A pastry chef, a cannabis connoisseur and a 10-year-old walk into the Food Lab at The Washington Post. There's no punchline. That's who we asked to judge some of the most popular chocolate chip cookie recipes on the Web.
Arguably more American than apple pie, this cookie — which celebrates its 80th birthday next year — is adored for its simplicity and nostalgic nature. Because opinions differ widely about how the perfect chocolate chip cookie should taste, the Internet is swimming with recipes claiming to be "the best," often promising results that would be super-chewy, crispy, extra-chocolaty or even health-conscious.
We wanted to single out one recipe as victorious (and probably stir up some controversy in the process), so we tried 10 of the most promising recipes and narrowed down the options to six, based on popularity and notable ingredients or baking techniques. We made sure that each one produced distinguishable differences in flavor. Then we tapped three local bakers to sacrifice their afternoons and glucose levels and offer their opinions of the finished products. And boy, did they have opinions.
One cookie was so gooey it needed multiple napkins to eat; one was so dry a tester almost spit it out; and one was so dense our 10-year-old judge couldn't even break it in half.
So which recipe took the cake, er, cookie? First, let's meet our judges:
Caitlin Dysart is the executive pastry chef at Centrolina in CityCenterDC. She was named a semifinalist for the outstanding pastry chef award by the James Beard Foundation, and was a nominee for Food & Wine's people's best new pastry chef award. The Virginia native describes her ideal chocolate chip cookie as "medium-rare in the middle with about a quarter-size piece of soft," and when the recipe calls for walnuts, Dysart recommends subbing in pecans, because they pair better with brown sugar.
Victoria Harris, along with celebrity baker Warren Brown and lifelong cook Anna Leis, founded DC Taste Buds, a company specializing in sweet and savory foods laced with cannabis. Harris's dream chocolate chip cookie is "soft with chocolate chips that are melted throughout," and it often includes cannabis butter. For obvious reasons, our recipes did not.
Maya Jindal, 10, is a former contestant on Food Network's "Kids Baking Championship." The gregarious fifth-grader lives in Great Falls, Va., where she loves to bake sweets and traditional Indian dishes for her family. Her favorite type of cookie: not too crispy. (Her favorite joke: "What did Yoda say when he sold his car? May the Porsche be with you.")
The least favorite cookie among all three judges was clear: a shortbread variation that they found too dry and crumbly. The unanimous winner — Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Joy the Baker — was hailed for its chewy center and aggressive sprinkle of coarse sea salt.
The 2014 recipe, one of the blog's 10 most popular posts, took founder Joy Wilson more than a year to perfect and was inspired by her father's penchant for cookies with a strong butter flavor. "He used to add Orville Redenbacher popcorn oil to his dough," Wilson said when we called to tell her the good news. "I thought there had to be a better way to intensify the flavor, so I tried browning the butter." Clearly it worked.
Following are the full results of our blind taste test. Cookies are graded on a scale of 1 to 10 and ranked here from least to most enjoyable.
The Best Chocolate Chip Cookie from The View from Great Island
Average score: 3
Why we chose it: Because this shortbread-inspired recipe calls for less flour, the base of this cookie melts away and allows you to focus on the chocolate.
Our judges said: Dysart: "It's a cross between a chocolate chip cookie and shortbread. It has more of a snap." Harris: "Why would they do this to a chocolate chip cookie? It needs a tan. I am not a fan." Jindal: "It's a little more blond. It's super-crunchy. I prefer mine on the chewier side."
Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookie, adapted from "Good to the Grain," by Kim Boyce with Amy Scattergood
Average score: 3.67
Why we chose it: This is a more healthful variation on the chocolate chip cookie. Plus, the combination of toasty wheat and chocolate is a harmonious one. Or so we thought.
