Make the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

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Instead of posting yet another chocolate chip cookie recipe, I’ll share with you some of my universal tips to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie using any recipe!

There’s 3 key components of making a great chocolate chip cookie:

1: Dough
2: Baking
3: Cooling

And within each part, there are steps that will make or break your chocolate chip cookie.

Dough

Butter shouldn’t be too hard or too soft

This is universal to most recipes (unless specifically stated) but seems to make a noticeable difference in chocolate chip cookies.

I used to soften butter in the microwave which would work okay but sometimes came out uneven. This would often make the cookies flat and spread.

When you’re holding the stick of butter (never margarine), it should have some give when you try to gently break it in half, but your fingers shouldn’t sink into it.

Again, this is where planning ahead is important. The best way to soften butter is to leave it out on the counter at room temperature.

Use chocolate baking bars not chocolate chips

I have been chopping up baking bars for years. I almost don’t want to give this tip away!

Chopped chocolate has a more even distribution in the cookie than the packaged equivalents, gives off more flavor, and, if you add all the little slivers and dust, looks amazing. Even serious eats agrees!

I suggest a good quality semi-sweet chocolate bar to add chocolate but not too much sweetness to the cookie (never milk chocolate).

I know that chopping up chocolate is tedious but, trust me, it is absolutely worth it.

Use brown sugar

I’m always surprised when I see a chocolate chip cookie recipe that doesn’t call for brown sugar, but they do exist (sadly). Brown sugar (either light or dark) adds a lot of richness/flavor to your cookie instead of just the pure sweetness of white sugar.

If you want to use a recipe that only calls for white sugar, instead use half white and half brown. (I generally do this for most any recipe).

Ignore this tip if the recipe calls for molasses (brown sugar is just white sugar + molasses).

Baking

Refrigerate dough before baking

It’s a shame this isn’t listed as a specific direction in more recipes because it makes a huge difference.

Think of making chocolate chip cookies as a two-day process.

Day 1: Make the dough, then refrigerate (or freeze if you don’t plan on baking the next day).

Day 2: Bake your cookies. If you don’t want to use all the dough, just put it back in the fridge/freezer.

Yes, this means you need to plan ahead! There have been times I needed cookies rightnow, skipped the refrigeration step, and was surely disappointed. Cookies made from soft dough are more likely to be flat/spread & not as rich.

(If you do need to make a dessert rightnow, skip chocolate chip cookies and go for brownies instead.)

Bonus Strategy: Make the cookie dough then just leave the whole thing in the freezer! It can stay there for months and is a perfect on-the-fly snack when you have unexpected guests over. Just take it out to thaw for a few minutes, then start baking. Within 15 mins your guests will be eating fresh baked cookies and will love you forever.

Refrigerate dough between batches

Even if the dough is cold when you make your first batch, leaving it out while the cookies are baking will nill the cold dough you were hoping for.

Be sure to put the dough back in the fridge or freezer (if it’ll just be 10 mins or so) while the batches are baking.

Cool down baking sheet between batches

The dough should be cold when it goes in the oven.

However, putting cold dough on a straight-out-of-the-oven hot pan is counter-intuitive, will mess with your baking time, and cause the cookies to spread as the dough will start to bake on the hot pan.

To prevent this, make sure to reduce the temperature of the pan before putting the cold cookie dough on it.

You have two options.

Option 1: Put it in the refrigerator for just a few minutes.

Option 2: Run it under cool water then dry it off.

Cooling

Cool cookies on a cooling rack

This is another one of those recipe directions I tried to ignore for a long time and always wondered why my cookies tasted dry or over-cooked.

When you take the cookies out of the oven, they might look a little pale or just starting to get brown on the edges.

From the oven, place the hot pan on top of a cooling rack. Leave the cookies on the pan for 2-3 minutes (use a timer to prevent over-baking on the pan!) The cookies will finish baking, get that delicious brown look, and finally set on the pan.

