Baking is the most delicious home chemistry course around. Unlike cooking, which is more forgiving with its “pinch of this” and “handful of that,” the loosest you get with baking is “a dash of grated nutmeg.” Why so serious? Because everything can go south very quickly. Messing around with the proportions of wet to dry or with the leavener can create baking disasters. It’s why most new cooks stay away from baking — it’s too technical.
It doesn’t have to be scary, though. When you know what ingredient does what and why it does that, the more complete picture allows you to play around without goofing up. It also helps you decipher a recipe for, say, perfect chocolate chip cookies. If you’re really particular about your CCCs, don’t rely on the photo to tell the whole story. Photos can be deceptive. Instead, take a look at the clues in the recipe. How much of this, how much of that? How long at what temperature? We’ll discuss what makes the perfect chewy, crispy, pillowy, flat, cakey, or dense cookie, so no matter what recipe you come across, you get what you want.
1. Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies
Chewy, moist cookies are born from high-protein bread flour and plenty of moisture. All-purpose flour won’t really cut it here because it doesn’t contain enough protein to get really chewy. Because chewy cookies aren’t so much about the lift, you don’t have to cream the butter and the sugar (which creates little air pockets that help the cookie puff) — you can melt it.
Don’t get fancy and try to brown it, though, because you need that moisture readily available for the flour to build gluten strands right off the bat. That’s going to put the chew in your cookie. To keep it from getting dry, Alton Brown adds an extra egg yolk, 2 tablespoons of milk, and dark brown sugar. The egg yolk contributes fat that keeps the cookie soft in the center; the milk is mostly water with some sugar; and the darker the brown sugar, the more moisture-retaining molasses it contains.
The last trick to these cookies is to give them plenty of space when you cook them. Alton only puts 6 cookies on a baking sheet so they have room to spread and cook without being crowded, which can steam them a bit and cause uneven cooking.
- 8 ounces unsalted butter
- 12 ounces bread flour
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1¼ cups light brown sugar
- 1 large egg
- 1 large egg yolk
- 1 ounce whole milk
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips
Directions: Melt the butter in a small saucepan over low heat. Set aside to cool slightly.
Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda onto a paper plate. Pour the butter into the bowl of your stand mixer. Add the sugar and brown sugar, and beat with the paddle attachment on medium speed for 2 minutes.
Meanwhile, whisk together the whole egg, egg yolk, milk, and vanilla extract in a measuring cup. Reduce the mixer speed and slowly add the egg mixture. Mix until thoroughly combined, about 30 seconds.
Using the paper plate as a slide, gradually integrate the dry ingredients, stopping a couple of times to scrape down the sides of the bowl. Once the flour is worked in, drop the speed to “stir” and add the chocolate chips. Chill the dough for 1 hour. This helps the gluten bonds form, which makes your cookie chewy.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and place racks in the top third and bottom third of the oven.
Scoop the dough into 1½-ounce portions onto parchment-lined half sheet pans, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake 2 sheets at a time for 15 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through. Remove from the oven, slide the parchment with the cookies onto a cooling rack, and wait at least 5 minutes before eating.
2. Thin and Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies
For a chocolate chip cookie with a bit of crunch and a lot of snap, you want as little structure as possible in the cookie. You barely care about the cookie rising in the oven; you just want it to spread thin and get crispy. To achieve this, you want less flour in the recipe but more white sugar. White sugar is a drier sugar than brown sugar, so the cookie doesn’t need as much time in the oven — you don’t want a dried out cookie, just one that snaps. This recipe from Martha Stewart uses a ½ cup more granulated sugar than the standard Toll House recipe. This dough can come together feeling particularly sticky, but don’t cave and add more flour; it will make your cookie more cakey.
For a cookie that’s really thin and lacey, use all granulated sugar and cut the baking soda. Without the acidic pH of brown sugar, there’s nothing there to give the leavener any kickstart, anyway. Regardless, give them plenty of room to spread on the baking sheet.
- 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2½ sticks unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1¼ cups granulated sugar
- ¾ cup packed light-brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups semisweet and/or milk chocolate chips
Directions: Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda; set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter with both sugars; beat on medium speed until light and fluffy. Reduce speed to low; add the salt, ¼ cup water, vanilla, and eggs. Beat until well mixed, about 1 minute. Add flour mixture; mix until just combined. Stir in the chocolate chips.
Drop heaping tablespoon-size balls of dough about 2 inches apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Bake until cookies are golden brown, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool on baking sheet 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.
3. Cakey Chocolate Chip Cookies
Cakey cookies are airy and lofty and soft without being gooey or mushy. A cakey cookie is made by using heaps more flour and either using more baking soda or double-acting baking powder for additional lift. Cake flour keeps the cookie light and not chewy, as it’s a softer wheat with less protein that forms weaker gluten bonds. The addition of cornstarch in this recipe from Food Network helps to keep the cookie from spreading too much. The baking soda and baking powder team up to provide more lift in the oven than just one would alone.
You’ll want to treat the butter carefully for a cakey cookie: Softened butter is creamed with sugar to provide extra air pockets to trap the first round of leavening reactions before the gluten structures have fully formed. Creaming too little will not create sufficient airiness, whereas creaming too long will warm the butter and lose its effectiveness. The sweet spot is about 2 minutes of creaming on medium-low speed.
