Saturday, September 12, 2015

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

    As some of you know, I've been on a journey for a few years now.  One that has lead me down many roads paved with gooey caramel, creamy peanut butter and into the streets of sugary sweetness.  I have climbed the highest of chocolate chunks,  strolled through the valley of milky ways and wandered through the hearty fields of "oaty" goodness.  All in search of the perfect cookie recipe.  One might ask why this tortured soul might endure such hardships in order to find the answer to one of life's greatest questions......which cookie truly reigns superior?  In a world full of countless, pin-worthy, bake-sale believing cookies all claiming to be the best....which one is King?  What is the truth....or is it all subjective? Okay, maybe that was a little melodramatic but never-the-less, when it comes to cookie perfection.....I have become a woman on a mission.  
        This mission began innocently enough after attending a family member's wedding in which each grandmother of the bride and groom baked their best cookie as a heartfelt and personal take-home favor for the party guests.  I remember thinking, "What a sweet tradition to hand down to your loved ones!" I decided then and there, I needed a signature cookie recipe to hand down to my daughter, Kennedy one day.

"Going back to Cali...Cali...Cali"...... Sonoma for a family wedding in which Kennedy was the flower girl.
Our family is no stranger to the dance floor....yep, my kid's the one busting out the splits in the background!  You know we totally owned it that night!!!!

     And so the journey began.  I'd been baking since childhood so I figured I had a pretty good grasp on what it took to make a great cookie.  First, I tried lots of different variations that I had always wanted to experiment with; things I thought would marry well in a recipe.  I even tried my own substitutions from time to time.  As I explored the world of confectionary creativity, certain common themes or guidelines became more visible to me in recipes.  There seemed to be a connection between these guidelines and the more popular cookie recipe combinations.  Things like "real butter", which I don't typically cook with, and "chilling dough overnight", which I refrained from mostly due to lack of planning on my part, became consistent cookie characteristics in all the best recipes.  Nevertheless, I put little thought or merit in these "suggestions" and continued to deviate from the recipe guidelines and forge my own way.  Because really, what does it matter if one baker does it one way and another prefers an alternative method?  Finally, after batch upon batch of "pretty good" cookies.....I bit the bullet, buckled down and took things more seriously.  I decided to take these "common threads" interwoven into so many great recipes not as helpful tips and suggestions but as basic baking rules and guidelines.  And when I my surprise and delight, the results were glorious, gooey cookie goodness!
     If you're wondering why this post about cookies seems to be written with so much conviction, its because I realize that in the past, my own life has displayed a mirror image of this cookie journey.  For many years, I based each day on what I thought was right.  I was guided by my own sense of purpose and preference.  I had developed into a "pretty good" cookie on my own but I couldn't help but notice other "excellent" young women  and how they seemed to thrive and live  in a way I deeply longed for.  And like the excellent cookie recipes, they all shared common traits.....time with God, disciplined study of the word and serious practice of the everyday principles Jesus preached about.  And just like the cookies, when I put each of these simple, time-tested principles to practice I was amazed at how dramatically superior the results were.  Because only God can take a gooey bowl of "semi-sweet" mess and with a little warmth, turn it into something worthy of passing down to our most precious blessings; our children and loved ones.
Kennedy selling cookies to the golfers at her annual  "Cookie and Lemonade Stand".
   I'm still a recipe in progress but I'm pleased to say the Holy Spirit is making positive adaptions in me every day!  As for the actual cookie recipe, I have comprised a list of common guidelines I learned throughout this process and have listed them as well as my best cookie recipe for you below.  I call them my "Cookie Commandments".  Enjoy : )