If you try to take them off the pan too early, they will fall apart. Take them off too late, they might taste dry.

If you leave the pan on top of the stove, the cookies will over-bake and not set properly.

Once the cookies are set enough that you can remove them with a spatula without breaking apart, transfer them from the hot pan to a cooling rack.

Not a towel. Not a plate. Not the counter. A cooling rack! I mean it!

The cooling rack allows air to circulate all around the cookies, helping them to cool down evenly. It’s amazing what a difference this makes.

Only when the cookies are completely cooled, can you serve them or put them in a storage container.

If they are too soft when you put them away/stack them, they will break apart or stick to each other while still cooling.

Readers…

What are your chocolate chip cookie secret tips?


15 Comments

  1. This article is timely! I just baked chocolate chip cookies for the first time in a long time yesterday. I used a friend’s tried-and-true recipe (nestle toll house with some key modificaitons), and while they are good, they suffer from many of the problems you mention. (Butter over soft, cooled on the counter, dough not refrigerated first). I am going to try again this weekend!

  2. Jon M says:

    These are some amazing tips! Saw your article on lifehacker.com today. I cannot wait to try using chopped up chocolate baking bars instead of chocolate chips. I also really appreciate your precise info on cooling times. Thanks for the great advice!

  3. Ryan says:

    I think it’s little unhealthy!
    well a lot!!!! o_0

  4. jeny says:

    Do you know if these tips will work with Mexican Chocolate tablets, such as Ibarra Mexican Chocolate brand?

    • leslie beslie says:

      I don’t have personal experience using Mexican chocolate but I did a bit of research on the Ibarra brand. It seems that this chocolate has cinnamon in it and has a grittier texture than other chocolates. I’d suggest modifying the cookie recipe to include some cinnamon (1-2 tsp) and a little cayenne (1/4 tsp). This will help bring out the complex flavors of the chocolate without overpowering the rest of the cookie.

      If you’re set on directly substituting the Ibarra for semi-sweet, I would mix it in with some dark chocolate and be prepared for the taste of cinnamon to come through.

  5. Belle says:

    I am going to try your tips tonight. I have baked cookies many times before and I’ve never made an acceptable batch for me. I did not know I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

    • leslie beslie says:

      Good luck and report back on how they turn out! It’s definitely the little things that will get you when it comes to baking.

  6. Jeff says:

    be sure to have your eggs at room temperature too!

    • leslie beslie says:

      That’s another good tip! This is easy to remember if you take your eggs out first, then set up everything else including chopping up the chocolate. By the time you get to them they should be good to go.

  7. Matt says:

    “(brown sugar is just white sugar + molasses)”

    Technically, that’s incorrect. Real brown sugar is minimally refined sugar that contains molasses naturally and comes from sugar cane. Fake brown sugar is usually white sugar from beets with molasses added. There IS a flavor difference!

    • leslie beslie says:

      You’re right, I was trying to simplify it with my main point being brown sugar already has molasses in it. Thanks for the extra information!

      • Pamela Riordan says:

        I use Brownulated brown sugar (pours like granulated sugar – sure beats the “packed down” measuring style.

  8. jon says:

    add a shot of espresso or 2 oz of medium roast brewed coffee. makes a world of difference but does not impart a distinct coffee smell or taste.

    • leslie beslie says:

      Thanks for the suggestion! I am sure the coffee helps bring out more flavor in the chocolate, similar to adding cayenne to chocolate as well. I personally haven’t tried the coffee trick with baked goods but only because I never have it on hand.

  9. ylang ylang says:

    Actually leaving the dough out or softening it would be fine. The reason dough should be refrigerated for a night/up to around 36 hours isn’t to chill it but to give the flour time to absorb the eggs fully. Cookies spreading can largely attributed to ingredient components or ratios and not temperature of the dough. Only if you are in a very very hot and humid kitchen should that be an issue, and if that’s the case your whole recipe and method will need a lot of attention, not just the dough temperature.

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