Monday, July 21, 2008

The Best Cookies in the World

This is a true story about the best cookies in the world. (this sentence blatantly stolen from Roald Dahl via John Thorne. They were referring to Danish Sugar Cookies, but in our family, and most of the United States, the Best Cookies are Toll House.)
I am going to be blunt: everything you know about making these cookies is probably WRONG.
The recipe on the back of the Toll House Morsels? A vile imposter!
I know this is shocking. I'll give you a second to contemplate. I was shocked too.
But the recipe on the back of the bag is NOT the true Toll House Cookie Recipe.
First, a little background: About 25 years ago, we lived in El Toro, California, which in True California Fashion, has now rebranded and renamed itself Lake Forest...but I digress... I used to go the the local library to check out books, and also to visit the Friends of Library Bookstore, where they sold, [and may still sell] donated books, magazines and music to raise money for library programs. Paperbacks were 50 cents each, hardcovers $1. I found an old cookbook that looked interesting. I love old cookbooks. So I tucked it in my basket and paid my money. When I got home and looked more closely, I discovered that what I had was an autographed copy of Toll House Tried and True Recipes by Ruth Graves Wakefield. My copy was copyright 1947. Yes, that Toll House - the cookie one. Wow! And there were more surprises. The shocker - the famous cookie recipe was DIFFERENT. The name is Chocolate Crunch Cookies, but that's not all. After some research and further obsessive reading, I learned from other Toll House Lovers Richard Sax and Philip Schulz that when Nestle bought the rights to the recipe, they were bound to print it exactly like Mrs. Wakefield's Original, but when that contract was up, almost to the DAY, they changed the recipe. They dumbed it down.
No more buttered cookie sheets, no more sifting the flour, no more dissolving the baking soda in water - they even deleted the water. As we all know, Method and Technique in Baking is as important as in sewing. How you combine ingredients and when is vitally important to the success of your project. In sewing, you need to do your pressing, staystitching, clipping as you go along and at the right times to ensure the desired outcome. In Baking, sifting, measuring carefully, and mixing correctly are all just as important as the actual ingredients.
When I taught my daughter how to make cookies, we learned something else: when recipes tell you to soften the butter, they go too far. Soft butter is exactly what you DON'T want. It makes for flat cookies. Now when it comes to baking, I'm a pretty darn good baker. I would not be embarrassed to give one of my cookies to Jacques Pepin or Anthony Bourdain. But I wouldn't. I would give them one of my daughter's cookies instead. Because even though I make a darn good cookie, my daughter makes the Best COOKIES EVER. She only makes Toll House, and ONLY from Mrs. Wakefield's Original recipe. She not only follows that recipe exactly, but has added some steps. She measures and sifts exactly. She only softens the butter a few minutes while letting it sit out while she assembles the other ingredients. It's still COLD, but not a block of solid butter. You could bend it slightly without breaking it. She doesn't warm the eggs either. Her whole method is based on keeping everything as cool as possible. And she keeps the dough in a metal bowl that she places in another, larger metal bowl full of ice water to keep that dough cold. She uses a cookie scoop like a mini ice cream scoop so that each cookie is exactly the same. Her cookies are perfect. Each one is just like another and they have a nice crunchy chewy texture. Mrs. Field's cookies are not even close. Ruth Graves Wakefield would be so proud.

Here is Mrs. Wakefield's Original True Toll House Cookie Recipe, with adaptations from Caitlin to ensure a more perfect cookie:
Sift 2 1/4 cups of flour with 1 teaspoon baking soda and 1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup butter - keep it cool, don't let it get oily or too soft
3/4 cup light brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup granulated white sugar
Mix butter and sugars together, until creamy. Keep that butter cool by placing your bowl inside a larger bowl of ice water.
Add 2 beaten eggs to the sugar and butter, then mix one teaspoon of baking soda with one teaspoon of warm water and add that to dough mixture along with the sifted flour.
Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract.
Fold in the chocolate chips.[one bag, 2 cups] Add 1 cup choppped nuts if you like nuts.
Drop by small scoops (Mrs Wakefield asks for 1/2 teaspoons, which are LITTLE. Ours is 1 teaspoon. Make them any size you like, but then adjust baking times) on to greased baking sheets. Bake about 10-12 minutes at 375 degrees. Check that first batch carefully, as every oven is different. You may have to bake your cookies a longer or short time. Mrs. Wakefield's recipe makes 100 small crunchy cookies. If you use a larger scoop, you'll get fewer cookies.
Enjoy the accolades.

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