(Updated, 11/24/16: fixed broken links)
I’m always on the hunt for an interesting cookie recipe, but somehow I missed an article by David Leite (of Leite’s Culinaria) in the New York Times last July that included a chocolate chunk cookie recipe adapted from one by dessert genius Jacques Torres. A few months after publication, the recipe was brought to my attention by the Splendid Table’s interview of David Leite about the cookies, in which he revealed the recipe’s mark of distinction: the mixed dough rests in the refrigerator for 24 to 72 hours before baking to allow the flour to fully absorb the liquid in the batter. But I didn’t take any action; I just let it sink into my mental filing cabinet. Eventually, I came across a discussion of the recipe on the Accidental Hedonist, and I knew that the time had come to try them.
They come together fairly easily (thanks in part to the extensive use of weights in the recipe*). But then comes the test of patience — a container of several pounds of delicious cookie dough in the refrigerator, calling to you for a day or two, like sirens to a hungry sailor. Operation-wise, shaping the cookies is the most challenging because of the combination of cold dough and large chunks of chocolate, but I’m not terribly picky about the shape of the final cookie, so I just carve out blobs of dough using a heavy spoon and smooth them by hand. Other, like Pim, who shared her thoughts about the recipe, is a lot more precise about her cookies. (Her post and the comments have some interesting discussion about why the recipe calls for cake flour and bread flour. The short story: cake flour is bleached with chlorine dioxide or chlorine gas, which has effects on the starch granules in the flour, making them absorb more water, and also increases the acidity. This makes for a better cookie. In any case, be sure to read Pim’s post.)
Every other week or so, I have been baking a half-batch of these cookies. And my opinion, after much ponderous deliberation, is that they are really good. Perhaps it is the overnight rest, or perhaps there are other, more important items that make these great chocolate chip cookies, like the use of brown sugar, or the sprinkling of salt on the cookies just before baking.
You read that right, a sprinkling of salt.
In addition to the salt that goes into the dough for flavor and to react with the leavening agents, the recipe also calls for sprinkling some salt on top of the cookies before baking. Salt has its place in desserts (think salted caramel candy or ice cream) and this is one of them. The shape of the chocolate is yet another reason for these cookies’ superiority. Instead of puny chips, the recipe calls for wide and thin disks (feves**), which give the cookie a somewhat geological appearance, as if the Grand Canyon was made of alternating layers of chocolate and dough.
These cookies — and my wondering about why they are so good — got my analytical wheels spinning and I went a little off the deep end, which I’ll write about in a future post. But for now, go get the recipe, gather up the ingredients — and all of your patience*** — and give these cookies a try.
* An aside about weight: I love it when recipes for baked goods list the weights of ingredients, like the outstanding Pure Desserts from Alice Medrich. The Best Recipe cookbook from Cook’s Illustrated, however, doesn’t list weights for ingredients, which makes me wonder how could an organization that prides itself in careful technique not include flour measurements in weight? In the yellow cake recipe, for instance, they call for 2 1/4 cups of sifted cake flour. Every sifter is different, every measurement technique is different, as Michael Ruhlman explained in the L.A. Times (“I got weights for a cup of flour as high as 6 ounces and as low as 4 ounces”), and what might be “The Best Recipe” when your cup of flour weighs 4 ounces could be inedible when your cup of flour weighs 6 ounces.
** I get my chocolate disks at a fabulous store called Spun Sugar in on University Avenue in Berkeley. They break down professional-sized packages (5 kilograms) into more manageable amounts like one or two pounds. They sell products from Guittard, Callebaut and other makers in varying cacao contents (e.g., 61%, 72%). Besides chocolate, they have lots of cake decorating goods and specialty baking ingredients.
*** Speaking of food and patience, check out this fascinating podcast from Radiolab and this article in the New Yorker about an experiment involving a marshmallow (or two), a timer and a young child.