Chocolate Chip Cookies

This Chocolate Chip Cookie Isn't Crispy or Chewy—It's Better

For his latest Kitchen Scientist column, Nik Sharma reimagines a classic sweet treat.

April 21, 2021

In The Kitchen Scientist, The Flavor Equation author Nik Sharma breaks down the science of good food, from rinsing rice to salting coffee. Today: your new favorite chocolate chip cookies.


I’m big on cookies, so much so that I consider them pantry staples. Can you even consider them pantry staples? That’s a debate for another day. But a cookie or three with afternoon tea is simply nonnegotiable.

If we were to sort cookies by texture, we could drop them into crisp like shortbread, chewy like oatmeal cookies, and smooth like Yo-Yos. Then we’ve got combo textures—chocolate chip cookies fall into this group.

Like a family cornbread recipe, chocolate chip cookies are highly personal. Some folks love them crispy, others prefer chewy, and others still like a mix (I like a mix).

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Found online custard powder and made the 2nd batch and added and added 1/2 cup cornstarch. Placed the mixture 30 min in the fridge before molding and baking. Its more like short bread cookie but tastes like chipsahoy. It's easy and my family's new favorite”
— brenda V.
Comment

Today, we’re making chocolate chip cookies that aren’t quite crispy, or chewy, or crispy-chewy. Thanks to a couple special ingredients—and science!—these new-fashioned cookies will melt in your mouth at first bite.

What Decides the Textural Fate of a Cookie?

It’s all about the ingredients and their ratios.

Most grain-based cookie recipes contain fat (like butter or shortening), sugar (say granulated or brown), flour (usually wheat), some kind of leavening agent (such as baking soda or baking powder, and in some instances both), a liquid binding agent (maybe milk), and sometimes eggs. Other ingredients focus on flavor (think vanilla or citrus zest) and texture (like chewy dried fruit or crunchy toasted nuts).

To make chocolate chip cookies with a singular, melt-in-your-mouth texture, we’ll need a couple ingredients that aren’t found in traditional recipes: custard powder and confectioners’ sugar. Let’s break them down one by one.

Custard Powder

Custard powder, as it is known in the U.K. and the rest of the Commonwealth nations, is primarily cornstarch with food coloring and flavorings like vanilla. In America, custard powder isn’t readily available in supermarkets, but another, almost identical product is: instant pudding mix. It is important to note that most brands of instant pudding in America contain added sugar, which will make your cookies taste sweeter.

In the U.K., custards are viscous sweet sauces. You will see them in desserts like trifles (layers of custard between cake and or fruit). Meanwhile, British puddings refer to sweets like cakes and tarts but also savory dishes, from Yorkshire pudding to black pudding. In America, pudding also refers to a range of dishes, from rice to bread, but pudding itself indicates a spoonable custard. (Learn more about British puddings and desserts at Project Britain.)

When custard powder is mixed with cold milk and heated, the cornstarch thickens (a process called gelatinization), binding with water and forming a gel. This gel transforms the milk into custard. There are a variety of custard powders and instant pudding mixes to choose from: Bird’s is popular in the U.K. I grew up eating Brown & Polson in India. And in America, we’ve got Jell-O and Dr. Oetker. You could also simply use cornstarch to thicken milk, and flavor the custard any way your heart desires.

But what if you use custard powder for something other than custard? Or instant pudding mix for something other than instant pudding?

In cookies, cornstarch (and in turn custard powder and instant pudding mix) does something special. It reduces the amount of gluten formation by nestling itself between the flour particles. This is a good thing, because too much gluten development in a cookie will make it tough and unpleasant to eat. Cornstarch also gelatinizes with the water present in the dough as the cookie bakes, leading to that tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture.

Confectioners’ Sugar

Typically we use granulated, superfine, or caster sugar for baking. But if you swap in confectioners’ sugar (aka powdered or icing sugar), the cookie’s texture will completely change.

Sugar does a few things in cookies. Besides adding sweetness, it prevents gluten formation and absorbs water from the dough and air. The sugar’s texture also affects the cookie’s texture.

The sugar particles’ size influences how fast they dissolve in the cookie batter. Large sugar crystals dissolve less quickly and leave behind large crystals, while confectioners’ sugar will dissolve rapidly and leave behind no visible traces of crystallization.

Of course, all of this depends on the ratio of the other ingredients in the recipe. Take for instance some of the cookies most of us are familiar with. If you make gingerbread cookies with granulated sugar, you can see those large crystals in the finished product because they don’t dissolve as well. In a chocolate chip cookie made with superfine sugar, you won’t necessarily see the crystals with your eyes, but because superfine sugar is made up of small crystals, you will notice how it contributes to a firm crispy or chewy texture.

