Growing up the only chocolate chip cookie recipe I knew came on the back of a bag of Toll House morsels. And let’s be honest: that recipe stands the test of time. Simple, no fuss, and tasty. As a kid I’d hang around the kitchen while my brother would stir together a batch with a friend, anxiously waiting to lick the spoon. Back then nobody feared raw egg (even Orange Julius threw it into their smoothies at the mall to get that amazing froth), and the only possible repercussions were sticky fingers or fewer cookies in the end.
Until I hit my 20’s, I was perfectly content with getting my cookie dough fix from a refrigerated tube of Pillsbury. Even though I knew better, salmonella never deterred me (and still doesn’t.) I’m certainly glad there’s no way to go back and count how many times girlfriends and I would devour the whole thing in a night. Never baking it, we would get down to the end and squeeze what remained out of the plastic like it was the dregs of the toothpaste, but so much more delicious. Admittedly, I feel a little ill looking back on that.
Jump ahead a few years, and my baking obsession kicked into gear full swing. Pre-made dough became a thing of my past, because I learned how quickly I could throw together a batch from ingredients I typically keep at home. I tried recipes from favorite cookbooks (the one in “Best Recipes” from America’s Test Kitchen was my go-to for years,) the classic Neiman Marcus one that went viral long before social media made “like” and “share” buttons, and whatever popped out from my online searches.
But when a friend brought hot from the oven chocolate chip cookies to our book club on a cold night back in 2011, I took one bite and knew there had to be a winning recipe behind it. (Okay, so it wasn’t one bite. It was more like 47 bites because I could not stop eating them!) Deb at Smitten Kitchen had done it again. Her “Chewy Crispy Chocolate Chip Cookies” found its way into my binder of “keepers,” and I haven’t looked back.
That isn’t to say I haven’t played with the recipe, because…well, that’s one of the things I enjoy most in baking. I’ve tried almond extract instead of all vanilla, I’ve replaced chocolate chips with chopped up Andes mints, I’ve done caramel and white chocolate chips topped with Maldon sea salt. But without fail I’ve always browned the butter instead of simply melting it, which adds a deeper, nuttier flavor to every bite. Each time I tried a new version I experimented with cooking times as well, because I’ve always hoped to achieve my ideal consistency: somewhat crispy edges, with an undeniably soft and chewy center. I learned it all comes down to a short bake at a low temperature, and you must make sure the cookies are removed to a cooling rack fairly quickly before they have a chance to harden.
After all my tinkering, I think I’ve finally settled on my perfect chocolate chip cookie. A cookie that when baked may actually surpass the beauty of the raw dough. It has a caramel background that comes from the browned butter, a hearty dose of vanilla, just the right amount of salt so that you notice it, but it doesn’t overpower (defying a current trend, it runs through every bite, not just sprinkled on top,) and the final product crackles along the edges before you sink your teeth into the slightly gooey center. Chunks of chocolate often replace chips, but if I use chips I make sure they’re dark chocolate ones.
If you haven’t browned butter before, please don’t be intimidated. It’s really not complicated, and as soon as you do it once, you’re going to be tempted to do it every time you see a recipe that calls for melted butter. In just a few extra seconds a saucepan of regular old butter becomes magical, and the richness the heat brings is worth the effort. Simply cut the butter into chunks (around 2 TBSP each), and let it melt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the solids have liquefied, keep a close eye on it and see how it begins to froth. When the foam and bubbles start to dissipate, use a wooden spoon to stir. You’ll notice tiny brown flecks form on the bottom of the pan, and this is when you have to be vigilant. In less than 15 seconds a few dots will turn into a full layer of floating solids. Use your nose, and you will smell a nuttiness that wasn’t there before. Immediately remove the pan from the flame and pour your butter into your mixing bowl. This will cool it off and stop the butter from moving from liquid gold into a burned mess.
I’d love to hear what you think of these, and if you have a favorite cookie recipe please leave it in the comments and I will test it out! Because really, there can never be too many cookies in my life.
These Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies have a hint of caramel that comes from the browned butter, a hearty dose of vanilla, just the right amount of salt, and they crackle along the edges before you sink your teeth into their slightly gooey center. Try not to eat all the dough before they go into the oven, because the baked version is worth the wait.
- 3/4 cups unsalted butter (1.5 sticks)
- 6 tablespoons white sugar (90 grams)
- 1 cup brown sugar (200 grams)
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 2 cups all purpose flour (260 grams)
- 3/4 teaspoons baking soda
- 1.25 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1.5 - 2 cups dark chocolate chips
*This recipe is adapted from a favorite on Smitten Kitchen.
**Browning butter can take between 10-20 minutes, depending on your heat source, so get started with this step first, and do everything else while you wait. Simply cut the butter into chunks (around 2 TBSP each), and let it melt in a small saucepan over medium heat. Once the solids have liquefied, keep a close eye on it and see how it begins to froth. When the foam and bubbles start to dissipate, use a wooden spoon to stir. You'll notice tiny brown flecks form on the bottom of the pan, and this is when you have to be vigilant. In less than 15 seconds a few dots will turn into a full layer of floating solids. Use your nose, and you will smell a nuttiness that wasn't there before. Immediately remove the pan from the flame and pour your butter into your mixing bowl.
***Chilling the dough helps make sure that the cookies don't spread out too flat when they cook, and just makes everything come together better. I've rushed it and skipped the time in the fridge, but it always turns out better if I wait. But if you're in a hurry, they will certainly still be delicious.