Change the Way You Bake

The ‘Why Didn’t I Think of That?’ Trick for the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

January 10, 2019

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?

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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.

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Top Comment:
“I am not a big fan of chunks of chocolate in my chocolate chip cookies, much preferring the "normal" size chips, either dark or bittersweet, when I can find them. The trick I find makes the kind of chocolate chip cookies I prefer is to use more brown sugar (preferably dark) than white, melting or making the butter very soft, and letting the sugars dissolve into the butter before proceeding. If one has time and/or patience, refrigerating the dough for 15 or 20 minutes is helpful in reducing the spread of the cookies. It's funny how a recipe so basic, one that most of us have probably been making since we were old enough to be allowed to use the oven, is still being tested, poked and prodded to get them "just right."”
— Rosalind R.
Comment

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:

"Each bite can be a little more exciting, ooh, here's a big nugget of that caramely milk chocolate, and ahh, this next bite is so dark and fruity."
Stella Parks

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!

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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Phyllis E Apkarian-Gaumond
    Phyllis E Apkarian-Gaumond
  • Rosalind Russell
    Rosalind Russell
  • Marjorie E Krahn
    Marjorie E Krahn
  • abbyarnold
    abbyarnold
  • Becky Moosbrugger
    Becky Moosbrugger
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Emma is a writer and recipe developer at Food52. Before this, she worked a lot of odd jobs, all at the same time. Think: stir-frying noodles "on the fly," baking dozens of pastries at 3 a.m., reviewing restaurants, and writing articles about everything from how to use leftover mashed potatoes to the history of pies in North Carolina. Now she lives in Maplewood, New Jersey with her husband and their cat, Butter. Stay tuned every Tuesday for Emma's cooking column, Big Little Recipes, all about big flavor and little ingredient lists. And see what she's up to on Instagram and Twitter at @emmalaperruque.

42 Comments

Phyllis E. May 6, 2019
I would think that a tablespoon or 2 of espresso powder or strong coffee would bring out chocolate flavor. I admit, though, have not made cookies since being gluten free.
 
Rosalind R. April 29, 2019
I am not a big fan of chunks of chocolate in my chocolate chip cookies, much preferring the "normal" size chips, either dark or bittersweet, when I can find them. The trick I find makes the kind of chocolate chip cookies I prefer is to use more brown sugar (preferably dark) than white, melting or making the butter very soft, and letting the sugars dissolve into the butter before proceeding. If one has time and/or patience, refrigerating the dough for 15 or 20 minutes is helpful in reducing the spread of the cookies. It's funny how a recipe so basic, one that most of us have probably been making since we were old enough to be allowed to use the oven, is still being tested, poked and prodded to get them "just right."
 
Marjorie E. February 5, 2019
When using brown butter in choc chip cookies, do you add while it’s still melted? Or let harden before adding? If added while melted, does the increased liquid require adjustments to the recipe?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. February 5, 2019
Hi Marjorie! After browning butter, stick it in the fridge to re-solidify, then use it once it reaches a solid but softish consistency. I like to pour the brown butter into a measuring cup, to make up for any evaporated moisture. So, if the recipe calls for 1/2 cup butter—and you melt 1/2 cup butter for browning, you'll probably end up with slightly less brown butter (because of the evaporated water); just pour the browned butter in a measuring cup and add enough water to once again reach the 1/2 cup mark. Hope this helps!
 
abbyarnold January 20, 2019
I've been doing this for years, chopping at least some of the chocolate from a big bar from Trader Joe's or elsewhere. By chopping, you get all those good shavings and dust that are then throughout the cookie. I use Pam Anderson's recipe and freeze the dough balls before baking. Our family calls them "soccer cookies" because when the kids were young, I brought them to the first soccer game of the season to set the standard for snacks. Ha-ha!
 
Becky M. January 15, 2019
Hi,
Is the recipe for the Classic Best Chocolate Chip Cookie a Crisp edge but soft center? Im looking for that texture.
 
Jennifer K. January 15, 2019
I don't know specifically about that recipe, but you might try a small test batch that replaces some of the butter with coconut oil. I made vegan chocolate chip cookies once for a vegan friend and subbed all butter for coconut oil. I would say it had the texture you describe, maybe too the extreme!
 
Becky E. January 21, 2019
Mix together till smooth:
1/2 c butter
1/2 c margarine (not spread)
2/3 c sugar
2/3 c brown sugar
1 t baking soda
1/2 t salt (I use smoked salt)
1 t vinegar
2 t vanilla

Mix in until smooth:
1 egg

Stir in 2 c all-purpose flour, then stir in 2 c chocolate of your choice.

Use parchment-lined pans, weighing down the sides with silverware if necessary. Use a disher, if possible, to make uniform balls of dough about 1 1/4" in diameter and at least 1 1/2" apart because they spread. Sprinkle a few smoked salt flakes on top of each.

Bake 8-12 minutes at 375 degrees F, turning the pans halfway through if your oven has hot spots. If baking two pans at a time, switch the top and bottom pans so each gets a turn getting crisp edges on the bottom rack. Check often towards the end and pull the cookies out as soon as the edges are nice and brown and the middles are just losing their glossiness. Cool until set on the pans (about 5 min.), then on cooling racks.

Note: when you first take these from the oven, they'll look alarmingly cakey and you might be tempted to bake them longer to firm them up. Don't-- they fall and flatten as they cool, becoming chewy in the middle and crisp around the edges once the melted sugar sets.

 
Rosalind R. April 29, 2019
seriouseats did tests ("the science of the best chocolate chip cookies") of all the variations of butter/oil/shortening, proportions of different sugars (more brown than white, more white than brown) that may provide you the information you're looking for. There are a bunch of other sites that have done similar testing but, for my money, seriouseats takes cooking/baking as seriously as one could hope.
 
