Bake

The Chocolate Chip Cookies That Changed the Way I Bake

July 22, 2019
Photo by Bobbi Lin

Sarah Kieffer started banging sheet pans in ninth grade. She was going through “a cookie phase,” trying to find the perfect chocolate chip recipe, and one of them wasn’t working out. While most cookies spread in the oven, this one stayed put.

“It was just this ball of dough that didn't fall, so I hit the pan in the oven because I was mad,” she told me over the phone. “That helped.” The cookies deflated, thinned out, and spread more.

Lifting the pan, then banging it down, forces cookies to breathe out all their hot air and become less puffy and cakey.

It was an aha moment for Kieffer. She loved how pan-banging set the cookies’ edges, encouraged a gooey center, and, most of all, set off a wave of concentric ripples, like dropping a stone into a puddle. From then on, she “started incorporating it into almost every cookie recipe.”

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Top Comment:
“I think they look delicious. They are a nice change from the run of the mill soft doughy cookie you can get anywhere. ”
— Mary
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These days, Kieffer is a cookbook author and award-winning blogger. She can frost a layer cake like nobody’s business and roll cinnamon buns for days. But she’s known for her chocolate chip cookies. You know the ones, right?

Kieffer developed the recipe for months (yes, months) while working on The Vanilla Bean Baking Book, but “did not expect them to take off at all.”

You can guess what happened next. Almost a year after her book was published, Kieffer’s cookies took off. So much so, that The New York Times dubbed them “internet-famous.” The secret to their Instagram-good looks, Julia Moskin reported, is pan-banging.

But is any cookie pan-bangable?


There are nearly 90 million chocolate chip cookie recipes on the internet. Though it may not be the original (another story, best told in Stella Parks’s book BraveTart, the most iconic is Toll House, from which many recipes are derived. As Dorie Greenspan writes in Baking: from my home to yours, her Best Chocolate Chip Cookies are “Toll House cookies’ kin” with “nips, tucks, tweaks, and variations,” like less baking soda and a reworked white-to-brown sugar ratio.

Kieffer’s recipe, on the other hand, goes beyond nips and tucks. Both Toll House’s and her version start with two sticks (1/2 pound) of unsalted butter. Then this happens:

So, is it just pan-banging that sets these cookies apart? Or do all these other factors come into play?

According to Kieffer, her ingredient list creates “the perfect storm of wrinkles.” Just enough baking soda to puff (which means the banging can deflate), with added water to encourage spreading.

“A lot of people try it on other recipes and it doesn't work the same,” she told me. “It needs to be a cookie that's not supposed to be cakey.”

This is something she’s been thinking about a lot, as she works on her upcoming cookbook. Titled 100 Cookies, it will be published by Chronicle Books in fall 2020. And, yes, “There will be a whole chapter with pan-banging recipes.”


The general rule is: Pan-bang crispy-chewy cookies (like chocolate chip), not soft-cakey ones (like pumpkin) or crumbly bar ones (like shortbread). But the reality is: Pan-banging a random crispy-chewy cookie probably won’t yield as many ripples as Kieffer’s recipe, nor will it create that crackly top, crunchy crust, gooey center, and DVD shape.

But why not? I had to find out. So, I made dozens of cookies to get to the bottom of all this.

In each batch, I altered one of the standout variables of Kieffer’s recipe—making it closer to the Toll House version—and compared the results. Here’s what I learned:

Photo by Emma Laperruque
Pan-Banging

Original: After 10 minutes of baking, “lift the side of the baking sheet up about 4 inches and gently let it drop down against the oven rack, so the edges of the cookies set and the inside falls back down...After the cookies puff up again in 2 minutes, repeat lifting and dropping the pan. Repeat a few more times to create ridges around the edge of the cookie.”
Experiment: Skip this step.
Takeaway: What happens if you don’t pan-bang the pan-banging cookies? They end up thicker, with a smaller surface area—but, get this, they’re still wrinkly as heck. Which means the other factors below count for a lot when it comes to ripple formation.

Flour

Original: 2 cups all-purpose
Experiment: 2 ¼ cups all-purpose flour.
Takeaway: Just as you’d expect, increasing the flour made the cookies cakier, drier, and thicker. It also made them spread less and form fewer ripples when I banged them. All of which to say, it made them worse.

Eggs

Original: 1 egg.
Experiment: 2 eggs.
Takeaway: Like increasing the flour, increasing the eggs made the cookies cakier in consistency (eggs both leaven and dry out baked goods), and we missed the original’s fudgy middle. This batch spread significantly, even more than the original. The wrinkles were there, but low-key, like someone who is starting to wonder if they’re getting old after all.

Baking Soda

Original: ½ teaspoon.
Experiment: 1 teaspoon.
Takeaway: While these cookies were the ripple-iest of them all, we could taste the baking soda, and it didn’t taste great. Because baking soda neutralizes acidic batters and Kieffer’s recipe is notably low on acidic brown sugar, the Toll House amount was too much from a flavor point-of-view. On the bright side, they were extremely flat, wrinkly, and gooey in the center. This supports the theory that more rising means more falling means more ripples.

