When I made my first batch of chocolate chip cookies, I was still sleeping on a smiley-face pillow and wearing groovy red bell-bottoms to school. All these years -- and fashion trends -- later, I bake chocolate chip cookies pretty much the same way I did back in my mom's kitchen. My oven isn't avocado green, but I still use the recipe on the back of the yellow package of Nestle Toll House semisweet chocolate chips.
After my mystery book club's excursion into recipe-testing this past spring, we wondered if there was a better chocolate chip cookie recipe out there. (We didn't mind the idea of indulging in a little chocolate excess along with our monthly dose of mayhem, either.)
There are traditionalists among us who would never sever their allegiance to the back-of-the-package recipe, but plenty of bakers have tried to come up with the ultimate chocolate chip cookie. A number of you sent your versions, then wondered what the great taste test would decide -- and wondered and wondered. Thank you for your patience as summer travels and venue changes delayed our chocolate chip cookie tasting. However, on a Friday afternoon earlier this month, we sat down with five batches of the likeliest cookies and a handful of score cards.
Challenged at first
I love my feisty fellow book club members. Right off the bat, they were a bit skeptical about my score card. Admittedly, I struggled to define the
When it comes to chocolate, some of you don't turn to the old reliable yellow package. Kate Zablocki, of Menlo Park, prefers Ghirardelli semisweet chips. Sheila Kendis Sello, also of Menlo Park, and Emily Moak Meacham, the wife of my former newspaper colleague Jody Meacham, use Ghirardelli or Guittard. Moak Meacham also likes King Arthur flour, and others among you specified Land O'Lakes butter.
We don't have an official mystery book club test kitchen and we don't follow stringent test methods, so I told my fellow bakers to use the supplies they had on hand. The recipes we tried were so distinctive, I don't think the ingredients made that big a difference.
We have a winner
In the end, there wasn't a consensus on what constitutes the ultimate exemplar of cookie perfection, but Moak Meacham's recipe topped the score cards. The recipe she and son Gordon, now 22, began making some years ago is what one of the mystery club members referred to as a "modern" chocolate chip cookie.
Moak Meacham's cookie is nicely mounded and tender, with plenty of chocolate intensity. "We wanted a more cake-y cookie than the traditional Toll House type," she explains. "We started with a recipe from Epicurious.com and tweaked it over many trials."
The recipe veers far afield from the traditional chocolate chip cookie. The secret to its texture? Moak Meacham thinks it's the package of instant vanilla pudding mix. Her recipe includes toasted pecans for added depth of flavor and a cup of old-fashioned oats, but the cookie retains its chocolate chip cookie-ness without straying to the oatmeal cookie end of the spectrum.
Make it dark
We also enjoyed Judy Watkins' recipe, which makes a great-looking cookie and delivers brown sugar tones, thanks to two cups of dark brown sugar. And that brings us to Dorothy Reller's version.
"Here is a great recipe I've had for about 15 to 20 years for 'Consumer Reports Best Chocolate Chip Cookies,' " she e-mailed.
I included hers in our tasting because it looked at first glance to be a no-frills, honest chocolate chip cookie. I figured it might resemble the back-of-the-package recipe, and my mystery club friends deemed it most like their childhood favorite: a cookie with a little more spread, hints of brown sugar and plenty of chocolate intensity, just like the reliable Toll House version -- and for good reason. The recipe is nearly identical.
I tracked down the recipe on the Consumer Reports website. I don't know the story on the company's recipe testing practices back in 1985, but the only difference between the Toll House classic and Reller's cookie is that the latter recipe specifies dark brown sugar.
Regardless of recipe, one constant remains true: Leave a container of cookies sitting in a house with teenage boys, and the cookies disappear. I thought I'd re-evaluate a few of the cookies we tested, but I came home to find they'd departed for a Yosemite camping expedition along with my Boy Scout.