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Practicing the basics: chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies are an American classic, but it turns out that there is a lot of variety in how they are made. This is a standard, tried-and-true chocolate chip recipe that makes a good starting place to make your own family recipe — just pay attention to the notes at the bottom.

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Makes up to 50 cookies, depending on their size. Prep time: about 15 minutes. Dough rest time: 15 minutes. Baking time: 10 minutes per baking sheet.

Ingredients

  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tsp. baking soda
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 sticks (1 cup) butter, softened (at room temperature, not melted)
  • 3/4 cup white sugar
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup chopped nuts

In a small bowl, combine flour, baking soda and salt. Stir to ensure even distribution.

In a large mixing bowl, beat the butter, white sugar, brown sugar and vanilla extract until smooth and creamy. Start with the mixer on low speed, then increase to medium once the butter has broken up into small pieces and is starting to mix in with the sugar. If you crank up the speed too early, you will end up with butter and sugar flying everywhere. Don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl with a flexible spatula.

Add one egg and beat on medium speed until the egg is entirely incorporated. Repeat with the second egg.

Gradually mix in the flour mixture (with the mixer on slow speed). If the mixer is going too fast flour will fly out of the bowl. Again, don’t forget to scrape down the sides of the bowl, all the way down to the bottom; it’s easy to end up with pockets of flour that haven’t been mixed in.

With a large spoon, fold in the chocolate chips and nuts. Don’t use the mixer to do this.

Put the bowl of cookie dough in the refrigerator to rest and cool for 15 minutes. While the dough is resting, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Place an oven rack in the center slot. Letting the dough rest in the refrigerator is not a required step, but it’s a best practice. Baking cookies is a race between two competing forces: flour that will try to solidify into a structure, and melting butter that will try to liquefy the dough. If the butter wins the race, your cookies end up flat. Giving the dough fifteen minutes in the refrigerator will cool off and stiffen up the butter a bit so that it takes a bit longer to melt.

Take the dough out of the refrigerator. With a large spoon (or two), drop scoops of dough, about 2 tablespoons each, onto a half-sheet baking pan at least two inches apart from each other. You want the scoops to be roughly spherical; they will melt down into cookie-shaped disks as the bake. The taller the scoops, the more room you should leave in between them.

Bake on a until the edges begin to brown and the center is no longer sticky and pliable to the touch, about 10 minutes. Remove the baking pan from the oven; let the cookies cool for 3-4 minutes before moving them to a cooling rack.

Tips and suggestions:

  • Sometimes cookies bake flat. With this recipe, it’s often because the butter was too warm to start. It might also be because the oven was too hot, or the ratio of butter to flour was wrong (we all make mistakes measuring ingredients from time to time). Making sure that the butter starts soft, but not melted, is important. Refrigerating the dough a bit before baking also helps; the cookies may need to bake for an extra minute, but that’s not a big deal. Also, since this recipe makes more cookies than can fit in your oven at one time, make sure that if you are re-using a baking pan you let it cool down completely before scooping the next batch of cookie dough onto it; you can speed that along by running cold water over the baking pan.
  • This is a great recipe for discovering where the hot and cold spots are in your oven: some of the cookies will cook (and brown) faster than others. The best way to deal with this is to rotate the baking pan halfway through baking.
  • You can bake more than one pan of cookies at the same time, but keep in mind that the bottom of the oven tends to be warmer than the top because it’s closer to the heat source at the bottom. Fortunately, cookies don’t require a lot of height, so you can place two oven racks near the center of the oven. Still, it can exacerbate hot and cold spots because having two baking pans will cut down on air circulation inside your oven. If you’re cooking two pans at the same time, you should both swap them between the two racks and rotate them at the halfway-point. And pay attention to how fast each tray is browning: you may need to remove one before the other is done.
  • Walnuts are the most common nut to use in this recipe (use chopped walnuts, not whole ones — they’re too big). But you can try other types, such as chopped or sliced almonds or chopped cashews. Peanuts are probably not a great choice, but you do you. You can also choose to leave out the nuts entirely; if you do, add another tablespoon of flour.
  • If you like a slightly chewy, more flavorful cookie, you can substitute up to 1/2 cup of wheat flour for an equivalent amount of the all-purpose flour in the recipe. More than that, though, and the cookies will be too dry: wheat flour absorbs more liquid than all-purpose flour.
  • There are lots of other ways to modify this recipe. Add a bit of lavender extract or culinary lavender, cinnamon, ground ginger, or nutmeg. Give them an extra kick by adding 1/4 teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper.
  • When you’re ready to step up your game, here’s a link to the official recipe for Doubletree Hotels’ famous chocolate chip cookies. This is a great recipe and my go-to now.
  • Pro tip: cookie dough freezes well. You can roll out scoops into balls and keep them in an airtight container in your freezer, and then you can always have fresh, warm chocolate chip cookies in about 20 minutes. Just take out of the freezer as many as you want to bake (there’s no need to thaw them), arrange them on a baking pan, preheat your oven to 375 degrees, and bake them until they brown around the edges and are cooked at the center. It will probably take about two minutes longer to bake them than if the dough was thawed.

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