The truth about sex and pizza also applies to chocolate chip cookies: There are many, many ways to make them (over 50 recipes on this site alone), and even the bad ones are at least a little pleasurable to eat.
But something that is perhaps specific to chocolate chip cookies: They are rarely very, very good.
"Very, very good" means different things to different people, of course. Some crave tall and cakey cookies, others like them flat and lacy. There are gooey-chewy advocates in this corner, and crispy-crumbly advocates in the other. My ideal cookie? It has a slightly soft center, crisp edges, notes of butterscotch, a shiny, crackled top, and pockets of molten chocolate throughout. Oh, and it has to be so good that it makes all other cookies seem pitiful in comparison.
Related: Do you know these cookie facts?
So I started baking. I had just a few parameters: no added ingredients (like walnuts, oats, or peanut butter) and no required overnight rest. Yes, I know, there's intel out there that a rest can develop a dough's flavors. But waiting for a cookie to cool is torture enough—who has the will power to wait a full 24 hours before even baking them?
I began my quest for Our Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie by baking eight of the highest-rated chocolate chip cookies on Epicurious and holding a tasting for our editors. (I also threw in a batch of everyone's childhood favorite for comparison.) Together we analyzed what we liked (and didn't like) about each one, then I hit the kitchen to create a Frankenrecipe, a recipe that takes the best elements from each cookie and combines them all into one. 18 batches of cookies later, I created a recipe that I would gladly make 18 times again. Here's what I learned along the way.
BUTTER GIVES COOKIES TENDER CENTERS, CRISP EDGES, AND TONS OF FLAVOR
An interesting point was made by one of our editors in the first tasting: the wider, more buttery cookies (like those Toll House beauties) felt more homemade, and more like an Epicurious ideal. The ones with less butter had a cakier texture and felt more store-bought and less (as one editor put it) "friendly."
I learned through testing that beating melted butter with sugar produces a denser, flatter cookie, while beating room temperature butter with sugar whips air into the mixture and produces a lighter, fluffier cookie. (Note: When Epi recipes say 'room temperature' butter, we mean butter that easily yields to a thumbprint, but is not warm enough to be greasy or melting.) These chocolate chip cookies had a nice butterscotch flavor and crisp edge, so I used them as a jumping off point for our flour-to-butter ratio. The team and I also liked their size, which butter helps to determine as well, as it dictates the spread of a cookie while it bakes. See a recipe that calls for shortening? Run away. In my opinion, shortening's unpleasant mouthfeel and pasty flavor had no business in these cookies.
USE A ONE-TO-ONE RATIO OF GRANULATED TO LIGHT BROWN SUGAR
We tried cookies with just granulated sugar: too flat, too brittle. Just light brown sugar: too wet, too soft. Just dark brown sugar: overwhelming molasses flavor. These chocolate chunk cookies had an almost one-to-one ratio of granulated to light brown sugar that set us on the right track. Equal parts of these sugars brings a nice balance of crispness and moistness with just the right amount of caramel flavor.
BAKING SODA AND BAKING POWDER GO HAND IN HAND
I like to think of leavener in baking as being like the perfect bra. You want just the right amount of lift to avoid droopiness, but not so much that it seems artificial. Baking soda is powerful stuff—three to four times more powerful than baking powder. Not only does it react with acid (found here in brown sugar) to inflate the cookie dough, it also helps with browning. Baking powder is more gentle and doesn't need an acid to activate. It also provides double acting leavening power, which means it reacts twice: once when combined with liquid and once when heated in the oven during baking. This double lift ensures a light and fluffy cookie crumb. Too much baking soda or powder in a recipe can give your cookies an unpleasant metallic taste; not enough can leave them flat and pale. The team and I tried recipes with just baking soda and just baking powder, but thought the blend in these Salty Chocolate Chunk Cookies yielded the best cookie structure and browning.
GET YOUR FLOUR LEVEL JUST RIGHT
The perfect cookie has to have all its components in harmony, and that includes the flour. Too much flour and your cookies will be too dense, too cakey, and have a more "store-bought" texture. Too little flour and you'll miss out on a wonderful craggy, irregular texture. And wheat flour? It has a distracting nutty flavor. Chocolate chip cookies are all about pleasure, kids—this is not the time to try to be healthy.
CONTROL YOUR CHOCOLATE
I know they're called chocolate chip cookies, but as these cookies taught me, I really prefer chopping my own chocolate chunks. Our test kitchen found higher-quality options and superior meltability in hand-chopped chocolate bars over purchased chocolate chips (which have stabilizers to prevent melting). Once you've had a cookie with unpredictable nooks and crannies oozing with molten chocolate you really can't go back. Here's a tip if you want your chunks to act more like chips: try gently shaking them in a fine mesh strainer to remove the small shavings before folding the chocolate in. This step will give your cookies a "cleaner" look. And when you're aiming for perfection, looks count.
Get the recipe for the Epicurious Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie here.