From Our Kitchen: Chocolate Chip Cookies August 23, 2021
Introducing “From Our Kitchen”: a peek behind the counter in the HelloFresh test kitchen. For our first installment, one of our chefs shares how the quest to find the perfect chocolate chip cookie led her to a career in recipe development. Story as told to Alieza Schvimer Hoffman by Chloe Zale.
When I was little, my father started a tradition: The two of us went on adventures around New York City (my hometown) to find the best versions of my favorite foods.
For our first taste test, we went to six different pizza slice shops in one day. We took notes at each location, marking what made each different, choosing our favorite, and discussing why. Over the years, we followed suit with other foods—chocolate ice cream, doughnuts, french fries, and, my very favorite, chocolate chip cookies.
One of the standouts on our cookie tour was our stop at Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. At the time, it was just a little basement shop without lines winding around the block (as it has today). We felt like we’d discovered something special: between the softball-size of the cookies, the gooey, dense texture inside, and the rich, luscious flavors, they were the best cookies we had ever eaten (and still continue to be). After that, I decided I needed to develop my own cookie recipe, one that would taste as good as our favorites on our tour, but with my own unique twist.
I started with the Nestle Tollhouse recipe, the gold standard of back-of-the-bag baking. I would make a batch, get input from my parents, tweak it slightly, and then bring it to my classmates for more feedback. I’m not sure fifth graders’ palates were particularly nuanced, but the encouragement to keep going was certainly valuable!
I went through a grand total of 15 batches—adjusting things like the quantities of vanilla extract, salt, and bake time—before I perfected my recipe. My signature move was removing the cookies from the oven halfway through baking, once the dough softened and spread into a molten disc. I then swirled a chopstick through the dough from the center to the edges to create a chocolate spiral. The end result from this mid-bake chocolate swoosh was a perfect textural and visual contrast, since it dispersed the chocolate flavor throughout the cookie.
As I baked each batch, I learned about the almost-endless choices you can make when it comes to cookies that impact their chewiness, crispiness, density, and flavor. In the recipe that follows—one that I developed more recently and that’s a bit different from the one I made in fifth grade—I tweaked the brown sugar measurement one time, the amount of baking powder the next, and the fat content (an extra egg yolk) in the final round. My tweak-by-tweak approach isn’t just unique to cookie baking: When you’re testing and developing any recipe, you tweak one variable at a time, maybe two. It’s important to be able to isolate which adjustment is making the dish the best it can be—if you’re changing too many things at once, it’s hard to pick out what’s making the difference between good and great. The training in taste testing (courtesy of my dad!) not only made me love recipe development early on, it laid the groundwork for my culinary career.
Like many others during quarantine, I gravitated toward baking for the comfort it provided. I baked numerous batches of chocolate chip cookies throughout 2020—not just because I was emotionally eating (we’ve all been there), but because it strengthened my connection to my parents, whom I didn’t see for many months. These cookies provided me with a sense of safety and security that was in jeopardy during the pandemic.
In good times and bad, chocolate chip cookies are one of my ultimate comfort foods—they’re so satisfying and simple to make—and that’s why I’m excited to share this recipe. You’ll see that I added a new signature: rolling the cookie dough in extra chocolate chunks before baking. I learned this method from a dear friend of mine, pastry chef Caroline Schiff. This technique creates beautiful chocolate puddles on the surface of the cookies that allow the final sprinkle of flaky salt to cling to the cookies. Other than this final step, the recipe is simple, requiring no mixer or hand beaters.
One of the benefits to letting the dough rest before baking is that it helps the flavors meld, creating deep toffee and butterscotch notes. It also improves the cookies’ texture and moisture. You can achieve the same effect by refrigerating the dough overnight, but you should always pre-portion the dough into balls first, as it hardens up quite a bit when chilled.
The dough freezes really well and keeps for months, so I like to make a big batch at once and encourage you to do the same. Whenever I feel like having cookies, I just pull out some pre-portioned cookie dough balls—I make four at a time—and bake them straight from the freezer.
No matter what you do, this recipe is absolutely delicious, and I hope it brings you as much comfort and joy as it does for me!
Best-Ever Sea Salt Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Time: 20 minutes prep, 15 minutes baking time
- 1 cup unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
- 3 ⅔ cups (16.3 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 ½ tsps Diamond Crystal kosher salt (¾ teaspoon Morton Kosher salt, fine sea salt, or regular table salt)
- 1 ½ cups (11.3 ounces) dark brown sugar, tightly packed
- ¼ cup plus 2 tsp (2 ounces) white sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 3 bars (12 to 14 ounces total) chocolate, roughly chopped (you should have about 3 cups)
- Flaky sea salt, for topping
- Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.
- Whisk together brown sugar, white sugar, and butter in a large bowl until fully combined. Whisk in eggs, egg yolk, and vanilla until shiny and smooth.
- Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients. Use a rubber spatula to gently mix together until just a few streaks of flour remain.
- Reserve 1 cup chocolate; stir remaining 2 cups into dough until evenly combined. (Don’t overmix! This makes cookies tough.)
- Form dough into 2 ½-inch balls (about ¼ cup of dough per ball). Press the top of each ball into reserved chocolate. Transfer to a foil-lined baking sheet, cover tightly with foil, and refrigerate for at least 12 hours. (Cookies can be refrigerated for up to 48 hours.)
- When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350°F. Place dough balls on greased baking sheets about 3 inches apart (use multiple racks for multiple baking sheets). Bake until edges are set, center is puffy, and cookies are very lightly golden, 12-14 minutes. (The center will flatten as the cookies cool.)
- Sprinkle with flaky salt. Let cool 5 minutes on baking sheets, then transfer cookies to a wire rack.
- Cooking Note: Cook dough from frozen at 350°F for 14-17 minutes.
Craving some milk to go alongside your best-ever chocolate chip cookies? Look no further than our homemade oat milk recipe and get ready for seriously tasty dunking!