Chocolate Chip Cookie Redux

I received several questions about the New York Times perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe. So I thought I'd give my thoughts (for what they're worth) and report on the results of my second attempt making the cookies.

Question 1: Why does the recipe call for "coarse salt" in the batter and "sea salt" on top of the cookies; what's the difference? My thoughts: I have no idea why the recipe is written that way. "Sea salt" means nothing more than salt evaporated from the sea. It can come in any number of colors and in coarse or fine grinds. The picture here shows side-by-side comparisons of the two types of sea salt that I keep in my kitchen: La Baleine fine sea salt on the top, and gray coarse sea salt on the bottom. Instructing someone to use "sea salt" is completely non-specific. On the other hand, the direction to use "coarse salt" in the batter is puzzling. You almost never see coarse salt used in cake or cookie batter because it is very difficult to accurately measure by volume. As you can see from the picture, because the flakes are so large and irregular, there is a lot of space between grains, and as a result, a teaspoon of coarse salt will weigh less than a teaspoon of fine-grained salt. The bottom line is I felt free to ignore the recipe directions and use fine-grained salt in the batter. I did use coarse sea salt on top, though. (Side note: if you are at all interested in the topic, Mark Kurlansky's book Salt: A World History is a fascinating read. Seriously.)

Question 2: What do I do if I don't have bread flour; what's the deal with all these flour types in the recipe anyway? My thoughts: I'm not sure why the recipe calls for equal amounts of cake flour and bread flour. Most all-purpose flour (such as Pillsbury or Gold Medal) has a protein content of 10.5%. Softasilk cake flour has a protein content of 8%. Pillsbury bread flour has a protein content of 12%; King Arthur bread flour has 12.8%. Lower protein flours are better for tender baked goods like cakes and biscuits, while higher protein flours are better for applications that require the development of gluten, like yeasted breads. One might think that for the cookie recipe you could use 17 ounces of all purpose flour, essentially averaging out the cake flour and bread flour, and be done with it. But honestly, I don't know enough about food science to know why you might want a mix of flours, and I haven't had time to try out this recipe just using all-purpose. (There are other differences in the flours besides protein content. For instance, cake flour has undergone a special bleaching process to allow baked goods to rise higher without collapsing.) But if you don't have bread flour and happen to have some King Arthur all-purpose flour around, it's made of hard winter wheat and has a protein content of 11.7%, so it's close to the mainstream bread flour you might find in the supermarket. I gave it a try this time around and was satisfied with the results.

Question 3: What do I do if I don't have a food scale; should I just follow the volume measurements in the recipe? My thoughts: I think the recipe would probably turn out fine if you follow the volume measurements. And if it doesn't, hey, you live and learn. But I'm not alone in my preference for weights. Just last Wednesday, there was an article in the Wall Street Journal titled "There Is No Justice for Scales in the Kitchen," bemoaning the lack of weight measurements in American cookbooks since weight is always more precise. Just for kicks, I tried to take some baseline measurements in my kitchen (and you have to consider that this was on a humid July day): I found that 1 cup of unsifted Softasilk flour weighed 115 grams (4 oz.) and 1 cup of unsifted King Arthur all-purpose flour weighed 135 grams (4 and 3/4 oz.) (both flours measured via the scoop and level method). So when I made this recipe again and went by weight, it again required significantly more flour than what was specified by volume.

And so onto the cookie... I made this recipe again, refrigerating the dough for 56 hours before baking (this wasn't done on purpose; that's just the way the schedule worked out). I don't think I can tell any real difference in depth of flavors between this batch and the last one (which was refrigerated for only 30 hours before baking). The texture of this batch was a little different, though -- they spread a little more, were flatter, and they didn't look as nice as the last batch. They were perfectly yummy, though, and I definitely think this still beats a Toll House cookie, hands down.


cluckyducky said…
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cluckyducky said…
Could "coarse salt" mean kosher salt, which is the salt I often use when cooking? Thomas Keller of French Laundry and Per Se fame uses Diamond kosher salt. It's cheap and not as salty/chemically as Morton's. And "sea salt" could be the flaky sea salt that I use sprinkled on salads when I want a little salty crunch. One really good flaky sea salt that you can try is Malden. I'll sprinkle it on sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and torn basil leaves. It's not as dense as some other coarse sea salts so it doesn't feel gritty but gives a nice salty burst of flavor when you crunch down on it. Plus, since it's just sprinkled on, every bite tastes a little different.