There are a lot of decisions that go into making the best chocolate chip cookies. Do you ever stand at your kitchen counter, looking at a recipe thinking “what’s the big deal about leaving my butter at room temperature? Can’t I just melt it?” Or a slew of other concerns? I’ve broken down three of the basic cookie enigmas to get to the reasons behind the recipe.
1. Why do I cream my butter and sugar?
When you start baking your cookies with soft butter, it allows for pockets of air to be created when combined at a rapid pace with the sugar. They say that this gives your cookies a better texture, that they come out with more body. But why? When the cookies are in the oven, the air from the creaming evaporates, and steam allows the dough to rise taller in the oven and become less dense. That’s why the cookies have a lighter texture when you cream the butter instead of melt it. For those who love cookies that crumble instead of sink into your teeth like paste, this is logical solution for you.
2. Why do I chill my dough?
What a bummer it is to reach the part of your chocolate chip cookie recipe where it says to chill your dough, either for a couple hours, or overnight. Don’t they know you’re craving these cookies right now, and have no time for dough firming? Kenji Lopez-Alt swears by leaving your dough to rest in the fridge overnight – and I got to hear it from the food scientist himself. He told me that’s the easiest way to enhance the flavor of your cookies. All the flour and starch proteins in the cookie have more time to break down when the dough is resting, creating a more intense butterscotchy cookie flavor. When the cookie bakes in the oven, these same proteins are breaking down anyway, but they get to go even further if you just give them more time to pre-game. This leaves you with maximum depth in your cookies.
3. Why heat the oven to 375°?
There are a lot of super cool chemical reactions that happen in the oven when your cookies are baking, that this TED Ed video illustrates very well. One of these reactions is caramelization, but this only happens at 356° F. At this temperature, the sugar molecules in the dough break down and create the nutty quality that caramel has. If your recipe calls for an oven set to 350°, this reaction won’t occur and your cookies will come out differently. The change in flavor is better or not, depending on personal preference, but it would be a good experiment to try out and see which you enjoy more.
There is an abundance of factors to consider when baking something as simple as chocolate chip cookies. These are the all-stars of basic cookie improvement that will help guide you in your next journey to the best chocolate chip cookies. Have a favorite recipe? Leave it below!