The first summer weekend - it feels impossibly new and yet so familiar all over again. Empty avenues, packed parks, the scent of a hundred backyard barbecues wafting through the city. We did our patriotic duty and had our own barbecue this weekend - with a dubious grill that needs a scrubbing like nobody's business, I might add. While others took care of the hamburgers and grilled corn and salads, I busied myself with dessert. It might have been insanity to turn the oven on on the first weekend of summer, but with the kind of recipe challenge I had in front of me, could you blame me? Hardly.
Back in January, Amanda Hesser printed three recipes for chocolate-chip cookies in the New York Times Magazine. She had covered what arguably might be called the three "Schools of Chocolate-Chip Cookiedom": Thin-and-Crisp, Flat-and-Chewy, and Thick-and-Gooey. Along with the recipes came an admonition and a plea: "I'm sure that there are least five subschools that I've missed, and you can let me know about them. These recipes were each tested more than a half-dozen times, so please grant us some generosity". I must admit that I felt like I was being spoken to directly. A glove was thrown! I would have to accept.
I chose Flat-and-Chewy for my Saturday night barbecue, for no real reason, really. The batter came together swiftly, as cookie batter usually does. I stumbled over only one thing: the entire tablespoon of kosher salt called for. Ben watches his sodium, and I've become a bit of a watchdog on this matter, so I cut down the salt to a single teaspoon. I did think that I'd need to adjust the baking soda as a result, but I didn't know how to regulate the proportion and so I just let it go, keeping the same amount of soda despite getting rid of most of the salt. The cookies baked up just as promised - flat and chewy and with that glorious age-old cookie scent that no one ever tires of.
In our group of seven testers, everyone raved over the smell and taste. Ben found them too salty - but still managed to eat several and blissfully at that, while everyone else liked the occasional kick of salt (though I really cannot imagine what these would have tasted like with an entire tablespoon. And I'm not trying to be ungenerous here!) and the way it brought out the caramel tones of the brown sugar and chocolate. As I chewed contentedly on a cookie, though, I found it slightly bitter. Was it the chocolate (by the way, I used Ghirardelli chips instead of block chocolate)? No...I realized it was the baking soda. I don't really know if I could have gotten rid of the bitterness by using less soda or by using more salt. I'll have to go pore over Mcgee or Corriher to find out, I suppose.
Lest Amanda thinks (you like how I assume that she might be reading this?) that this is a critical post, I should note that all but four cookies were gone an hour after they emerged from the oven (one of our dinner guests even said she loved the bitter soda taste). We happily ate the remaining ones for breakfast the next day. I can't wait to try the other recipes (Thick-and-Gooey is next, I think). But the truth is that at the end of the day, if you asked me what my favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipe was, I'd still say it was Debbie's.
Flat-and-Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 30 cookies
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/4 teaspoons of baking soda
1 tablespoon kosher salt
8 ounces butter, softened
1 1/2 cups packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
2 cups chopped bittersweet chocolate (chunks and shavings)
2 cups chopped toasted walnuts (optional)
1. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpat. Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt.
2. Cream the butter and sugars together until fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, then the vanilla. Add the flour mixture all at once and blend until a dough forms. Fold in the chocolate and nuts, if using. Chill the dough.
3. While the dough chills, preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Roll 2 1/2 tablespoon lumps of dough into balls, then place on baking sheet and flatten to 1/2-inch-thick discs spaced 2 inches apart. Bake until the edges are golden brown, 14 to 16 minutes. Let cool slightly on the baking sheet, then transfer to a baking rack.