Our judges said: Dysart: "It's kind of heavy and a little more dense. The salt is good, but there's something off about the flavor." Harris: "Not my favorite. It looks sad. It's like a paperweight. I can't put my finger on it, but something isn't right." Jindal: "It's super-thick. I like that you have a thicker bite, so there's more [cookie] in every bite."
Original Nestle Toll House Bittersweet Chocolate Chip Cookies
Average score: 4.67
Why we chose it: This classic recipe is quick, simple and timeless.
Our judges said: Dysart: "It's a little smaller and thinner, with more spread. It looks like it was bought at a supermarket. It has good dunk-ability in a cup of milk." Harris: "Meh. Don't think I'm going to love this one. I think it's too hard. It's just got no pizazz." Jindal: "It's a little more on the savory side. It has a little more salt, which I like."
Best Chocolate Chip Cookie from AllRecipes.com
Average score: 6.67
Why we chose it: With more than 9,000 overwhelmingly positive reviews, we wanted to see if this recipe lived up to its name.
Our judges said: Dysart: "It's nice and plump. It has the thickness I'm going for. It has even color all-around and not too much caramelization on the side." Harris: "It's not terrible. It's a decent cookie. Nothing blows my mind about it. It's your standard, average chocolate chip cookie." Jindal: "It's really chewy."
Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies from Leite's Culinaria
Average score: 7
Why we chose it: We were curious how the long curing period affected the flavor of the dough and whether the additional time was worth it.
Our judges said: Dysart: "It's light on the inside but has a good crust on the bottom. I like the balance of crispy and salty. I'm torn about having such big chunks [of chocolate] because my first bite was all chocolate." Harris: "It'd be a lot to eat this entire thing. It has a great exterior, slightly crunchy. It's got some personality. It's a little ragged and jagged." Jindal: "It's ginormous. It's really, really good. I like that it's not overpowered by the chocolate."
The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Joy the Baker
Average score: 7.67
Why we chose it: Joy the Baker is a trusted site for seasoned cooks, and this salty recipe is particularly buzzed about.
Our judges said: Dysart: "There's a lot of chocolate in there. I like the size of the chocolate. The salt is pronounced, I really like that." Harris: "It's fancy looking. It breaks apart nicely. I like it a little less gooey. I love the way the salt plays with the sugar." Jindal: "Oh, this one's chewy. It's really salty. The salt gives it a little more flavor than the usual chocolate chip cookie."
You can chill the dough for 30 minutes before shaping and baking, but in testing we found that the delay didn't make much of a difference.
MAKE AHEAD: The baked cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for several days, or wrapped well and frozen for up to 3 months.
Adapted from a recipe by Joy Wilson of JoytheBaker.com.
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon molasses
½ cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk
2¼ cups flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
½ cup coarsely chopped pecans
Flaky or coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
Melt half the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, swirling it in the pan occasionally. It'll foam and froth as it cooks, and start to crackle and pop. Once the crackling stops, keep a close eye on the melted butter, continuing to swirl the pan often. The butter will start to smell nutty, and brown bits will form in the bottom. Once the bits are amber brown (2½ to 3 minutes or so after the sizzling stops), remove the butter from the heat and immediately pour it into a small bowl, bits and all. This will stop the butter from cooking and burning. Let cool for 20 minutes.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth (but not quite fluffy). Reduce the speed to medium-low; beat in the vanilla extract and molasses until well incorporated.
Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl, along with the granulated sugar. Beat for 2 minutes (medium-low), until smooth; the mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy.
Reduce the speed to low; add the egg and egg yolk, beating for 1 minute, then stop to scrape down the bowl. Add the flour, kosher salt and baking soda; beat on low speed just until everything is incorporated. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and pecans and finish incorporating all of the dry flour bits into the dough.
Scoop the dough in 2-tablespoon-size balls onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between the balls. Use a light, two-fingered pinch to sprinkle each portion of dough with coarse or flaky sea salt.
Bake (upper and lower racks) for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Repeat to use all the dough.
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