Water

Original: 2 tablespoons water.
Experiment: No added water.
Takeaway: Take away the water and you get a stodgier, sturdier cookie. It formed more ripples than expected and spread almost as much as the original (what the what?), though the cracks along the top and edge seemed to say, I’m thirsty! We liked its confident crust.

White-to-brown sugar ratio

Original: 1 ½ cups white sugar, ¼ cup brown sugar.
Experiment: Equal parts white and brown sugar.
Takeaway: These cookies were deeper in color, with a more toffee-y taste. They formed plenty of wrinkles and spread a lot. As Stella Parks explains over at Serious Eats, in recipes that call for baking soda—so, both the original and experiment—acidic brown sugar reacts, producing carbon dioxide, leading to puffier cookies. Neutral white sugar doesn’t react, leading to less puffy cookies. And in recipes that call for butter-and-sugar creaming—again, both of these—brown sugar creates fewer air pockets, yielding cookies that spread more. White sugar creates more air pockets, yielding cookies that spread less. All of this would make you think that Kieffer’s white sugar–heavy cookies would be thinner and spread less, while more brown sugar would be thicker and spread more. But the two were pretty dang similar on both accounts.

Chocolate & Nuts

Original: 6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate, no nuts.
Experiment: 12 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate, plus 1 cup chopped walnuts.
Takeaway: These cookies formed a bumpy, pebbly top, letting you know just how chock-full of mix-ins they were. Unfortunately, these mix-ins got in the way of the ripples, yielding a cookie that looked more everyday and less distinct. They were delicious, though.

Scoop Size

Original: Heaping ⅓ cup.
Experiment: 1 tablespoon.
Takeaway: These cookies were nearly eight times smaller than the original and it showed in more ways than just size. They lacked the wrinkles altogether, as well as the crispy-chewy contrast. The texture, in one word, was tacky. Kieffer’s oversized scoop encourages the cookies to bake unevenly, with the edges melting first and the mounded center holding out. This not only creates ripples, but avoids a one-note texture.

Freezing

Original: Freeze dough scoops on the sheet pan for 15 minutes before baking.
Experiment: Bake directly after scooping.
Takeaway: This batch had significantly fewer, smaller ripples than the original. Why? The same reason as the smaller scoop size (see above). Freezing the cookie dough, even for a short amount of time, encourages uneven baking, and uneven baking fosters ripples.


In many ways, Kieffer’s recipe has become its own sort of Toll House—a cookie that everyone is making right now.

Just like Dorie was inspired by Toll House, I was inspired by Kieffer to put my own nips and tucks on her pan-banging recipe. I tweaked the sugar ratio to lean more on brown, used less water, added more chocolate, sprinkled flaky salt on top, and adjusted the method to take place completely in the stand mixer.

But, just like the original, they’re all about the ripples.

Have you ever pan-banged cookies before? What happened? Discuss in the comments!

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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.

33 Comments

Kim August 17, 2019
Oh forgot to mention the need to refrigerate the dough for at leasr one hour.
 
Kim August 17, 2019
For those concentric circles, Martha Stewart uses black iron cookie sheets. They are really good for that. Cookies are baked directly on the pan, no parchment paper necessary; just cooking spray. She uses a 3/4 oz. ice cream scoop, 3 cookies per half-sheet ('cause they spread a lot) and bakes them at 375° (Fan) for 10 to 12 minutes on the middle rack (check after 10 minutes). Let them stay on the cookie sheet just for a minute or two, remove with a big spatula and cool completely on wire racks. Works every time without pan-banging!
 
susan H. August 17, 2019
i've made this recipe multiple times, and pan-banging works! we like crispy cookies, and this is the one. no one doesn't love this cookie!
 
Rhonda G. August 17, 2019
Pan banging - wow, I love this!! First time I’ve seen this method but I love a good banging & cant wait to try it!! I bake a chocolate chip pecan oatmeal cookie & smack the top of each cookie with a slotted turner when they start to get too fluffy. I love a crispy cookie. I use almond flour, coconut palm sugar (tastes just like brown sugar) & Splenda. Also use salted butter & add just a pinch of salt. Plan on using the above ingredients with the pan banging recipe & think they will be delicious!
 
ms. D. August 16, 2019
Sooooo frustrated. My mouth is watering wanting to make these but don't have a recipe. Sorry for commenting twice!
 
Tammy August 16, 2019
If you scroll back up & look under the photo & recipe name, click on “view recipe” and that’ll take you to the recipe in its entirety with directions
 
ms. D. August 17, 2019
Hi Tammy - there is nothing to see when I look under the photo & recipe name. Thanks anyway!
 