Confectioners’ sugar takes it one step further. It’s made by grinding white sugar crystals. Because the particles are so tiny, they dissolve fast. They also occupy a smaller space between the flour and other ingredients in the cookie dough. In turn, the cookie dissolves faster in our mouths, tasting much smoother. Irish shortbread, for example, uses both confectioners’ sugar and a little bit of rice flour (a source of starch) to create that signature crumbly texture.

Confectioners’ sugar often contains anticaking agents, like cornstarch, to prevent the sugar from absorbing moisture and clumping. This additional cornstarch will also contribute to the cookie's incredible texture.

Your New Favorite Chocolate Chip Cookie

Now let’s put the science behind cornstarch and confectioners’ sugar to work in a new, deliciously smooth take on the chocolate chip. Unlike the classic crispy-chewy texture, this cookie melts in every bite, leaving behind bits of bittersweet chocolate. Good luck eating just one.

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate and Skimlinks affiliate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.

Have you tried adding custard powder to your chocolate chip cookies? Do you have a trick like this you’d like to share? Let us know in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • brenda V
    brenda V
  • Lori
    Lori
  • Mikki Ciombor
    Mikki Ciombor
  • charlieo
    charlieo
  • Charles
    Charles
Nik Sharma is a molecular biologist turned cookbook author and food photographer who writes a monthly column for Serious Eats and the San Francisco Chronicle and is a contributor to the New York Times. His first cookbook, Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food, was a finalist for a James Beard Foundation award and an International Association of Culinary Professionals award. Nik resides in Los Angeles, California and writes the award-winning blog, A Brown Table. Nik's new book, The Flavor Equation will be released in October 2020.

20 Comments

brenda V. May 8, 2021
Made the first batch without the custard powder and sub with potato powder. It wasn't chewy.
Found online custard powder and made the 2nd batch and added and added 1/2 cup cornstarch. Placed the mixture 30 min in the fridge before molding and baking. Its more like short bread cookie but tastes like chipsahoy. It's easy and my family's new favorite
 
Lori April 26, 2021
Love your stuff, Nik but these cookies--blech. You're not underestimating when you say pink/orange color! Maybe the custard powder is best experimented on a different type of cookie, my family almost staged a revolt. ;)
 
Mikki C. April 26, 2021
Very annoyed...why does the article offer a link to Pinterest if Food52 doesn't allow pins from their site???
 
janet V. April 27, 2021
I did not know that. Is that in print somewhere on the site? I could not find it.
 
Mikki C. April 28, 2021
I tapped the Pinterest logo in the top right of the article which takes o Pinterest. Once Pinterest loads, a massage comes up which states something along the lines of the originating site won’t permit a pin.
 
charlieo April 26, 2021
I am honestly not ranting. You've, sadly, missed the point about "Chocolate Chip Cookies". This happens to be a very busy "joke" among the residents of my building in Boston, who all subscribe to this site, as well as among the folks I work in my office. I am not going to waste my time attempting to humor you any longer.
 
Charles April 26, 2021
Charlieo, give it a rest fella'! Nine comments so far and you've posted three of them. It's just a recipe. You don't like it? Just move on to the next one...
 
charlieo April 26, 2021
You might try a sense of humor or just don't read them ~
 
Charles April 26, 2021
I read the comments to learn from others' experiences with the recipe - frequently get some good tips. You don't seem to have even tried to make this recipe. There's no "humor" - you're just ranting...
 
Karen M. April 26, 2021
Here, here. Let it go😊
 
charlieo April 25, 2021
Pudding in the chocolate chip recipe - surely Ruth Wakefield will be climbing out of her grave to haunt someone!!!
 
Marcia April 25, 2021
Shame on you, Food 52, for not testing these cookies! I followed the recipe using vanilla instant pudding. The cookies came out soft, but immediately turned rock hard and crunchy. Worst cookie recipe ever! How can we trust your recipes now?
 
Pam B. April 25, 2021
It calls for custard powder.
 
Stephen D. April 26, 2021
Custard powder isn’t commonly available in the USA. This article suggests instant pudding as a substitute for the custard powder, because they’re nearly identical. It’s mentioned multiple times.
 
Shalit S. April 25, 2021
But we like classic crispy chocolate chip cookies, not baby-soft & gummable.
 
charlieo April 25, 2021
I understand that different folks like different textured cookies. I have no issue with that. BUT, there is only 1 "chocolate chip cookie" and that is Nestles Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookies. Any other cookie with chocolate bits in it should be called something else - chocolate chunk, chocolate flake, chocolate bits, etc., but not chocolate chip!
 
charlieo April 25, 2021
There is REALLY only ONE REAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE and that is
Nestle's Toll House. Every other "copy cat cookie with chocolate in it" should
NOT be called "chocolate chip".
 
caseymom April 25, 2021
I'm with you!
 
KateStille April 25, 2021
Your shopping lists are pulling up mustard powder, not custard powder.
 
Karen M. April 25, 2021
Hi Nik, is it possible to substitute the cornstarch with another type of starch? Tapioca maybe? Also could you fine grind an alternative sugar? I use sucanat.