April 14, 2009
I've always enjoyed the food sections of American newspapers, these pull-out pages that appear in the regular edition on a given day of the week (usually Wednesday) to cover local food and drink news, with recipes. Not all of them have the same standards or budget, and I am told the good ones are an endangered species, but between the Seattle Times, the Washington Post, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Oregonian, the Chicago Tribune and the New York Times*, the hungry reader has more than enough to last him through the week.
The French newspaper scene has a completely different structure, but still, I wish major publications such as Le Monde, Le Figaro, Libération, or Les Echos devoted more ink to a subject that is, after all, a source of national pride. Aside from restaurant reviews, a column here and there, and all too brief discussions on trendy foods, they seem to leave the topic for cooking or women's magazines to cover. I sense a slight sexist slant (there's an alliteration for you), but perhaps that's just me.
I am all the more grateful for the online content made available by American newspapers, and for the commissioning of such articles as David Leite's story on the consummate chocolate chip cookie, published in the New York Times last summer: the creator of Leite's Culinaria gathered advice from chocolate chip cookie experts in order to offer a recipe for the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
I don't really believe in the perfect anything -- perfection is in the eye of the beholder -- but I was very interested in David's findings, especially the idea that the dough should rest for 36 hours before baking, and I promptly filed the recipe in my virtual "to try" folder.
But then, as perhaps you remember, I was kitchen-less last summer and oven-deprived for a good six months after that (hell, I tell you), so the chocolate chip cookie recipe went unbaked and near forgotten, until Pim rekindled the flame with her recent post.
The next morning found me mixing the ingredients for the dough, adapting the recipe to my needs and taste: I halved the recipe, simplified it by using just one type of sugar and one type of flour, and decreased the amount of sugar a bit. The dough was a snap to make; all in all, it took little more than fifteen minutes.
I baked the first batch the next day, after a 29-hour wait (but who's counting) and made the cookies almost three times smaller than instructed: despite what the article states on the influence of size on texture, I could not bring myself to form balls of cookie dough that weighed in at 3 1/2 ounces (100 grams) and would bake to be six inches (~15 cm) wide. It's just not the scale of baked goods I grew up with, and I'm not programmed to enjoy such jumbo cookies.
As a consequence -- or perhaps it was David Leite punishing me for my insubordination -- my first batch was overbaked: I had thought to decrease the baking time, but I let the cookies rest for a further 10 minutes on the hot baking sheet, as the recipe suggests. This is likely necessary for large cookies to finish baking, but my cookies were too small to withstand that treatment, and they turned out crunchy. Tasty, but crunchy throughout; the worst possible outcome for a chocolate chip cookie.
The next batches on subsequent days were infinitely better, once I'd fine-tuned the baking time and procedure, and the resulting chocolate chip cookies were without a doubt the best I've ever baked: a great balance of flavors, and a lovely crispness at the edges that morphed gradually into the fudge-like chewiness of the center.
Like Molly, I like chocolate chip cookies best once they've cooled, and although it may sound impossibly trying to some, I will go so far as to say that these taste even better the day after they're baked.
* Some of these online editions require a registration. Feel free to add a recommendation for your favorite food section if it's not listed here!
Chocolate Chip Cookies
- 140 grams (5 ounces) butter, softened
- 230 grams (1 cup plus 2 tablespoons) unrefined light brown cane sugar
- 1 egg, at room temperature
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract (I used a little more of my homemade vanilla extract)
- 240 grams (2 cups) flour (I used organic T65 flour)
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt (a little less if you use semi-salted butter, as I did)
- 280 grams (10 ounces) chocolate disks (see note), at least 60% cacao content (I used 70%)
Yields two dozen 8-cm (3-inch) cookies. The recipe can be doubled.
Prepare the dough 24 to 36 hours in advance. In the bowl of a food processor, cream together the butter and sugar for 5 minutes, until light and fluffy. Add the egg and vanilla, and beat until well combined.
Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium mixing-bowl, and whisk gently to remove any lump. Add to the wet ingredients and mix until just combined; don't overmix. Fold in the chocolate. Place a piece of plastic wrap on the dough to cover and refrigerate for at least 24 hours, preferably 36 hours, and up to 72 hours.
If the dough is too hard to scoop, place on the counter for 20-30 minutes to soften slightly. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicon baking mat. Using a sturdy spoon, scoop out even balls of dough, roughly the size of a ping-pong ball (about 40 grams or 1 1/2 ounces) and place them on the prepared baking sheet, giving them a little space to expand. (At this point, the original recipe says to sprinkle the cookies lightly with sea salt, but the dough seemed salted enough to me so I skipped that step.) Return to the fridge for 15-20 minutes to firm up again.
Preheat the oven to 175°C (350°F). Insert the baking sheet in the middle of the oven and bake for 14 minutes, until golden brown but still soft. Transfer the parchment paper or baking mat to a cooling rack immediately to stop the baking, and let cool to the temperature you like.
Repeat with the remaining dough on the same day or the next, reusing the same sheet of parchment paper.
You can also freeze the balls of dough once formed: freeze in a single layer, then transfer to a freezer-safe container when frozen. No thawing necessary before baking: place on the baking sheet on the counter while the oven preheats to 175°C (350°F), and bake for 15 minutes.
Note: Chocolate disks are round or oval pieces of couverture chocolate, which melt when baked and create a nice layered texture in the finished product. You should be able to find them at baking supplies stores or specialty grocery stores. (I bought a one-kilo box of these chocolate pistoles at G.Detou for 9€.) If unavailable, substitute roughly chopped chocolate, or the best quality chocolate chips you can find and afford.
Adapted from David Leite's recipe, published in the New York Times on July 9, 2008.
Yves Camdeborde's Sablés (Butter Cookies)
Chocolate Starter Bread
Chocolate Marble Cake