Since the first Toll House cookie slid off a baking sheet about 70 years ago, America has been in love with the chocolate-chip cookie. Yet when you ask people to describe the ultimate cookie, you’ll find a great rift in our nation—some like them crisp, some like them chewy.
Funny thing is, the ingredient list for a chocolate-chip cookie always looks more or less the same: butter, sugar (white and brown), eggs, vanilla, flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate chips (OK, and maybe nuts, but that’s the subject of another debate). How can these same ingredients produce both chewy cookies and crisp ones?
Just how you achieve the state of crunch you like is the subject of many theories, from refrigerating the dough, to underbaking the cookies, to consulting the Weather Channel for a change in the barometric pressure. After baking, and eating, many batches of cookies, I think I’ve broken the cookie code. It’s a question of knowing how key factors in the dough affect the cookie’s texture.
To get the cookie you like, control the amount and temperature of key ingredients
Sugar. The moisture in sugar affects chewiness: The relative amount of white vs. brown sugar you use has a great effect on texture because each type has a different moisture content (brown sugar is much wetter than white). Using more brown sugar will produce a softer, chewier cookie, while using more white sugar will turn out cookies that are sandier in texture and crisper overall.
Flour. Keep in mind that the way you measure flour makes a big difference. Too much flour will make the cookie firm, dry, and tough, while too little flour will cause the cookie to spread too much and lose structure. I always use a scale to measure my flour so my results are as consistent as possible. If I do use a measuring cup, here’s how I do it: First, I always use a true dry measure—not a Pyrex cup. I fluff the flour with a fork to avoid densely packed flour. Then I spoon the flour from the bag into the measuring cup and level it with a knife—never scoop right from the bag, which would compact too much flour into the cup. And I’m careful not to shake or tap the cup as I add the flour, as this would pack down the flour as well.
Butter and eggs. Baking recipes usually specify the temperature for butter and eggs, but does it really matter? Absolutely. The temperature of these ingredients helps control how much the dough spreads. Cool ingredients will keep your dough cooler, which means it will spread more slowly in the oven, letting the oven’s heat “set” the cookie while it’s still thick and producing a denser, chewier cookie. Warm dough spreads more quickly in the oven, which makes the cookies thinner and crisper. The photo at right shows how cold and warm doughs react after 3 minutes in the oven. The dough on the bottom left went into the oven cold; the dough for the cookies top and right was at room temperature. A high proportion of butter to flour in the dough will also allow it to spread quickly.
Warming eggs quickly is as easy as dunking them in warm water for a minute or two. Butter presents a bigger problem. Some people warm butter in the microwave, but just a few seconds too long and it’s melted. It’s best just to plan ahead.
Your kitchen’s temperature will affect the temperature of the dough, as will dropping cookies onto still-hot cookie sheets: For chewy cookies, be sure to have enough cool sheets handy. And humid weather will soften even the crispest cookies in as little as a day, so store them well wrapped.