This coming Thursday marks the start of the Edmonton folk festival. And with all that lazing about on the hill my festival-going friends and I are going to do, we’re going to need an army of snacks to sustain us. So later this week, I’ll be sharing with you a rundown of the tasty things that’ll make it into our weekend cooler. But first up, I’ve got a recipe for a picnic essential that you’ll want to get started on a few days before the festival rolls around: the perfect chocolate chip cookie.
The recipe was developed back in 2008 by baker extraordinare, David Leite, after spending months picking the brains of pastry chefs to uncover the secrets to a great cookie. And then, as you may remember, the poor thing was destroyed one lovely summer day last year by me.
I got most of it right, really. I weighed my ingredients for precision’s sake. I used the best vanilla I could find, and as many of the ultra-melty chocolate disks – meant to provide the cookie with layers rather than simply dots of chocolate – as I could afford. I chilled the dough for 36 hours, the optimal amount of time needed for the dry ingredients to absorb the wet, improving the texture and colour of the cookie, and bringing out the molasses-y flavour of the brown sugar. I made the requisite monster-sized cookies – a whopping 100 grams each – to create the trio of textures: a soft centre, surrounded by a cakey ring and a crispy exterior.
But I forgot a cup of sugar. And the salt. And I burnt a bunch.
This time around, with another few pounds of cookie dough on the line, I did it right. And they’re everything they’re supposed to be: crisp, chewy and soft, with a picture-perfect crackle and toffee hue and flavour. Having forgotten to wrap them up until eight hours had passed since baking them, I can say too that the centres stay soft, and the chocolate melty, for ages.
Perfect, though, is a matter of preference. So for me, a full cookie – with its rich toffee flavour, generous helping of dark chocolate, and sea salt – is a bit too much. And this stage in the game, I can’t justify spending the $25 it would take to buy enough chocolate disks to satisfy the recipe’s pound-and-a-quarter requirement, but the handful a friend picked up for me absolutely made the cookies stand out as something special. As for the 36-hour resting time, I’m all for it. So while they’re not my perfect, they’re a closer starting point than anything I’ve come across before.
I’ve got about two pounds of dough resting in the fridge, waiting to be baked closer to folk fest. And when the time comes, I’ll see if I can get it right by reducing the size by half and going lighter on the salt. Tune in next time, and I’ll share the results of Operation: Little Cookie and show you what else will be making it into our festival-weekend picnic basket!
David Leite’s Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Leite’s Culinaria
Makes 18-24 gigantic cookies or lots of smaller ones (extra dough can be frozen with reasonable results; if you reduce the cookie size from the 3.5 oz specified — and I would — reduce the baking time accordingly!)
2 cups minus 2 tbsp (8.5 oz) cake flour
1⅔ cups (8.5 oz) bread flour
1¼ tsp baking soda
1½ tsp baking powder
1½ tsp Kosher salt
1¼ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
1¼ cups (10 oz) firmly packed light brown sugar
1 cup plus 2 tbsp (8 oz) white sugar
2 large eggs
2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1¼ lbs bittersweet chocolate disks/fèves (min. 60% cacao content) (I used a mix of disks and semi-sweet chocolate chips)
1. In a large bowl, sift together flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or with a handheld mixer), cream butter and sugars on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Add eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Stir in vanilla extract.
2. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture. Turn mixer onto low speed and mix just until dry ingredients are fully incorporated into the butter mixture. Remove bowl from mixer and stir in chocolate just until chocolate is evenly dispersed through batter, taking care not to break the discs. Cover dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 24-72 hours.**
3. Preheat oven to 350°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a non-stick baking mat.
4. Remove dough from fridge and allow to sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or just until it’s soft enough to scoop. Form dough into six 3.5 oz balls (100 grams, or a slightly heaping 1/3 cup measure) and space evenly on a baking sheet (I did three because I’m saving my dough for a little later in the week!). Sprinkle each ball with a pinch of sea salt. Bake for 16-20 minutes, until tops and bottoms are golden but centres are still soft. Cool on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes, just until they’ve firmed up enough to handle, then transfer to a wire rack to cool until they can be comfortably eaten. Repeat with remaining dough.
*As I said last time around, the ingredients in this recipe were carefully selected to deliver an incredible cookie, so it’s worth giving the original recipe a shot if you’ve got the ingredients on hand. If not, no worries — other folks have had success substituting the cake and bread flours with ~3.75 cups (17 oz) of all-purpose flour, and the chocolate disks with more accessible kinds of chocolate, from high-quality bars to standard chocolate chips.
**Given that the recipe makes loads of dough, you may want to divvy it up into batches here — one for what you’ll use in the next step and one for use down the road. If you’re planning on keeping the reserve dough for longer than an extra day or two, shape it into a disc, wrap it in plastic wrap and freeze it. When the time comes, let it come to fridge-temperature before continuing on with Step 3.