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When she has the kitchen all to herself, Phyllis Grant of Dash and Bella cooks beautiful iterations of what solo meals were always meant to be: exactly what you want, when and where you want them.
Year round, my freezer is a treasure trove of sweet treats. Often, when friends come over, they walk right past me, head into the kitchen, and start foraging around until ahhhh yes they find what they’re looking for: chocolate chip cookies. They take a huge bite and sigh out a thing or two from this list:
Can I live at your house? In your freezer? With those cookies?
They need ice cream.
They’re so you.
They make me happy.
They are the reason I come over to your house.
I’ll trade you some for a bottle of gin.
Can I have another?
(Full disclosure: There are a few dissenters who think my cookies are too big, overly packed with chocolate chips, and that I should be drawn and quartered for using nuts.)
As a child, I would watch my mom cream the butter, pack down the brown sugar, meditatively scrape the dough off the sides of the mixing bowl. She would meticulously portion out the first two trays of cookies, slide them into the oven, and then dive in for her first taste of dough. All manner of composure would drop away as she fell into an altered state of cookie-dough-eating bliss. All I wanted was to have what she was having. To make what she was making. So she taught me to sift the flour, carefully pour the vanilla extract (never over the mixing bowl!), and follow the directions (with a few of her special tweaks) on the back of the Toll House bag. And now, 40 or so years down the road, a thousand cookie batches later, I have my own recipe, one that has shifted and aged, along with me, and I like to think it has settled into some sort of a lovely middle-aged kickassedness.
In case you’re a Toll House Cookie junkie, let me talk you through how I stray from the classic. Some of my changes are very straightforward: a touch less flour, more brown sugar, less white sugar, extra vanilla, and more nuts (finely chopped). And I really crank up the amount, size, and intensity of the chocolate chips by using a combination of both big and little morsels, half bittersweet and half semisweet.
I have a trick that helps prevent over-mixing. I add the sifted dry ingredients in four batches. When the fourth batch is only partially mixed in, I toss in the nuts and chocolate chips, using the paddle to mix it all together. The nuts and chips get a bit crushed, resulting in a more even distribution of the goodies. This is a good thing.
I would argue that the most important modification I’ve made to this recipe is cooking time. Sort of like when you want rare lamb chops but you have to be be brave and take them off the heat early because they will continue to cook. Same deal with these cookies; you must take them out of the oven when they’re still raw in the center. People will tell you you’re crazy. Ignore them. This way you will have a gooey interior and a crispy outer border. Dreamy.
If you’re saving some dough, scoop it into balls using an ice cream scoop, place them on a sheet pan, and freeze. Once firm, transfer the balls to a Ziploc bag. You can bake them off anytime, even when they’re frozen solid. Maybe one cookie at a time to enjoy with red wine late at night while watching “Homeland.” Or all at once for a pile of ice cream sandwiches. Keep your freezer filled with chocolate chip cookie dough. Because you never know.
It’s a basic enough recipe for any man, woman, or child to successfully execute. So start with my guidelines, adjust it over time, and let it evolve into your very own perfect recipe.
Makes 24 cookies (2 ounces each)
2 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups regular semisweet chocolate chips
1 cup large bittersweet chocolate chips
1 1/2 cups walnuts, finely chopped
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 cup light or dark brown sugar, tightly packed
1/2 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Photos by Phyllis Grant
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