Wednesday, September 10, 2008

A Very Scientific Experiment

Two months ago I read a story in the New York Times about chocolate chip cookies. Now, I could no sooner pick a favorite kind of cookie among the chocolate chips and peanut butters and sugar with buttercream frosting and linzer filled with apricot jam and chocolate sandwich as I could pick a favorite pair of shoes or color of dahlia or episode of Veronica Mars - I just love them all so much - but chocolate chip is right up there with my brown suede peep-toe wedges and deep violet and the one where Logan and Veronica get together for the first time after Logan punches JTT who is an FBI agent posing as a high school student. I was less interested in the overly prescriptive recipe in the Times article as I was by their assertion that the quality and taste of these cookies could be increased exponentially by letting the dough rest in the refrigerator for 36 hours before baking. I've read a lot of cookbooks and bossy, but well intentioned, advice about baking before and had never been told to do any such thing, so I was intrigued. No one, not even the New York Times, will be able to convince me that any recipe for chocolate chip cookies is better than my Grandma Mariel's, but I could potentially be persuaded to mix up the baking process. Obviously, the only way to proceed was to employ the scientific method and ascertain whether Jaques Torres was full of crap or truly on to something.

As mentioned, I would be conducting this experiment using my cookie gospel of choice, my grandmother's Cowboy Cookie recipe. Cream 2 cups butter (or margarine), 2 cups white sugar, 2 cups brown sugar, and 4 eggs. Slowly mix in 4 cups flour, 1 t baking powder, 2t soda, and 1t salt. Finally stir in 3 cups oats and 12 ounces of chocolate chips. My original plan was make the cookie dough at about 7am on Sunday morning when I usually wake up, so that I could bake test batches exactly 36 hours later when there would be a gaggle of boys at my house watching Monday Night Football, but that plan was thwarted when I stayed out until 3 am with my cousins on Saturday night. Instead, by the time I woke up, drank a carafe of french press coffee, talked to my mom on the phone for 45 minutes while laying on the couch with a pillow over my head, and finally got myself organized to make cookie dough, it was 11 o'clock. Luckily, I was a history major and thus am not particularly into "scientific precision." Close enough for government work. At that point, I baked one test batch of a dozen cookies for 12-15 minutes in a 350 degree oven and departed to Madison Park with Megan to eat a shrimp and havarti omelet for brunch.

Monday night I baked 4 dozen more cookies and put the rest of the dough in the freezer to use later. I let the 36 hour cookies cool so as not to tip off the cookie testers, and gave everyone a "Cookie 1" and a "Cookie 2," with no details as to their potential differences and the instruction to tell me which they preferred.

See "My Very Official Cookie Focus Group":

Both Witold and Kevin Hannifan preferred the cookie from the aged dough. Kevin Lind thought the cookies that had been baked right away were superior, but he is a hippie vegetarian, so his taste buds are suspect in the first place. The first cookie definitely had a softer texture, but the aged cookie had a much more distinct flavor profile, it was much sweeter and complex and had a crispy outside but a moist middle. I can not speak to whether the texture was a result of the way it dough had aged or just that I overcooked the new batch a little bit.

The Moral of The Story: I did prefer the cookie dough that had matured in the fridge. Luckily, this complements my cooking style because I frequently make dough ahead of time to be baked at different intervals. Granted, my focus group was quite small, and was cleansing their palette in between tastes with nasty Coors Light, so I don't know that we can take any hard and fast rules from this experiment, other than that cookies are totally delicious.

1 comment:

heidi karen said...

I would like to volunteer for your next cookie experiment focus group.