Recipe Review: Chocolate Chip Cookies

Of all the goods to bake, my favorite has always been chocolate chip cookies. When I was in elementary school, my dad and I spent hours perfecting Alton Brown’s “The Chewy” recipe for a baking contest I had entered, so baking them always brings back fond memories. Also, who doesn’t like a chocolate chip cookie? They release endorphins in everybody’s brains. They’re a universal symbol for happiness on par with a smile. Every baker needs a consummate chocolate chip cookie recipe in their arsenal, and I’m looking for mine.

Alton Brown’s recipe was my go-to for years, but now I’m interested in trying other recipes and seeing how they measure up (pun intended). There might be a better recipe out there, but I won’t know unless I start baking new ones. So in an effort to find the ultimate chocolate chip cookie recipe, today I’m trying America’s Test Kitchen’s “Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie” recipe.

If you have extrapolated that I prefer a chewy chocolate chip cookie to a crispy chocolate chip cookie, congratulations on your superb inferencing skills! You are correct. I have no time for a crispy chocolate chip cookie. I want it to be soft and melt in my mouth, and I will not be including crispy cookie recipes in my search.

Along with my search, I will be reviewing and documenting my findings. Was the recipe easy? Are there parts I would change? How does it taste? Would I bake it again? I will answer all these questions and more in each review. So, without further ado, here is my recipe review:

The Recipe: This is an easy recipe to follow and execute, as all chocolate chip cookie recipes are. It uses standard ingredients and doesn’t take long, but there are some things I would change:

The recipe notes in the ingredient list that the butter needs to be melted and cooled, but it does not state in the instructions when to melt it. It would be helpful to include a step instructing the baker to melt the butter right after preheating the oven, just to be sure the butter has cooled before it’s to be used.

This recipe’s goal was to recreate the cookies found at boutique cafés. Not just in taste and texture, but in aesthetic, too. In an effort to do so, it instructs the baker to separate the dough balls and rejoin them with the jagged sides facing out. It warns, however, to not press down on the jagged sides when combining back into a ball, as this will ruin the craggy look for which they’re aiming. I followed this step for the first batch, but it was awkward and morphed the dough balls into dilapidated lumps, so I skipped that step for the second batch. It made not a modicum of difference in appearance. This recipe has mostly dry ingredients, and little is binding the dough together, so the cookies are going to look craggy as is. This step is more work than it’s worth.

The Taste: The taste might be the best part of this recipe. The flavors are balanced and encompass all those of a classic chocolate chip cookie: sweet, rich, buttery, salty, and, most importantly, chocolatey. And, thanks to two tablespoons of its extract, a delightful hint of vanilla. All of these flavors whirl in my mouth as I chew, making the cookie thoroughly enjoyable to taste.

The Texture: These cookies are thick and chewy, just as the recipe’s name indicates. There’s a crisp on the edges that offers a nice contrast in texture without compromising the chewiness. However, they’re still not as soft as I’d like, and they’re a little dry. I’m after a perfect balance of chewiness, softness, and moisture.

Overall: Would I use this recipe again? Yes! Is it the best recipe out there? No, I don’t think so. There’s got to be a recipe in existence that yields a perfect soft-and-chewy, sweet-and-salty chocolate chip cookie.

That being said, what recipe should I try next? Do you have a favorite I should try? I’d love to hear your suggestions! Like I said, I absolutely love baking chocolate chip cookies.

Quick Summer Meal

As much as I love to cook and experiment in the kitchen, some weeks I’d rather just eat cereal for supper, and this has been one of those weeks. Sadly, I ran out of Raisin Bran and my only option was to cook. Since my pantry failed me and I had to make something, I decided it was going to require very little effort, so I settled for the easiest of all dinners: a sheet pan meal.

Sheet pan meals are a dream when you’re lazy, and I often am. There are endless options, they taste amazing, and they’re nutritious. I opted for lemon chicken and bacon-wrapped asparagus. Here’s what to do:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butterfly 1 chicken breast and pound down so it’s an even thickness throughout. Place on the baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and lemon pepper. Wrap 2 bundles of asparagus stalks in slices of raw bacon. Place on the baking sheet with the chicken. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and garlic. Bake for 25 minutes.

I love sheet pan meals. Simple, quick, delicious. I see more in my future.

Blueberry Scones

I love a good scone, the problem is most scones aren’t good. Scones often turn out dense and dry, which is incredibly unappetizing. If your first encounter with a scone was at a hotel continental breakfast, you probably aren’t a fan. But when scones are the right texture and don’t leave your mouth akin to the Sahara, they’re a delectable pastry. When I found a recipe for blueberry scones in the America’s Test Kitchen cookbook that purportedly solves the aforementioned problems, I knew I had to try it.

