When I was at the University of Vermont studying theater, studio art, English lit, philosophy, photography, Latin, art history and everything else a Liberal Arts Degree offers, I decided to throw a business class into the mix. Truth is, I was just fulfilling a math credit requirement. I learned how to balance a checkbook and some basic—very basic—accounting, which went something like this … don’t spend more than you make! Then the professor had us write a business plan. It was the mid-1980s and I grew up eating Mrs. Field’s, David’s and Famous Amos cookies, which were the “gourmet” cookies of the day. While in college I was also the “baker” at a favorite breakfast joint in Winooski, VT and spent my free time baking to relax after classes. So, I wrote my business plan based on a fictitious cookie company called Zoë’s Cookies. I can’t remember how I did in the class, but six months later I was standing on Church Street in Burlington, VT, selling my cookies from a hand-pushed cart.
This post is your chocolate chip cookie primer: the result of what I learned making those cookies and the countless batches I’ve baked in the 32 years since then. This post offers a really great chocolate chip cookie recipe, but it is also a Chocolate Chip Cookies 101. I want to explain what the ingredients do to a cookie and how baking can change them. You can tweak your cookies to be just how you like them using my cookie guide towards the bottom of the post.
My boyfriend, Graham, designed my logo, built the cart and gave up his apartment oven so that I could build my cookie empire. I married him! Within a couple of months, I got some wholesale accounts and outgrew his tiny oven, so I moved my operation to a fraternity house kitchen, where they let me bake my cookies in exchange for leaving a dozen on the counter. I took a semester off from school to pursue my dream and was on my way to being the next Ben & Jerry’s-style success story to come out of VT. But, I came to realize that takes more than a semester and a cart that didn’t have snow tires. So, I went back to school, having learned a lot about cookies and business. I didn’t spend more money than I made, but, I wasn’t rich at the end of it either.
This week I found my old Zoë’s Cookies recipes in the back of a filing cabinet and baked up the Chocolate Chip Cookies that were the foundation of my business. It pains me to say, but they weren’t very good. They’re like an old favorite movie that just doesn’t age well. When I was 19 years old, they seemed so sophisticated and special, because I was using high quality chopped chocolate, when Nestle was the only chocolate chip game in town. I sweetened them with brown sugar, to give them a richer flavor and only used real vanilla, also a rarity in the day. But, that was before going to culinary school and understanding how ingredients play together for texture and taste. I’ve come a long way in my baking in the past 32 years. You can read more about my pastry journey here.
I took my original cookie recipe and tweaked it to be delicious. You’ll find the original version at the bottom of the post.
Chocolate Chip Cookies 101
About the Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups (320g) unbleached all-purpose flour – I use an all-purpose flour that is about 10% protein (Gold Medal). If you are using King Arthur Flour (11.7%), you will want to reduce the flour by about 3 tablespoons or 30g or the dough will be too dry. Measuring with a scale is the ONLY way to ensure that the cookies will come out consistently each batch. IF you have to use cup measures, then you’ll want to spoon the flour into the cup and then scrape it clean. Watch me measure flour in my instagram video.
1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda – this is quite a bit of baking soda for a cookie, given the amount of flour. I use this much, because I want the cookies to puff up and then collapse to get the crunchy edge and soft interior. As a rising agent, baking soda needs an acid to react, but there is enough acid in the brown sugar (from the acidic molasses in the sugar). This much baking soda also helps produce a darker color on your cookie, so it isn’t dull looking in the short baking time. ALWAYS SIFT BAKING SODA, because it tends to clump and there is nothing worse than getting a mouthful of baking soda in a cookie.
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt – In professional kitchens salt is often referred to as “love!” If a dish needs salt, a chef will say, “add a bit of love to that!” My original recipe was WAY too short on love. Although I was probably using table salt and not kosher salt in 1986, which would have resulted in a saltier cookie. The salt is a contrast to the sweet and enhances all the flavors. If you don’t have enough it will taste flat and lack that caramel flavor.
