For most of my life, I’ve defined cookie perfection based on a few standard characteristics: taste (that’s a given), texture (which depends on the cookie kind) and overall fluffiness (fluffy = good; fluffier = better). Although I dabble in a lot of cookie making, I always come back to these traits as signatures of success, and up until yesterday, they hadn’t led me astray.
My appreciation for fluffy cookies stems back to my grammar school days, when a prized sack lunch held a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, a handful of super skinny pretzel sticks and a Ziplock bag that contained two of my mom’s homemade snickerdoodle cookies. Now these cookies were (and still are) no ordinary snickerdoodle. They were crazy bananas good, the envy of all the hot-lunch-buying and sack-lunch-toting peers who happened to give them the once-over while shuffling through the crowded cafeteria. Their innate homemadeness did earn automatic brownie points among my friends, but that wasn’t what garnered such widespread attention. These cookies were unbelievably fluffy; we’re talking legitimate skyscraper quality, cookies that extended (no exaggeration) an inch to an inch and half from bottom to top. They were like fluffy clouds of cookie brilliance, baked by my mom in what felt to my little-kid self like an act of super-baking heroism. I’ve never seen anyone marvel at a cookie like my elementary-aged peers marveled a those snickerdoodles. I made a mental note then and there: Fluffy cookies = impressive.
I suppose part of growing up is learning that not all of the ideas we held as a child are entirely indicative of how the world really works. Not all good things must come in the magical, fluffy package that is my mom’s signature cookie style (though I have yet to meet a cookie I’ve loved quite as much). In fact, there might be room in the kitchen for an equally magical cookie whose power actually derives from its inherent lack of fluff, a cookie whose extreme flatness allows other extraordinary traits to shine through (i.e. crispiness, chewiness and adorable stackable-ness). I never thought I could love a flat cookie. Now I know I can.
These flat-and-chewy chocolate chip cookies from The Essential New York Times Cookbook aren’t your average bear. When I used to think of flat cookies, I thought of the sad, deflated version you might find for sale at the mall: the kind that fell flat because their ingredients weren’t top-notch, their bake-time and/or temp wasn’t quite right or their butter-sugar base wasn’t whipped up with quite enough vigor or love. In contrast, these NYT cookies are unmistakably flat, in a supposed-to-be-like-this, aren’t-we-impressive-in-our-unrivaled-and-amazingly-extreme-flatness? sort of way. And that notable thinness comes paired with a delicate crispness on the outer rims, wonderful chewiness on the inside and a flavor that says, “This is how a chocolate chip cookie is supposed to taste.” There’s a delicious zing from the scant tablespoon of kosher salt added to the dough and more than enough bittersweet chocolate to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Flat-and-Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
From The New York Times Essential Cookbook (Amanda Hesser, p. 706)
• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 ¼ teaspoons baking soda
• 1 scant tablespoon Diamond Crystal kosher salt (the brand does matter; click here for more on the salt-buying escapades.)
• ½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
• 1 ½ cups packed light brown sugar
• ¼ cup granulated sugar
• 2 large eggs
• 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
• 2 cups (about 12 ounces) chipped bittersweet chocolate (chunks and shavings) [Note: Based on a tip from Ms. Martha Stewart herself, Jared used a serrated bread knife to prepare all the chocolate. It worked like a charm. Best tip ever.]
• 2 cups (about 8 ounces) chopped toasted walnuts (optional; I opted out.)
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt in a medium-sized bowl. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy, about three minutes. Add the eggs one at a time. Add the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once, and blend until dough forms. Fold in the chocolate (and walnuts, if using). Refrigerate dough until chilled, preferably overnight.
Heat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll 2 ½-tablespoon lumps of dough into balls (I started with this size, but they were out-of-control huge [see photo above. Eep!], so I used 1 ½-tablespoon dough balls for the rest, which worked really well). Place 3 inches apart on a parchment- or Silpat-lined baking sheet, and flatten to ½-inch thick disks. Chill remaining dough between batches.
Bake until the edges are golden brown, about 14 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, and then transfer to a rack.
Admittedly, I went into this cookie-baking experience with super high expectations, largely because so much forethought went into them (namely, special ordering the recommended brand of salt from Amazon). And I’m happy to report that they didn’t disappoint. Beyond the amazing flavor, I’m in love with how adorable these guys look all stacked on top of one another. It’s like a tower of cookies, stacked pancake-style. My mom’s cookies are still out-of-this-world amazing, but they don’t have the power of stack. Perhaps that’s the beauty of super cookie variety: one super cookie to appease every super cookie need. I don’t know about you, but I’ll sleep well tonight knowing there are so many fresh-baked heroes available at a moment’s notice.
Do you have a cookie story to share? Maybe about a beloved cookie from childhood, your first baking experience or a newfound cookie favorite? I’d love to hear about it!