Want to Change the Way You Bake? We do. And no, we’re not talking about adopting eight sourdough starters or making cakes with a sous vide machine. We’re talking about smart, savvy, and totally simple tricks that change everything. Or, you know, at least your next batch of baked goods.
Chocolate chip cookies are already perfect, so how do you make them even better? Bakers have been answering this question with new recipes for over a century. (Toll House boasts that Ruth Wakefield debuted her now-famous cookies 81 years ago, but head to Stella Parks’ award-winning cookbook BraveTart for the untold history of chocolate chip cookies, which actually dates back to the late 1800s.)
Search “Chocolate Chip Cookies” on our site and you’ll find—let’s see—a lot of results. All smartypants in their own right! For example:
But! My favorite chocolate chip cookie hack right now is none of these. It’s even simpler and, dare I say, even more obvious: Use different types of chocolate.
The chocolate chip cookie recipe that all other chocolate chip cookies shall be measured against—hi, hello Toll House—uses semi-sweet morsels. But what is semi-sweet chocolate? And what is a morsel? And why should this variety get to have all the fun, huh?
Well, semi-sweet chocolate and bittersweet (which sometimes goes by “dark”) chocolate are not, technically speaking, all that different. According to the FDA, the only requirement for both is that they contain at least 35 percent cacao, so it really depends on the manufacturer what you're going to get. Which means that you could buy a “dark” chocolate expecting a deeply bitter flavor, but get something just as sweet as semisweet. Which is to say: Read the labels and see if you can figure out the percentages yourself; this number will communicate just how sweet or bitter your chocolate will be.
Now, about those morsels. I like to think of this shape, now iconic to the Toll House chocolate chip cookie, as a teeny-tiny, itty-bitty Hershey’s kiss. Because it’s a factory-made product, each one is exactly the same.
The irony is: It’s called a chocolate chip cookie, not a chocolate morsel cookie. When you chop a larger block of chocolate into literal chips, they’re inevitably irregular, yielding a cookie with big pockets of chocolate, wispy streaks, and everything in between.
Despite being raised on the Toll House version (very happily, too—thanks Mom!), I ditched semi-sweet morsels years ago for one reason: I wanted more control. (To know me is to not be surprised by this.) I wanted more control of the chocolate intensity (60 percent cacao or more became my go-to). And I wanted more control of the shape, too (any knife and cutting board does the trick).
But I never thought to mix and match chocolates until I met Julia and Thomas Blaine.
Head with me to North Carolina for a minute. You’re in the countryside, driving along tree-lined roads that roll up, down, up, down, like a roller coaster, until you reach a ranch house. It’s the humble headquarters of Strong Arm Baking.
Bakers are a tight-knit crew in this section of the south and, after I started working as one myself, it didn’t take long for me to meet Julia and Thomas and spend time in their kitchen, where they churn out some of the best-tasting baked goods I’ve ever had. Like, ever. That’s where I learned their chocolate chip cookie secret: equal parts dark and milk chocolate, by weight.
“We wanted dark for richness, and milk for candy flavor and creamy qualities,” Julia told me. “The dark chocolate has to be super high quality, and pack a punch without adding much sweetness. But the milk is all about tempering the richness. It calms the chocolate level down a bit and adds new flavor.”
Their brand of choice is Callebaut for both, but the shape and percentages couldn’t be more different. For the dark, they use 60 percent morsels. For the milk, a 30 percent bar that they chop by hand.
Just because? Of course not.
The morsels are “for consistency,” to keep the sharp, bitterness of the dark chocolate in check. Meanwhile, chopping the milk chocolate “gives us widely varying sizes.” The tiny shavings, Julia explained, “add a caramelized quality to the dough,” while larger pieces “create big, beautiful pools of chocolate.”
My favorite part? You can apply this trick to literally any chocolate chip cookie recipe. Just take the weight of chocolate recommended and swap in equal parts of dark and milk. Or heck, swap in whatever ratio of whatever chocolates you want.
In BraveTart, Stella Parks also uses this blended-chocolate technique, calling for “mixed dark, milk, and/or white chocolate,” leaving the specifics up to you.
I reached out to Stella and asked when she started using this technique:
"For most of my professional career," she told me, "since restaurants and bakeries often stock all sorts of chocolate percentages and styles for various applications, in blocks or discs or batons." And in professional kitchens, nothing goes to waste. "All that sort of stuff needs to get used up, and chocolate chip cookies are a pretty reliable/low stakes home for all that chocolate."
Like Julia and Thomas, Stella loves the way combining chocolates yields a standout taste: "It creates such an interesting depth of flavor and complexity."
Of course, she pointed out, not mixing chocolate isn't a deal-breaker: "It's not that cookies can't be great with one type of chocolate, but in that case it better be great because every bite is exactly the same."
In other words? Mixing varieties takes the pressure off the chocolate to be super-duper high quality. (Your wallet can thank you later.) Because instead of focusing on Whoa, this is the best chocolate ever! you're being wow-ed by the dynamic, contrasting flavors:
Unlike Julia and Thomas, Stella "almost never" sticks to the same ratio of chocolates. "It really is a 'let's clean out the pantry' sort of affair where I'm just chucking stuff on the scale til I have enough. For me, that's part of the fun."
So the quality of the chocolate you use is important, and whether you buy morsels, chunks, or chop it yourself is also important. But what might be the most important is how you mix those varieties. The only question is: What combination will be just right for you?
There’s only one way to find out.
What makes a perfect chocolate chip cookie, to you? Tell, tell in the comments!