4 tablespoons (57g) shortening – This is 100% fat (no water like butter), so it won’t produce any gluten structure (which can make a cookie less tender). Shortening doesn’t melt as fast as butter, so the proteins in the cookie (from eggs and flour) have time to set before you have a flat cookie. Shortening is whipped, so it also contains more air bubbles, which help things rise as they bake. Adding a bit of shortening will make a cookie more tender and help keep its shape.
- For my European and Australian followers: “Vegetable shortening is a white, solid fat made from vegetable oils. In the UK it is sold under the brand names Trex, Flora White or Cookeen. In Australia the best known brand is Copha.” from Nigella Lawson
- UPDATE – If you can’t find shortening, you can also use the following, but they are not typically whipped, so they don’t have any rising power, so the cookies may spread a touch more than with shortening:
- Solid Coconut Oil
- Solid Palm Oil
- Ghee – this is clarified butter, so the water and whey are removed and it has a nutty flavor, but it is pure fat and will have a nice texture, but will SPREAD the cookies
- Lard – this will impart a flavor, so only use if you like that taste
- If you can’t find any of these, then use all butter, they will just have a different consistency, but will be delicious!!!
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar – Makes for a crisp cookie when baked, so if you want a cookie that stays crisp use white sugar over brown sugar. Sugar also adds to the color of the cookie, so more sugar will produce a more caramelized cookie.
1 cup (230g) brown sugar, packed – Deeper flavor than white sugar, due to the molasses in the sugar. If your cookies tend to soften more than you like, consider using LESS brown sugar, since it absorbs more moisture into the cookie and softens them.
- If you can’t find brown sugar, use an extra cup of sugar and add a teaspoon of molasses
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract (make vanilla yourself) – Adds flavor, so use a good one. The artificial vanilla flavoring is not to my taste, but some people love it, so, by all means, go for it, if that’s your favorite. I do recommend making your own just to try it, so easy and tasty! Add the vanilla to the fat, not at the end and you will get a more intense flavor.
2 eggs, room temperature – adds protein to set the cookie, which prevents it from spreading too much. Eggs also act as a leavener when they are whipped up with air, but in cookies, we’re not whipping them enough to really get that benefit. If your cookies end up with a shiny “crust” on the top, it’s because you whipped the batter too much after adding the eggs and they developed a layer of meringue on the top. You may want this effect, but not typical in a chocolate chip cookie.
12 ounces chocolate, chopped in largish chunks (about 1/4-inch wide) – I used 72% bittersweet chocolate, but you use whatever kind you want. This is the main flavor of the cookie, so again, I suggest you use your favorite chocolate. I save some larger chunks of chocolate for sticking into the dough after I have scooped them, so they melt on top of the cookie and look dramatic.
Flaky Sea Salt – Flavor and pretty. The contrast of salt and sweet is addictive. It is why candy bars have sooooooo much salt in them. It enhances the flavors it’s combined with. I use flaky sea salt because it gives you a nice BIG hit of salt and also it looks pretty on the cookie and that does count.
Below is a guide to altering your chocolate chip cookies to suit your desires:
The cookie my son is dipping in the milk is an Original Zoë’s Cookies chocolate chip, the chocolate chip cookies on the counter are the new version.
The following is not an exhaustive guide, but just a start to understanding how to play with your cookie recipes. I will continue to add to this list as questions come in.
For Crisper Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Use more white sugar, less brown sugar – if you use all white sugar, you will need to switch to baking powder, since it will rise without the acid of the brown sugar.
- Use less eggs (you may need to add a tablespoon of water if the dough is too dry) or replace one yolk with an extra egg white, which will dry out the baked cookie a bit.
- Use less flour, so there is a higher ratio of fat and sugar, which makes the cookies spread and crisp
- Bake at a lower temperature for longer
For Softer Chocolate Chip Cookies
- Use more egg yolk (which contains the fat in the egg. Egg whites dry out the cookie)
- Use more brown sugar, which is hygroscopic, which just means it absorbs moisture, so it will soften the cookies as they sit in the cookie jar.
- Use more flour, so the ratio of flour to sugar and fat is higher
To Prevent Chocolate Chip Cookies from Spreading
or do the opposite if you want them to spread more.