Whenever I read a baking recipe, I compare its difficulty level to other goods I’ve made. The last pastry I baked was a croissant (read about it here), and upon my first read of the scones recipe, it was apparent that they’d be much easier and much less time consuming to bake – and I was correct. Only a couple steps were tedious; most were quick and painless.

When baking scones (according to this recipe), everything must be cold or frozen, including the kitchen. Seriously. The recipe calls for a cold kitchen and includes a contingency plan should your kitchen be hot and humid, so I turned my thermostat way down and froze most of the day. The sacrifices I make for scones! I was also sure freeze butter well in advance. 24 hours in advance, to be specific. Like I said, everything must be cold.

In a parka and snow pants to endure the arctic temperatures of my apartment, I began. I sifted through the blueberries to find the smallest fruits of the batch. I did a thorough job choosing as the alternative is to cut larger berries into small pieces, and for some reason that sounds very unappealing. Once I had enough berries, I began grating the butter.

The butter-grating process would’ve gone much faster had I used the correct grater – a box grater. I used the only grater I have – a hand grater, which yields much smaller shavings than the box grater when using the side called for in the recipe. I was a bit worried about the size of the butter shavings, but guessed (also hoped and prayed) it wouldn’t make a difference in the end, so I continued.

Butter grated, I put it back in the freezer (everything must be cold, mind you) while I sifted the wet and dry ingredients in separate bowls. The dry ingredients include lemon zest, and while zesting said lemon, I hoped and prayed once again, this time that the scones would be worth the copious amounts of grating required. I now know I do not like to grate.

Finally the grating portion was complete! Hooray! The next steps were to coat the butter in the dry ingredient mixture, then fold in the wet ingredients until just combined. I then turned the dough out onto my floured surface to begin kneading. The recipe noted not to over-knead, so I was sure to only knead the recommended amount. I then folded the dough and chilled it in the freezer for 5 minutes.

Typically when baking a more advanced recipe, if available, I watch a video of someone baking whatever I’m about to bake to be certain I’m doing it correctly. However, hard copy cookbooks don’t have videos, so that was not an option. This one, though, has corresponding step-by-step pictures, which helped tremendously as I worked the dough.

After resting in the freezer, I rolled the dough into a square and topped it with my carefully chosen blueberries. Next I rolled it into a little log, formed the log into a rectangle, and cut the rectangle into 8 triangles to bake. Like the croissants, this recipe doesn’t yield much, which is a bit of a downside considering the work required. But if you enjoy the work like I do, it really doesn’t matter.

I topped the unbaked triangles with melted butter and sugar, and 22 minutes later had 8 picture-perfect scones. I waited until they had cooled to try them, and they were well worth the wait. In direct contrast with most scones, these were moist and light, not at all dense or dry. The lemon zest added wonderful depth of flavor (making the grating indubitably worthwhile), and the fresh blueberries added a lovely burst of tartness and texture whenever bitten into. Heaven on earth.

These scones might be the best I’ve ever eaten, all thanks to the epicureans at America’s Test Kitchen. Their recipe is stellar and worthy of all praise. To elevate it slightly, I’d use a more crystalized sugar atop before baking rather than regular granulated, but that’s a very, very minor tweak. Aside from that, this recipe is perfect. These scones aren’t a continental breakfast; they’re a 5-star brunch. I’ll be baking them again.

Chicken Pizza Quesadilla

I had every intention of running to the grocery store today, but time seemed to tick faster than usual and spending the evening watching television in my pajamas was far more appealing. In an effort to consume something more substantial than raisin bran, I scoured my larder for makeshift meal ingredients. My promising findings consisted of chicken, tortillas, leftover pizza sauce, and cheese, resulting in a chicken pizza quesadilla. All the best recipes are created in desperation, right?

To make: start by cooking 1 breast of cubed chicken in oil over medium heat. Salt and pepper. In a separate pan, melt 1/2 tbsp butter over medium heat and lay a tortilla in the pan. In the pan with the chicken, simmer 1 cup of pizza sauce. Top the tortilla with the chicken and pizza sauce mixture and add 1/2 cup cheddar cheese and 1/2 cup mozzarella. Add another tortilla on top. Once the bottom tortilla is crispy, flip the quesadilla and leave in pan until the second tortilla is crispy. Remove from the pan and enjoy!

