Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Another big showdown of chocolate chip cookies

Alright, alright, I might as well give in and own it: chocolate chip cookies are my thing. Even when I have killer recipes, I can’t help but try others. And I’m not even going to apologize, because otherwise I would never have found the 36-hour cookies, even though I was (and still am) enamored with the Neiman-Marcus cookies.

So, I tried Alison Roman’s famous salted butter and chocolate chunk shortbread cookies, back when I still had lactose-free butter, and I have to say I did not care for them. Only one was nice enough to be photographed; they would have fared better without the egg wash, but still, I’m not making them again.

I took a look at what I call pan-bang cookies, which were all over the internet last fall. They looked good, but let’s face the facts: their entire draw is the fact that they end up being very flat (and have ripples), but a flat chocolate chip cookie is not what I want – I like them thick and chewy. So I’m not going to be pan-banging, or whatever the kids are calling it these days. There are still “chef recipes” I want to try, like the three on the BuzzFeed round-up, but I didn’t get around to it, and I probably need more taste tester for those.

I tried four more recipes for this round-up: the ones from Everyday Reading, which call for both butter and shortening; the ones from Tara O’Brady’s Seven Spoons, which call for melted butter; the Cook’s Illustrated version, which called for browned butter; and Broma Bakery’s cookies, which call for olive oil. Note that for all of these, I used Earth Balance sticks instead of butter, since I can’t get it lactose-free in the States anymore, but I used Challenge’s lactose-free butter spread for the Cook’s Illustrated cookies because I did have to get some sort of browning going on in there. All cookies were topped with Maldon sea salt, in the spirit of fairness, because cookies are better with salt.

I baked some of each as I made them over the past few months, of course, but I also saved some dough in the freezer for comparison purposes for today, alongside some 36-hour cookie dough made last week (gotta have something for teachers and coaches before the holidays) and some Neiman-Marcus for good measure (I had some in the freezer and they wanted to join the party).

First up, Everyday Reading cookies. They are ideal baked 10 minutes when the dough is straight from the fridge. They are delicious, crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside, but they are best served immediately – they don’t keep all that well, even if the raw dough is left in the fridge and baked on demand. I got 25 cookies from that batch.

Tara O’Brady’s cookies were easier to shape after chilling the dough; I got 32 from that batch. They also baked up in 10 minutes if they were straight from the fridge, and were actually better the next day once the dough had rested. I didn’t really have anything remarkable to say at that point, though.

The Cook’s Illustrated cookies yielded an even 24 cookies, which I measured as accurately as I could (1.25 ounces each) given that I did not own a #24 cookie scoop. They were easier to shape at room temperature, though I baked most of them cold – 12 minutes is ideal if the dough has been kept in the fridge.

Broma Bakery’s cookies yielded 18 cookies; the dough was *very* soft, so they were easier to shape once it had been chilled. They baked in 13 to 14 minutes from the fridge, but they spread in the oven and turned stiff once cooled. They were certainly not great.

Then there was today’s bake-off, where I pitted them all against one another, starting with frozen dough for every one and baking everything at 350 °F for 14 minutes, because there are limits to how finicky I will get in accommodating particular recipe variations for a total of six cookies. (And for the record, I had a nice healthy salad for lunch, and *tasted* all six cookies but did not *finish* all of them.) In each photo, they are, clockwise from top left: Everyday Reading, Tara O’Brady, Cook’s Illustrated, Neiman-Marcus, 36-hour, and Broma Bakery.

The olive oil one was eliminated immediately for its unpleasant texture (more tacky than chewy). Tara O’Brady’s cookies soon followed, for the same reason. I like Cook’s Illustrated’s cookies, but find then a bit bland, or like they are missing something, especially compared to the rest. And the cookies with shortening are taller and a bit crisper than the others, but they also taste like something is missing. Meanwhile, the Neiman-Marcus cookies are delicious, but a different beast altogether. I kept coming back to the 36-hour cookies as a “control cookie” to use when tasting, and in the end, I did prefer them as far as no-frills chocolate chip cookies go.

Conclusion: The 36-hour cookie wins again! Also, I have now purchased a #24 cookie scoop, because I’m taking this cookie-making thing a bit more seriously.


Katie said...

I am so tickled that you've done all of the work for a side-to-side cookie comparison and shared the work with us! (I keep having vague plans of doing that for the dozen or so brownie recipes that I rotate among, but haven't gotten around to it yet, either).

The 36 hour cookie is my favorite too, but I've had great luck with the Cook's Illustrated recipe when I want to bake something on shorter notice and don't want to have to run to the store for special baking bits or whatever. They're quite a different texture from the 36 hour cookie because of all the butter, but they've always gone over very well. I wonder how much of a difference butter brand / type might make in the flavor?

Amélie said...

That's a good question about the butter! I remember that when we had done a cookie taste test in 2014 (http://www.lactosefreegirl.com/2014/09/summerfest-2014.html), I had assumed that the cookies made with browned butter would win, because for the others we had used margarine, and really, how can you pit that against brown butter? But the majority of tasters preferred the 36-hour cookie made with margarine anyway. I can't really compare brands of butter, because my choices for lactose-free butter are very limited (I think I only have a brand in Canada, at this point).

I noticed that in this round-up, I liked the cookies with browned butter, but the two cookie recipes that just had either melted butter (not browned) or olive oil were not to my liking. Hopefully that'll same me time if I ever try more recipes in the future!

I also want to recipe-test chocoalte cakes. That's the cool thing about cookies, though, is that it's easy to make a batch, freeze dough for later, give some cookies away for the holidays, and not get sick of it. Brownies and chocolate cake, that's harder to test once you have moe than two recipes. My husband said I was welcome to send chocolate cake to his students, so I might just take him up on that next semester! The other options would be to do brackets and compare only two cakes at a time, or maybe (and this is compatible with feeding students) to freeze a piece of each cake for comparison at a later date. Maybe you can do the same with brownies?