Chocolate chip cookies have been America’s favorite almost from their 1930s debut, and bakers have been trying to best Ruth Wakefield’s original Toll House cookie recipe ever since. Of course, there are some people who don’t want to deviate one crumb from her formula and want their cookies to taste exactly like the ones they had when they were kids. But many others want to enhance them for a more grown-up, gourmet experience.


Part of the popularity of the version of Wakefield’s recipe on the Nestlé’s Toll House morsels bag is that anyone can be successful with it as is. The proportions work, and it’s really easy—but there’s also room for ingenuity.

The beauty of chocolate chip cookies is that the “perfect” recipe is what’s perfect to you, not only how it tastes but also how much effort you want to put in—enhancements take some extra time. Try all or any number of them to make Wakefield’s recipe truly your own. All measurements in this story refer to the Wakefield recipe on page 14.

Brown the butter. This takes dedicated attention, but if you have the time, browning the butter brings out a wonderful taste reminiscent of caramel. To do it right: Melt the butter in a steel skillet over low heat on the stove, and continue cooking, stirring constantly. The foam will disappear, and the solids will turn a deep brown and develop a nutty smell after about five minutes. Take the pan off the heat, and let it cool. When the butter is just barely warm, proceed with the recipe. (Rather than “creaming” it into the sugars as you would with room-temperature butter, you’ll just fold it all together.)

Reapportion the sugars. What really defines a chocolate chip cookie? Surprisingly, it’s not the chocolate but the sugars. For Wakefield, that meant an even split between granulated (white) and brown sugars. Brown sugar, which is nothing more than the addition of molasses to granulated sugar, is what gives the cookie a hint of a butterscotch taste. The more gourmet you want to go, the more you can alter Wakefield’s ratio, up to one cup of brown sugar to one-half cup of granulated. Just don’t change the total amount of sugar, which is one-and-a-half cups. Some chefs use dark brown sugar—it has more molasses than light brown—for even more flavor and chewiness. If you already have light brown sugar in the house along with a jar of molasses, simply add one tablespoon of molasses when you add the sugars.

Consider other flavorings. The vanilla in the original recipe helps enhance the chocolate flavor. Many famous bakers double the original recipe’s one teaspoon. It’s not necessary to go to the expense of using a real vanilla bean (on the other hand, don’t use imitation vanilla). Another flavoring that also enhances chocolate without adding a flavor of its own is espresso powder or a high-quality instant coffee such as Starbucks Via Instant (regular or decaf). Buy either at the supermarket—one-half to one teaspoon is all you need. Also: Adding two to four tablespoons of malted milk powder is another way to get a complex, interesting flavor (you won’t taste the malt itself). Add either of these ingredients when you add the vanilla.

Cut the flour. For a crisper, more delicate cookie, reduce the flour to two cups. If you want a nuttier flavor, consider replacing one-quarter to one-half cup of all-purpose flour with nut flour or meal from the same nuts you’re using whole (make your own by processing whole nuts in a food processor until powdery).

Rethink your chips. David Liederman, founder of David’s Cookies, started a chocolate chip revolution of sorts with his first store in New York City in 1979. Liederman revived Wakefield’s laborious original practice of cutting up chocolate bars into pieces that melt deliciously as the cookies bake, creating gooey delight over large sections. (Nestlé morsels were invented in 1940 for Wakefield’s popular recipe and specifically are formulated not to melt into the dough—they don’t spread.) Liederman’s technique is perfect if you want layers of chocolate in every bite. Cut up your favorite bar chocolate with a sharp knife, or use chocolate wafers from companies such as Guittard, Callebaut or Valrhona. Choose whatever percentage of cacao you like (my personal preference is around 60%). If you want the convenience of chips with a richer chocolate taste, Ghirardelli is a great supermarket brand.

Simple tip from Debbi Fields of Mrs. Fields cookies: Reserve one-quarter to one-half cup of your chips, and press a few pieces on top of each cookie just before baking. This helps assure an attractive cookie, more equitable distribution and a chip in every bite.

For a chocolate ripple effect: Carefully melt one-half to one cup of the chips, and very slightly fold into the dough as a last step. Don’t mix so much that you have chocolate dough—it should look like fudge ripple ice cream.

Important: The original Toll House recipe called for 16 ounces of chocolate, not 12, so plan on using two-and-twothirds to two-and-three-quarter cups of chocolate. One caveat: Don’t use mini chips—you simply won’t get that core chocolate taste.

Don’t forget the nuts (unless you’re allergic). Nuts make for a more complex and interesting cookie. Walnuts aren’t your only choice—they’re what Wakefield had handy in New England. Her recipe actually was based on a pecan tea wafer cookie she previously made, and Southern bakers often use pecans to impart richness and complexity to their chocolate chip cookies. Hazelnuts also are a great pairing for chocolate. Whatever nuts you use, you can enhance their flavor by toasting them first. Place them in a skillet on your stovetop on medium heat for about four minutes, rotating the pan frequently and stirring constantly until you can really smell their aroma. Don’t step away—they burn easily. Important: The chocolate-to-nuts ratio should be somewhere between two and three to one, so about two-and-threequarters cups chocolate to one or oneand- one-quarter cups nuts (depending on how much you like nuts).

Experiment with other add-ins. From dried cranberries or sour cherries to pieces of a Heath bar, you really can customize your cookie, but limit any addition to one cup. And be aware of how dominant the flavor you’re adding is. With a strong ingredient such as peanut butter or a lot of oatmeal, it’s not really a chocolate chip cookie anymore. Fold in any add-ins along with your chocolate.

Sprinkle on sea salt…sparingly. Chocolatier Jacques Torres’s chocolate chip recipe, which was just rated #1 by The New York Times, is known for its sea-salt topping, put on just before the cookies bake. Like vanilla, a slight amount enhances chocolate, but use it sparingly until you determine how much you like (this is in addition to the table salt added to the dough).

Chill the dough. Another Torres signature is putting the dough in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours before baking. Chilling actually appeared in later editions of Wakefield’s cookbook as people moved from iceboxes to refrigerators for food storage. She knew that this rest period allowed moist and dry ingredients to combine more effectively for deeper flavor. Rolling the dough into a thick log before chilling makes for easy slicing when you’re ready to bake.

Size matters. The way to achieve a cookie with multiple textures is to make it big—I like ping-pong–ball sized. You get a crispy edge and soft middle with lots of chewy cookie in between. Bake one cookie sheet at a time in the middle of your oven because even if you rotate two sheets midway though, the cookies still tend to not come out evenly browned.

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