- Use more flour or one with higher protein (some recipes call for a combination of bread flour (super high protein) and cake flour (super low protein), but I find that basically equals all-purpose flour.
- Add more egg, which adds protein, that sets the cookie in place
- Add a touch of acid to the dough, which activates the proteins in the flour and eggs. Acid is found in: brown sugar, cocoa powder, cream of tartar, lemon, vinegar, just to name a few) – keep in mind that acids prevent browning, so go easy if you are looking for a caramel color on the cookie
- Use more shortening and less butter, since shortening holds its shape at higher temperatures, so it won’t spread so fast
- Bake at a higher temperature, since the high heat sets the proteins faster, so the cookie won’t spread.
- Refrigerate the dough balls before baking for up to 36 hours. This allows the liquids to marry the dry ingredients and become a more uniform dough, which won’t spread as wildly when baked. It also allows the fat to solidify, which slows it’s spreading when it hits the oven.
Gluten-Free, Paleo, Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
Need a chocolate chip cookie recipes that gluten free, paleo or vegan? These Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies from Stephanie Meyer’s The 30-Minute Paleo Cookbook are the ultimate snack to satisfy. They are super decadent and rich with flavor because they are made with almond butter. The cookies, like everything Stephanie creates, is gluten-free, in fact, these have NO flour at all and can also be made vegan.
There are 1,000,000 chocolate chip cookies to try, but now you will know how to adjust them a bit to suit your taste. One of my favorites, along with just about everyone on Instagram is from Sarah Kieffer‘s book The Vanilla Bean Baking Book. Her cookies involve banging the pan, which gives them a lovely ripple and wonderful texture as they bake. You can find Sarah’s recipe here.
I also smashed ice cream between them for a spectacular treat in the summer. This is Olive Oil & Basil Ice Cream I made using Sarah Kieffer’s no-churn ice cream from her book, The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, which is one of my favorites!
Here is the Original Zoë’s Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe from 1986 – this is here just so you can see where I started and the changes I made. Keep in mind I was 19 years old – (don’t bother using this ingredient list for your cookies, it’s just not that good, make the recipe in the recipe card below). I don’t remember my reasoning for the choices I made back in the day, but I’m sure I was just guessing. At the time this cookie was probably a cross between Mrs. Field’s and Famous Amos. They needed more sugar (both white and brown), more butter and more salt to be tasty. They needed more baking soda (for color and crispness, so I got rid of the baking powder, since it seems redundant and doesn’t need the rising power).
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 pound butter
1/4 pound margarine
1 1/2 cups brown sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla
10 ounces semisweet chocolate
- 2 1/2 cups (320g) unbleached all-purpose flour I use Gold Medal. If you're using King Arthur, reduce the flour by about 3 tbsp (30g)
- 1 1/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 1/2 sticks 170g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons (57g) shortening
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
- 1 cup (230g) brown sugar, packed
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 eggs room temperature
- 12 ounces chocolate chopped in largish chunks (about 1/4-inch wide)
- Flaky Sea Salt
- Whisk together the flour, baking soda and salt in a bowl.
- In a stand mixer, fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter on medium speed until light and fluffy, then add the shortening until evenly mixed in. Add sugars and beat for 3 minutes on medium speed. Mix in vanilla. Add eggs one at a time and mix on medium-low speed just until incorporated. Add flour and mix just until incorporated. Mix in chocolate. Scoop cookie dough using a portion scoop, I used a 3 ounce (83g) scoop. You can make the cookies larger or smaller, but it will effect the baking time.
- Refrigerate the dough for at least 30 minutes if you are in a yank, but they improve if you let them sit for 24-36 hours. Resting will make them taste better, be more uniform in shape and color nicely when they bake. After they are chilled you can bake them or freeze the dough balls for later baking.
- To bake: Heat oven to 375°F.
- Bake 6 chilled cookie balls, evenly spaced on a sheet pan in the middle of the oven for about 12-15 minutes. Sprinkle with flaky sea salt while the cookies are baking. Do it when they are almost set but not done baking.
- Allow the cookies to cool slightly on the pan and then remove to a cooling rack.