- 3¾ cups cake flour
- 2 tablespoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 sticks softened unsalted butter
- ¼ cups packed light brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 1½ cups semisweet chocolate chips
Directions: Whisk the flour, cornstarch, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a large bowl.
Beat the butter, brown sugar and granulated sugar in a bowl with a mixer on medium-low speed until fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Reduce the mixer speed to low; add the flour mixture in batches and beat until combined. Stir in the chocolate chips by hand. Press plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the dough and refrigerate at least 2 hours or preferably overnight.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Drop 2½-inch scoops of dough onto the prepared baking sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake until the cookies are barely golden around the edges, about 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Turn off the oven but keep the cookies inside for 5 more minutes to set. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool 10 minutes on the baking sheets, then transfer to a rack to cool completely.
4. Softest Chocolate Chip Cookies
Do you underbake your cookies every time to get that soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture? When faced with a package of store-bought cookies, are you unable to stop eating, even if you’re suspiciously eyeing the ingredient list? The good news is that you can make super soft cookies at home without rising salmonella and without weird ingredients and preservatives you can’t pronounce. The secret is corn syrup. Not high fructose corn syrup, but the normal kind. Corn syrup is a hygroscopic sugar, meaning it can really hold moisture.
As Kenji López-Alt found out in his insane cookie trials for the Serious Eats Food Lab, even the smallest bit of corn syrup can help your cookies become soft, wide, dark, and flexible. Why dark? Because corn syrup is made of simpler sugars than the granulated sort, and as long as the cookie gets up to 356 degrees Fahrenheit, it caramelizes quicker. This recipe from Love Life Eat is for all the cookie eaters out there who just want to be able to bend their cookie without it breaking — cookies in all their soft, gooey glory.
- 1⅔ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ plus ⅛ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon corn syrup
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 cup semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped
Directions: In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt. Meanwhile, cream butter and sugars in a stand mixer until smooth and pale, about 1 to 2 minutes. Add corn syrup and beat to combine. Beat in egg and vanilla.
Add flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix just to combine. Fold in the chocolate chips and mix until incorporated. Cover with palstic wrap and transfer to the fridge to chill for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll 1½-ounce balls of dough and set onto prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between each. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit until firm, about 15 to 20 minutes.
Place the chilled baking tray on center rack and bake until golden, 10 to 11 minutes. Let cookies cool on baking sheet for about 1 minute, then use a thin spatula to transfer to a wire rack. Let cool completely.
5. Butterscotchy Chocolate Chip Cookies
This is the most finicky cookie, but maybe the most delicious. J. Kenji López-Alt, the editor-in-chief of Serious Eats and our favorite mad cookie scientist, once went through more than 32 pounds of flour and over 100 batches of cookies to find a cookie that is, as he explains it, “barely crisp around the edges with a buttery, toffee-like crunch that transitions into a chewy, moist center that bends like caramel, rich with butter and big pockets of melted chocolate. Cookies with crackly, craggy tops and the complex aroma of butterscotch. And of course, that elusive perfect balance between sweet and salty.” If that gets your mouth watering, he has some tips. The first thing you need is a lot of patience, because this is not a quick fix.
To start building a nutty flavor, brown the butter and then cool it almost completely. You’ll need to add the moisture you lost when you browned the butter if you don’t want a super crunchy cookie, so you’ll throw an ice cube in to kill two birds with one stone. You don’t want to dissolve the sugar, because then you won’t get all those lovely, craggy cracks on the top of the cookie. Kenji likes intense chocolate flavors and big pockets of melty goodness, so he hand chops chocolate to produce both shards and chunks. To really improve flavor, you’ll need to rest the dough overnight. This helps the proteins and sugars in the flour become more available for browning into nuttiness and caramelizing into butterscotchy goodness.
- 2 sticks unsalted butter
- 1 standard ice cube
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt
- ¾ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons tightly packed dark brown sugar
- 8 ounces semisweet chocolate, roughly chopped with a knife into ½- to ¼-inch chunks
- Coarse sea salt, for garnish
Directions: Melt butter in a medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook, gently swirling pan constantly, until particles begin to turn golden brown and butter smells nutty, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and continue swirling the pan until the butter is a rich brown, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to a medium bowl, whisk in ice cube, transfer to refrigerator, and allow to cool completely, about 20 minutes, whisking occasionally.
In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Place granulated sugar, eggs, and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on high speed until pale and the mixture falls from the whisk in thick ribbons when lifted from the bowl, about 5 minutes.
Switch to the paddle attachment. When brown butter mixture has cooled and is just starting to turn opaque again, add it and brown sugar to egg mixture in stand mixer. Mix on medium speed to combine, about 15 seconds. Add flour mixture and mix on low speed until just barely combined but some dry flour still remains, about 15 seconds. Add chocolate and mix on low until dough comes together, about 15 seconds longer. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate dough at least overnight and up to 3 days.
When ready to bake, adjust oven racks to upper and lower middle positions and preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Using a 1-ounce ice cream scoop or a spoon, place scoops of cookie dough onto a nonstick or parchment-lined baking sheet. Each ball should measure approximately 3 tablespoons in volume and you should be able to fit 6 to 8 balls on each sheet. Transfer to oven and bake until golden brown around edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking.
Remove baking sheets from oven. While cookies are still hot, sprinkle very lightly with coarse salt and gently press it down to embed. Let cool for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool completely.
Repeat with all remaining cookie dough.