Lemon Chicken Pasta for One

In case I haven’t publicly professed my adoration for pasta enough, let me do so once more: I love pasta. Therefore, in my quest to amass an arsenal of recipes for one, I need a trove of pasta recipes. One with a lemon butter sauce and wilted spinach is of utmost importance to perfect.

To start, boil linguine in salt water. Use about 1/8-1/6 of the box. Cut up half a chicken breast into small cubes, salt and pepper, and cook in an oiled pan over medium heat. Melt 1/4 stick of butter in the pan and add 1/8 tsp of minced garlic and 1/8 tsp of parsley. While butter is melting, add 1/2 cup of spinach and the juice of 1 lemon. Add noodles once al dente. Toss to smother noodles in lemony, buttery deliciousness.

Making this dish couldn’t be simpler, and when portions are smaller, ingredients cook faster making time in the kitchen minimal. And, although it’s pasta, it’s pretty light, making it a great weeknight summer meal. Enjoy!

Coconut Macaroons

A few months ago I tried baking French macarons for the first time, and they were incredibly time-consuming and difficult to make. When I read this simple coconut macaroon recipe, I figured these would be an easy alternative to my French favorite, but things didn’t turn out quite as I had hoped.

I followed the recipe, which requires few ingredients and is very straightforward, exactly. I set my eggs out hours beforehand to ensure they were exactly room temperature. I watched the accompanying video so I knew exactly how to whip the egg whites and exactly how to fold them into the coconut mixture. I did everything exactly. Exactly, exactly, exactly.

I expected, after doing everything exactly, perfect little orbs to emerge from the oven, but was instead met with flattened, misshapen balls. Disappointed and confused, I turned to the internet to discover what I had done wrong.

Several theories popped up: over-beaten egg whites changing the structure of the proteins that hold the shape, humidity making them essentially melt, too many wet ingredients in the recipe, under-beaten egg whites causing them to go flat. Some reviewers of the recipe shared a similar complaint of following the steps perfectly and still ending up with a puddly outcome. An hour of assiduous research later, I still didn’t have an answer as to what I did wrong. (I did acquire an abundance of information on beating egg whites, though.)

Typically I have an idea of what to do next time to improve, but this is quite a conundrum. The theories I read take me in all different directions, and I can’t decide which one I think is most likely the culprit. Perhaps next time I’ll try a completely different recipe and then compare. I’m at a bit of a loss. At least they tasted good.

Chicken Piccata

When I was 18, I ordered chicken piccata for the first time, and my life was forever changed. With tender chicken, a rich and flavorful lemon butter sauce, and salty capers, it’s impossible not to swoon over this Italian dish. Chicken piccata is a meal I order any time I see it on a menu, and after learning how quick and easy it is to cook, I wanted to recreate this palatable entrée at home.

When choosing a recipe, I was sure use one created by someone with a penchant for Italian cooking, so I chose Giada De Laurentiis’s. I adapted it slightly to serve one instead of four, and to fit my palette, which has an affinity for anything salty and lemony. This required lessening the amount of meat, oil, and butter, but adding extra capers and lemon juice.

For the chicken, I butterflied one breast and pounded it down, which I will be doing any time I sauté chicken moving forward, as this gives the chicken a more consistent thickness, allowing it to cook evenly throughout. No one wants pink chicken. I used my meat tenderizer, but a rolling pin works, too. However, if you use a rolling pin, be sure to cover your chicken with cling wrap beforehand to avoid sticking.

Next I dredged each piece of lightly seasoned chicken and placed them in the pan already teeming with oil and butter. While those cooked, I readied a mixture to deglaze the pan and serve as the base of my sauce, which consisted of lemon juice, capers, and pasta water. The recipe called for chicken stock, but I opted for pasta water since it has more flavor than pure water.

After the chicken had cooked on both sides, I let it rest while I deglazed the pan, added butter, and simmered the sauce. Minutes later I added the chicken back in, taste-tested, and seasoned a bit more. All that was left to do was play “That’s Amore,” open a bottle of red wine, and pretend I was in Italy. Okay, I didn’t do that, but I should have. Next time.

What I actually did was prepare a plate and snap a quick and, sadly, unappealing picture before devouring my incredibly satisfying meal. I’m happy to spend hours cooking and baking to make something delicious, but I wish the joy of savoring food weren’t so ephemeral. My scrumptious piccata was gone just as quickly as it came. Thankfully it’s easy to make, so I’ll be enjoying it again soon. Maybe next time over mashed potatoes or arugula. The joy of eating may be fleeting, but the joy of cooking is eternal.