Food

My 15-Year Quest For The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie—And How To Find Your Own

I experimented my way through six recipes and managed to find a recipe to suit every cookie lover’s unique needs.

chocolate chip cookie

(Photo: iStock)

I can still remember the first time I tasted it. Warm, crisp and brown on the outside with a perfectly chewy inside and a faint whiff of earthy spice. In high school, an ill-fated stint in the drama club led me to running lines at a classmate’s house, where I found myself devouring the most perfect chocolate chip cookie I had ever tasted, freshly baked by my classmate’s mom.

Remarkably, it bore absolutely zero resemblance to the sugary hockey pucks that were passed off as chocolate chip cookies in my home. The cookie recipe I grew up with had traveled down for generations on an ancient, batter-flecked recipe card, grubby from decades of heavy use. It routinely produced very crisp, oatmeal-filled cookies that I never actually realized I didn’t care for until that fateful exposure to the perfect cookie.

I politely asked my host for the recipe, which she generously wrote down on a piece of paper for me—they called for a pinch of cinnamon!—but despite many attempts, I was never able to recreate that perfect crispy-yet-chewy bite. I spent the rest of my teens and 20s cycling through unsatisfying cookie recipes, and while I quickly gained agility in the kitchen, I could never quite manage to find a recipe that satisfied my needs.

The cookies I produced were always too dry, too crispy, too burnt or undercooked. It took me an embarrassingly long time to accept the notion that when it comes to baking, recipe instructions are not merely suggestions; yes, the butter really did have to be softened to room temperature, and no, it’s not advisable to skip the step where the dough needs to be chilled in the freezer 15 minutes prior to baking. Steps that had previously seemed finicky and unnecessary I began to realize were incontestable.

But after what felt like a lifetime of cookie-related promiscuity, I was ready to settle down. I wanted to find my cookie—you could even say I was looking for The One—a reliable recipe I could count on to comfort and satisfy me in good times and in bad. Chocolate chip cookies recipes abound (find Chatelaine’s here) but I was looking for something very specific: crisp on the bottom, chewy in the middle and sweet but not cloying. I decided to take this quest seriously and test all of the chocolate chip cookie recipes I humanly could in pursuit of that elusive perfect bite. I had already mastered just about everything I could in the kitchen, so I might as well climb the Mount Everest of my culinary life and attempt to bake the perfect chocolate chip cookie. I experimented my way through six recipes in total—from Food52, New York Times Cooking, CafeDelites and more—and managed to find a recipe to suit every cookie lover’s unique needs.

The Vegan Option

I’m not a vegan, but I saw someone on Twitter post that Food52’s recipe for ‘Secretly Vegan’ Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies was the best they’d ever tried, so I decided to start here. The recipe was relatively simple, subbing the typical butter and eggs for oil and water instead of ‘gotcha’ vegan ingredients like aquafaba or flax meal. The dough it produced was incredibly crumbly and barely stuck together—a huge red flag for me—but came out of the oven looking completely normal. The cookies were great—an excellent chewy texture, but lacking the caramelized butter-sugar flavour that I need in a cookie. The search for the perfect cookie continued.

The Gooey Option

If the more or less raw-in-the-middle cookies from New York’s popular Levain Bakery are your North Star, then CafeDelite’s recipe for easy soft chewy chocolate chip cookies will be sure to delight. The recipe comes together in less than 15 minutes and calls for corn syrup—I used maple syrup—to guarantee a chewy texture, and also adds a beautiful sheen to the top of the cookie. While this recipe was certainly soft and chewy, it was slightly undercooked for my tastes. However, I know there are many people who adore a cookie dough centre—in which case, bake to your heart’s delight.

The Chewy Option

The Tasty (aka Buzzfeed) recipe for chewy chocolate chip cookies is the first result that comes up for me on Google, so I figured anything with that good of SEO deserved a test bake. The recipe was incredibly simple, calling for melted butter (easy!), but it did require the dough to be chilled for at least 30 minutes in the fridge before baking; a step that’s admittedly necessary but somewhat inconvenient when I have a cookie craving that requires satisfying immediately. After 10 minutes in the oven, these cookies came out looking spectacular. The sides and bottoms were beautifully browned while the centres were raw— that cooled into a delicious, crisp-chewy bit. The texture of these cookies was outstanding, but the flavour was slightly one-note. I wouldn’t stay up all night thinking about these cookies, so the search continued.

The Crispy Option

As much as I find the crisp-chewy cookie to be the ideal texture, I do have a soft spot for crispy cookies like the ones made by Tate’s Bake Shop, or, if you’re feeling lowbrow, PC’s The Decadent. I found this Baker By Nature recipe to be an excellent dupe for the Tate’s Bake Shop Cookies, they have the same deep brown colour, caramelly flavour and satisfying crispy bite.

The Lazy Option

As much as I want to savour the taste of a chocolate chip cookie, there are times when laziness trumps my desire for perfection. In my quest to find the perfect cookie, one that came extremely close to clinching the top spot was Milk Bar’s recipe for Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies. These cookies call for melted butter instead of room temperature butter, which requires the forethought to take the butter out of the fridge hours before you want to bake, and they require zero chilling time in the fridge. They do call for one unusual ingredient, nonfat milk powder, which I thought sounded odd until the cookies came out of the oven. The milk powder added a glistening sheen, the flavour was rich and earthy, while the texture was chewy-crisp. The amount of effort these cookies required to bake correlated perfectly with my level of enjoyment. But they still weren’t The One.

The Perfect Option

I could tell my quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookies was over before I even bit into the New York Times recipe for giant crinkle chocolate chip cookies. They were so beautiful coming out of the oven, with their craggy ridges and a golden, crispy bottom that I knew they had the flavour to back it up—and I was right. Overwhelmingly buttery with a deep caramel flavour, my boyfriend at the time proclaimed a willingness to pay at least $8 for a single cookie. The texture was exceptional, a light caramelization of the sugar led to a crisp bottom yet the cookie was large enough that the tops remained chewy.

The recipe was finicky—the dough needs to be chilled in the freezer for 15 minutes prior and the tray needs to be taken out of the oven and “banged” on the counter every few minutes to create a ripple effect—but so, so worth it. The flavour was perfect, organic and complex. Though it didn’t taste exactly like my Proust madeleine chocolate chip cookie, it came the closest to perfection I’ve tasted since. The search was over. While it felt slightly sacrilegious to reject a long-held family recipe in such a permanent way, it also felt powerful to be able to claim ownership over my personal taste preferences and create my own traditions. I guarantee I’ll be baking this cookie recipe for the next 15 years to come—and beyond.

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