The Cookie Commandments
1.)Always use butter (unsalted) not margarine.  No excuses, the taste and quality is unmatched by any other substitution and the cookies will not turn out the same if you don't!
2.) Butter temperature must have recently arrived at room temperature.  Plan ahead.... cold, cool or warmed in the microwave butter will all give inferior results as will butter that has been at room temperature for too long and has gotten too warm and melted.  
*There has been an influx lately of browned butter recipes.  These are not interchangeable with softened butter recipes and vice-versa. Each recipe has its own configuration so for best results you must stay consistent with each*
3.). Eggs must also be at room temperature.
4.). When creaming sugar and butter, do NOT over-beat by mixing any longer than 2 minutes. I set a timer so I don't get distracted.  Over-beating will mix too much air into the dough causing the cookies to spread too much during the baking process.  
5.). Use the scoop and sweep method for measuring your flour.  Unless you weigh your ingredients, the truest way to accurately measure your flour is to scoop it freely out of a large bowl/container and gently sweep off the top.  Otherwise, too much flour packs into the cup leaving a dense, cakey texture for your cookie instead of the chewy crispness you crave!
6.) Understand the cause and effects of white versus brown sugar and conscientiously choose proper sugar-to-brown sugar ratios to ensure you get your desired texture.  A recipe with a higher white sugar content will produce a
crunchier, crispier cookie.  Alternatively, a recipe with a higher brown sugar 
content will produce a softer, chewier cookie with a slight hint of caramel flavor. 
7.). Understand the difference between baking powder and baking soda and the cause and effects of each.  Both are leaveners; however, due to the differing ingredients they create different effects.  They ARE NOT interchangeable!  Bottom line, stick to the recipe or risk throwing off the balance between the base and acidic mixture leaving you with a disappointing result.
8.). Always use fresh baking soda (it usually expires and becomes inactive around the 3 month mark)
9.). Always use high-quality chocolate!  Don't skimp!  You're treating yourself so make it count and do it right!!!!!  A good rule of thumb is to only bake with chocolate you would eat on its own. (I realize some have less discrepancy in this assessment than others ; )
10.). Use good, quality vanilla.
11.) Chill dough for at least 2 hours in fridge or and hour in the freezer.  This will allow you to easily scoop out firm, well-packed dough balls that are more aesthetically pleasing as well!
12.)  Bake cookies on parchment paper.  It allows the cookies to bake all the way through without burning on the bottom.
13). Use a spring hinge cookie scoop! Not only does it make your cookies look professional but it consistently allows you to scoop out identical sizes ensuring you don't under or over bake part of the batch.
14.) Strategically place chocolate chips or mix-ins on top of cookies just before 
baking in the oven to give your cookies the beautiful "bakery" look.
Just take a look at those beautiful, humungous scoops!  They look like they should go on top of a waffle cone! (actually, that's not a bad idea!)

My little kitchen helper strategically placing chocolate chips on top.  No surprise there ended up being far fewer chips on top of each cookie than I had so perfectly planned ; )

 Our recipes may not always come out flawlessly but the memories we're making are sheer perfection!

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie 
3/4 cup of butter (room temperature)
3/4 cup of brown sugar
1/2 cup white sugar
2 eggs
2 cups AP flour
1/4 cup oat flour (oats ground in ninja, blender or food processor)
tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips plus 1/4 cup more for garnish

1.)  In a medium bowl, whisk flour, oat flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.
2.)  In a large bowl, cream butter and sugars until light and fluffy but remember not to go over your 2 minute mark!  Beat in eggs and vanilla one at a time.
3.)  Carefully stir your flour mixture into your butter mixture and mix until just combined. 
4.)  Fold in chocolate chips, cover dough bowl and chill in fridge for at least an hour or 30 minutes in freezer.
5.) When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and remove dough from fridge.
6.) Using a large cookie scoop, scoop out dough balls and place on parchment lined cookie sheets. (I baked 6 large cookies on each sheet)
7.)  Strategically place chips on top of dough balls for decoration and bake for 10-12 minutes or until cookies are just golden on the edges but still soft in the middle.
8.)  Allow cookies to cool completely before removing from pan. Enjoy with friends, family and a cold glass of milk ; )
*makes 16-20 large cookies*

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