Note: Please give a warm welcome to Heather Rawlinson, our new chocolate correspondent. She kicks things off with ooey-gooey chocolate chip cookie analysis—which chips are best? You might want to grab a cold glass of milk for this one. Take it away, Heather!
Like so many other great discoveries, the chocolate-chip cookie supposedly started out as a mistake. According to the story, which seems to border on myth, Ruth Wakefield of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts intended to make chocolate cookies for her guests one day.
After running out of her usual baking chocolate, she improvised with some Nestle chocolate morsels instead. To her surprise, the chocolate chips didn't melt and combined with the dough just as her usual chocolate did. In fact, the bits kept their shape and to our eternal benefit, Mrs. Wakefield didn't throw the “mistake” away. Thus, the first chocolate-chip cookie was born.
Over 70 years later, there are now many variations of the classic, with additions such as nuts, dried fruits, and the most important component, chocolate chips, which come in a variety of forms.
The original chocolate chip cookie was made with Nestle semi-sweet chocolate morsels. The semi-sweet chocolate offers a "deeper" chocolate flavor than milk chocolate—it contains more cocoa and less sugar, and tends to push its way through the other flavors of the cookie dough a bit better. If I don’t have access to a darker chocolate, I grab a bag of the semi-sweet. Though I don't have a favorite, store brands seem to offer more of an authentic chocolate taste than the bigger, mass-produced name brands. Go figure!
Milk chocolate contains less cocoa and more milk and sugar than semi-sweet. The flavor tends to be a bit milder, which means it can get lost in the cookie. Milk chocolate is great for melting down and using as a topping or a dip for other sweet treats, but it doesn't really shine in cookies.
60% Bittersweet Baking Morsels
My favorite chocolate to use in cookies are Ghirardelli’s 60% bittersweet chips. The chocolate is intense and smooth, and the morsels are bigger than any others I've found, save for See's Candies baking chips,which means you can use less in a batch. I like to chop them up just a bit so they distribute more evenly in the dough.
I have a love-hate relationship with white chocolate. I won’t argue that it has its place, but there are very, very few situations where I can tolerate it—and cookies are one of them. While they really don't bring much flavor to the scene, I use them if I want the smooth texture of chocolate without actually using chocolate (this doesn’t happen often, but it does happen). My favorite recipe combines white chocolate chips with chopped pecans and dried cranberries.
Even though I recommend my personal favorite, the Ghirardelli’s 60% bittersweet chips, my best advice is to experiment for yourself. Grab a bag of each, have a cookie-making weekend, and invite friends over to have a taste-test party!