Anatomy of a Chocolate Chip Cookie

by Kathy Strahs on July 11, 2011 · 16 comments

Post image for Anatomy of a Chocolate Chip Cookie

What makes a chocolate chip cookie chewy? How can I make thicker cookies? Or thin and crisp cookies? I’m afraid I’ve gone and geeked out again (remember the last time?) and did a little chocolate chip cookie recipe analysis to get to the bottom of these questions.

Most chocolate chip cookie recipes call for exactly the same ingredients, but for a variety of reasons (i.e.,amounts, baking time and temperature) they might come out chewier, crispier, thinner, thicker or even with different flavor. Read on for my comparison of the Toll House, Barry Callebaut (see the recipe at the end of this post) and Land O Lakes on-the-package recipes as well as tips for tweaking your favorite recipe to match your preferred cookie style.

Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe Comparison

Above, I’ve compared the Barry Callebaut (see the recipe at the end of today’s post) and Land O’Lakes recipes to the Toll House recipe (if you’re curious about my methodology, see my note below) to identify where the recipes deviated from one another and what the resulting cookies were like. In a nutshell, to make your cookies…

…thicker

  • Reduce the amount of butter relative to flour (opposite of making cookies Crispier) – both the Land O Lakes and Barry Callebaut recipes call for a bit less butter than the Toll House recipe and both result in thick cookies.
  • For a softer, thick cookie consider using cake flour in lieu of all-purpose flour and leavening with baking powder rather than baking soda (here is an excellent primer from Serious Eats on baking powder vs. baking soda).

…thinner

  • Increase the amount of liquid (e.g., add milk) to make the cookies spread more.
  • Reduce the amount of moisture-holding ingredients, like flour. (See also advice for Crispier cookies)

…crispier

  • Reduce the amount of moisture-holding ingredients, like flour. Lower moisture means crispier cookies. Fat (aka, butter) also drives out moisture, according to the Sunset article. When you reduce flour the proportion of fat in the cookie dough will go up. (The Toll House recipe has the highest butter-to-flour ratio of the three and is the crispiest.)
  • Bake the cookies for a longer time at a lower temperature – they will have the opportunity to spread, dry and become crispy.

…chewier

  • Replace some granulated sugar with brown sugar (the chewiest of the three recipes, Barry Callebaut, has a greater than 5:1 ratio of dark brown sugar to granulated sugar)
  • Make larger cookies and bake them for a shorter period of time at a higher temperature. Take them out of the oven once the edges have browned but the centers are still pale.

…more flavorful

  • Add vanilla and/or salt; in a recipe that uses 2 1/4 cups of flour, 1 1/2-2 teaspoons of vanilla and 3/4-1 teaspoon of salt is excellent.
  • Chill the dough for 24 to 36 hours – it’s the secret to bringing out the caramel and toffee notes in the now-famous New York Times chocolate chip cookie recipe
  • More chocolate is always better!

I’ll bet you’re feeling like baking some cookies now, right? To understand the impact of each ingredient, I consulted Michael Ruhlman’s Ratio book (remarkable insights on the “formulas” behind all types of recipes), this informative article from Sunset as well as Alton Brown’s recipes for Chewy, Puffy and Thin chocolate chip cookies.

Last, but not least, below is the Barry Callebaut chocolate chunk cookie recipe I mentioned. As you’ve probably gathered, it makes a thick, chewy cookie with a strong molasses flavor from a good amount of dark brown sugar. It is absolutely excellent. :-)

NOTE: It’s not easy to do an apples-to-apples (cookies-to-cookies?) comparison among recipes, but I did my best by using flour as a common denominator, so to speak. The amount of flour in a chocolate chip cookie recipe is usually a good indicator of the overall number of cookies the recipe will yield. Luckily, the recipe from the Barry Callebaut chocolate chunks package (a recent Williams-Sonoma splurge) happens to call for exactly the same amount of flour as the Toll House recipe. I adjusted the Land O’Lakes flour quantity to match the Toll House and Barry Callebaut recipes, and reduced all of the other ingredients proportionally.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies



See the Recipe Index for all the recipes on Cooking On the Side.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Angela FRS July 11, 2011 at 9:21 PM

This is brilliant! Seriously, this is some cookie genius at work.

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Megan July 12, 2011 at 7:18 AM

I love how versatile chocolate chip cookies are! It’s great to learn about the science behind why certain recipes produce thicker/thinner/chewier/crispier cookies. Thanks!

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dani July 12, 2011 at 10:44 AM

this is why i love reading your blog :) so much useful info!!!

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Kathy July 12, 2011 at 10:53 AM

Thanks so much, Dani! :-)

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Nancy July 12, 2011 at 11:41 AM

Finally, I feel like I can come closer to achieving the perfect chocolate chip cookie (for me anyway). This article is a great resource. Thank you!

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Kathy July 12, 2011 at 6:02 PM

I think your cookies are pretty perfect already. :-)

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Heidi @ Food Doodles July 12, 2011 at 5:27 PM

Wow, what an awesome post! I’m bookmarking this one to save, because there are certain times that call for different kinds of cookies so I’m sure I’ll need this in the future. Awesome, thank you!

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Kathy July 12, 2011 at 6:02 PM

Thanks, Heidi! I hope it’s a helpful resource.

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Tracey July 14, 2011 at 11:28 AM

Great post! So nice to have all the information laid out in one place.

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shelly (cookies and cups) July 21, 2011 at 9:21 AM

What a great post!!

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karen July 26, 2011 at 7:48 PM

I LOVE this post. I have been using whole wheat pastry flour, a tad more brown sugar and only half the butter for years and made fabulous cookies….add a bit of peanut butter and cook them in muffin tins and they are always a huge hit. Especially when using chocolate chunks as well as chips….really, I may just have to start experimenting again. Thanks Kathy! This is great info!

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Nancy@acommunaltable August 9, 2011 at 8:11 PM

Excellent!! Great tutorial on chocolate chip cookies!! Great reference for changing/adapting cookie recipes!

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Kathy Strahs August 9, 2011 at 8:56 PM

Thanks, Nancy! It was so nice to meet you on Saturday! :-)

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Judy February 10, 2012 at 7:41 PM

There’s really no new information here, but I love the way you gathered it all in one place for easy reference. Also, for extra flavor, I like to add a teaspoon of “coffee essence,” which is equal parts instant coffee and coffee liqueur. I really adds that special something to take the cookie over the top.

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jane July 20, 2013 at 7:01 AM

Hi. I’m using the above recipe. May i know, how to achieve the cracked look on the surface? My cookies have such smooth surface :( and by using molasses sugar, i get a dark brown colour. Be the way, i love this texture. thanks for sharing the recipe.

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Kathy Strahs July 20, 2013 at 7:29 AM

Hi Jane – to get the same look you’ve got to use the same recipe. :-) I’ve never used molasses sugar before but if it has a higher proportion of molasses than brown sugar then it likely has more moisture and will impact the overall texture.

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