Tammy August 18, 2019
Hmm that’s odd...last resort if you really want the recipe is to go to The Vanilla Bean Blog and do a search for the recipe there! 😬
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 19, 2019
Hi! As Tammy noted, there's a recipe link on this page, toward the bottom. But here's the link that will take you right there: https://food52.com/recipes/81563-pan-banging-chocolate-chip-cookies-recipe-adaptation
 
ms. D. August 16, 2019
Why is there NO RECIPE???????
 
Priscilla L. August 16, 2019
You just missed the "Show recipe" button. Just hit that for the full recipe. All of the food52 articles follow this format.
 
Priscilla L. August 16, 2019
Sorry, that's "View recipe"
 
Tammy August 16, 2019
I subscribe to Sarah's The Vanilla Bean Blog and as soon as I saw the post about these pan banging ccc, I could not wait to try making them! They did not disappoint, they were soooo good, crispy edges just the way I like it and everyone I made them for agreed as they gobbled them up. I think the only people who weren't fans were my neighbors who had no idea what all the pan banging was about! :)
 
Hilary August 16, 2019
Can the baking soda be increased in this modified recipe since the ratio of brown sugar-to-white sugar is increased? Since there is more brown sugar, there would be more acidity present to neutralize the baking soda, no? I'm wondering if by increasing the baking soda, there would be more puffiness to bang into wrinkles.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. August 19, 2019
Hi Hilary! In my adaptation of Sarah's recipe, I liked the baking soda at 1/2 teaspoon (even with the increased brown sugar). You could certainly play around and see if you like it better with more baking soda, but it doesn't need it.
 
BerryBaby August 5, 2019
My simple solution is use Crisco instead of butter. No pan banging and they come out crispy.
 
Lamia A. August 17, 2019
Crisco is one of the worst things you can ingest.
 
susan H. August 17, 2019
oops. unhealthy.

 
rebeccab August 2, 2019
I can't wait to make these- just looking at them makes me hungry. I'm making the ones with the added choco and nuts, mmmm.
 
Mary T. July 31, 2019
I have recently been present for a long debate among foodies about how crisp and brown chocolate cookies should be. It never occurred to me how controversial all these details have become. I will try this recipe just for fun. Also, just a FYI, I read years ago that when the original Toll House cookie recipe was acquired (not sure by whom) the company eliminated the tiny bit of water Ruth the baker had added. Hmmmmm......
 
Amy July 30, 2019
Thank you for this detailed review of each tweak! Now I can understand how to get certain results I'm after.
 
Kathe July 28, 2019
Had to laugh- as a 10 year old 1946 - I used to bake till house cookies. Recipe in package. They were as described crisp with lots of wrinkles and a bit goodie in the center- they really spread out. Always wondered why the receptor no longer worked. I never thought of pan banging. I will have to give this a try. I do remember it was 2 cubes of butter and equal brown and white sugar. I do hope your recipe gives me the cookies I remember.
 
Negeen A. July 28, 2019
I cannot wait to try these. Just the texture I’ve been searching for! Thank you! About the water, though....do you suggest leaving it out or keeping it in?
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 29, 2019
Hi, thanks! Totally your call. I love Sarah's original recipe, which includes 2 tablespoons water. In my adaptation (linked above), I opted for 1 tablespoon. And the test batch with no water turned out good, too—just crustier.
 
Linda G. July 24, 2019
Do you have vegan chocolate chip recipe!? Thank you.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 24, 2019
Hi Linda, we do! They're from Ovenly bakery and our whole editorial team is obsessed with them: https://food52.com/recipes/39132-ovenly-s-secretly-vegan-salted-chocolate-chip-cookies
 
Adventure G. July 23, 2019
Made these last week. Very easy to assemble. Froze the dough for two days.. Instead of 1/3 cup scoop, used 1/4 cup scoop. Baked perfectly. Slightly smaller, but just as delicious. It was a pain, though, to stop and watch the oven and bang every two or so minutes.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 23, 2019
Cool to know that it works with a 1/4-cup scoop, too!
 
janet W. July 22, 2019
What would the recipe be for high altitude? I'm at 7200 ft.
 
Author Comment
Emma L. July 23, 2019
Hi! According to "The Baker's Appendix" by Jessica Reed, you would increase the flour by 6 tablespoons, decrease the granulated sugar by 3 tablespoons, decrease the brown sugar by 2 tablespoons, and decrease the baking soda by 1/4 teaspoon.
 
MaddieBakes July 22, 2019
Those are the most disgusting looking cookies I've ever seen, and my tummy hurts just LOOKING at them. They are the very cookie embodiment of diarrhea! This greasy buttery cookie trend needs to stop. Why has everyone in the world lost their minds and their taste buds??
 
Mary August 2, 2019
I think they look delicious. They are a nice change from the run of the mill soft doughy cookie you can get anywhere.
 
Linda G. August 17, 2019
So much negativity! Could say the same thing, only maybe with a little more nice in it?