays if you have to.
Sprinkle freshly baked cookies with flaky sea salt to layer in more flavors and textures. Salt brings out the flavor of chocolate and tames excessive sweetness.
A last tip would be to use good quality chocolate. Low quality chocolates have a load of binders in them which will make them taste waxy, in my experience they can also add a burnt flavor to the end result. While we’re at it, chop up a chocolate bar instead of using chips. You’ll get thin shards, big chunks… every bite is a different experience.
That said, if you want to be a bit extra, try these deliciously nasty chocolate chip cookie s’mores.
I’ve left a handy guide you can print out or save here.
I’ll leave you with a recipe I adapted from the incredible Pierre Hermé who, in my opinion, is the best pastry chef out there.
- 225 gr / 8oz dark chocolate bar, chopped to desired size
- 140gr / 5 oz softened butter
- 140gr / 5oz brown sugar
- 130gr / 4.5 oz granulated white sugar
- 1 large egg
- a pinch of salt
- 1/2 tsp natural vanilla essence
- 290gr / 0.5lbs all-purpose flour
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F.
- Beat the sugars and the butter together until you get a paste which begins to froth.
- Add the egg, followed by the liquid vanilla.
- Sift the baking powder, salt, and flour into the mixture. You want to sift this so that the flour gets a light and airy texture. It makes a big difference.
- Add the chocolate and mix well. Scrape the sides! You don’t want clumps of butter, sugar, or flour in your cookies.
- Scoop out balls of dough with an ice-cream scooper and flatten them slightly onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Bake for 10-12 minutes..
- Let cool on a wired baking rack. This is the hardest part.