Gina B. January 15, 2019
Are you sharing Strongarm Bakery's chocolate chip cookie recipe or your approximation of it? It looks delish. And for the record, I think recipes that are described as divine should be shared.
 
Rita S. January 15, 2019
I totally agree. Why bother showing these decadent chocolate chip cookies without sharing the recipe.
 
Jana L. January 15, 2019
I use Callebaut chocolate chopped from the block. I get thin shards and thick chunks. It’s my favorite chocolate. I also salt the tops. I under bake slightly as I prefer crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Brown butter is also a potential addiction for me. The smell alone makes me weak in the knees!
 
Ttrockwood January 13, 2019
For vegan butter the best one is Earth Balance, they also make it in sticks for easy measuring.
I now swear by the overnight rest technique ever since the NY Times recipe which might be my ultimate choco chip cookie. The Ovenly recipe is the other most favorite.

I grew up making the tollhouse recipe with my mom- she used half butter and half crisco to get a taller cookie, (all butter are more flat) and also keeping total amount of sugar the same but more brown sugar than white so they were more chewy than crispy.
And of course all of them get chopped walnuts.
 
Nancy January 13, 2019
Thank you! I see kerrygold butter...pure Irish butter? I picked up organic valley.😁
 
Nancy January 12, 2019
Hello...any suggestions on what to use when recipe calls for butter, margarine? Best brands?
I tried Crisco shortening once, made cookies very crunchy.
Does salted, unsalted butter make a difference.

Thanks..a cookie lover!
 
Kathryn S. January 12, 2019
I would always stick with real butter. You just can't beat the flavor and texture and Crisco is...well....hydrogenated oil. No bueno. Just stick with butter, unsalted works best but if all you have is salted, you can use it, just omit any salt from the recipe. Happy baking! 😊
 
Kathryn S. January 12, 2019
Oh and if you can spring for it organic butter is really tasty! The darker yellow the butter the better. I love Kerrygold and Organic Valley.
 
Jennifer K. January 11, 2019
My genius chocolate chip cookie trick is to add shaved chocolate. It takes a little longer, but every bite is extra chocolately and they always seem melty and gooey even after cooling. Oh, and top with salt before baking.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 14, 2019
Fun! What do you use to shave the chocolate—a vegetable peeler or something else?
 
Jennifer K. January 14, 2019
I have used a cheese grater before, but I find what works best is just using a knife to very thinly chop/slice it. I usually use a block of baker's chocolate or a thicker dark chocolate for this so it's a little easier. It tends to break apart very thinly!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 14, 2019
Wow to a cheese grater! Love the sound of so many small, melty pieces...can't wait to try.
 
HalfPint January 17, 2019
Try making chocolate shavings with a bread knife. It’s how I do it. With a read knife I can cut large chucks and thin shavings.
 
Danielle January 11, 2019
I add a couple of teaspoons of corn starch to my chocolate chip cookie dough, it makes them really soft and thick! And an extra egg yolk and chill over night 🙂
 
Italia January 11, 2019
I use all 3 sugars, brown, white and sugar in the raw.... Brown butter ABSOLUTELY, powder milk and mixed, hand cut, good quality, high % cocao. Rest dough overnight.
 
Karen January 11, 2019
I have always used blocks of chocolate. I find it rewarding to chop the chocolate myself. Now, I like milk chocolate but when it comes to my chocolate chip cookie I omit milk chocolate altogether and I use a mix of semisweet and bittersweet chocolate (60%) I love the combination of the two. Each chocolate shines equally. For my coffee fix, I like to add a teaspoon of espresso powder. It only adds to the richness of my cookie.
 
KayTip January 11, 2019
I have put Milk Chocochips along with bread/cake flour in my CC cookie batter! Browned butter is a nice addition but takes more time! Brown sugars and white are great combos! The bakery I work at makes some of THE BEST cc cookies around! We have some add-Ins that make it one of The Best!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 11, 2019
Yum, I love brown butter in cookies, too!
 
Stephanie January 11, 2019
Wheres the Strong Arm recipe?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 11, 2019
Hi Stephanie! We don't have it on the site, but you can apply their smart tip to any chocolate chip cookie recipe.
 
Catherine H. January 11, 2019
I've made many, many tasty batches of scratch chocolate chip cookies back when my 2 kids were small! I even developed my own personal signature chocolate chip cookie recipe, which has long since been lost, but I never once thought to add different chocolate ingredients to my cookie dough! Wow, what a really lovely idea & the resulting cookies must taste really amazing...I'll pass it on!
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 11, 2019
Thanks, Catherine! I'm sure those are such special memories for your kids. My mom always made Toll House cookies, but they turned out different than everyone else's Toll House cookies, somehow; and of course I liked her way best!
 
Kathryn S. January 10, 2019
My top tips- Use brown butter, really mix your butter and sugar for a while-5 minutes!, use both brown sugar AND white, use one yolk and one full egg, and chill dough at least a 2 hours or better, overnight.
 
Poune B. January 10, 2019
Awesome tips , thank you Kathryn.😄😄😄😄😄
 
Kathryn S. January 11, 2019
Thanks! I forgot the best tip of all....when you can't wait for your batter to sit overnight, roll out 3 or 4 cookies to bake just for yourself! ;)
 
Sheryl W. January 10, 2019
Adding walnut pieces...
 
Ramona W. January 10, 2019
Add about half a cup of crushed ruffles potato chips. Trust me on this.
 
Eric K. January 10, 2019
I do that!!
 
Ramona W. January 10, 2019
Awesome 🤗
 
Eric K. January 10, 2019
Ruffles are the best.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. January 11, 2019
I've done this a couple times before and loved it!