As far as I'm concerned, the most perfect cookie in the world is the chocolate chip cookie. It may only rank as America's second favorite cookie (after the Oreo), but it also ranks as America's favorite cookie to bake at home. But perfection doesn't come without a little work. That's why I'm going to cover a few more details on the chocolate chip cookie.
If you're like me, you used a #40 disher to scoop your cookies. This may be because you can't afford to buy every size disher out there, and the #40 seemed like a pretty decent size. Good on you. One handy thing about this size is that it's perfect for home-baked cookies. You don't really need massive cookies the size of a CD, like you see at the gas station. And you certainly don't need icky pink shortening frosting, spackled on like greasy grout. But I digress.
In professional bakeries, we use what's called a "full-size sheet pan". This pan is so huge, it doesn't fit into most home ovens. Fortunately, we also have what's called a "half sheet pan". As the name implies, this is half the size of the full sheet pan. It's also about the size of a standard cookie sheet. And while it tends to cost quite a bit more than a cookie sheet, it also tends to last years longer, and doesn't warp from the heat the first time you use it. I keep a stack of them in my kitchen.
As you may recall from my last post, I scoop all of my cookies before baking anything (except for the tester). Of course, I don't just scoop them onto a plate or something. I line a half sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper, and scoop them into rows on that. Then I chill the cookies, still on the sheet pan, at least for long enough for them to firm up. When I'm done, what do I do with that sheet of parchment? Of course I don't waste it. I use it to bake cookies too. Once I have cleared the cookies off of a sheet of parchment, it's ready to be used for its intended purpose: non-stick protection. In fact, I occassionally bake batches of cookies so large that I get a rotation going. I set up two half sheet pans full of cookies, toss them into the oven, and then set up two more pans. When the first set of pans comes out, I toss the second set in before moving the baked cookies to cooling racks. Then I put the used parchment back on the pans and wait for them to cool down. By the time they're cool enough to put cookies on without cooking them prematurely, the cookies in the oven are just about ready to come out. I line up new cookies on the parchment from the first set of cookies, and then they're ready to go back into the oven. Believe it or not, parchment can often be reused several times before needing replacement.
If you line up your cookies just right, you can fit eleven of them on a single half sheet pan. You need a row of four cookies, then three, then four. If you scooped smaller cookies, then you can add more rows, but it's important to keep your cookies staggered like bricks. This lets you cook the largest amount of cookies on a single sheet, without any of them baking into each other when they start to spread.
Didn't cover your cookies properly? Are they a little dry on top? If so, you're going to end up with a lot of cracks on the top of your cookie. People may not be able to tell that the dough was dry, but the cracks will serve as a constant reminder, and people will wonder why this batch is so different from the last batch. Fortunately, there is hope. When my cookies dry out, I like to spritz them with a little water. You don't want them to get soggy, but just a couple of sprays from your trusty little squirt bottle will make the dryness go away.
A lot of people really like gooey cookies. When I worked at a ski resort bakery, I would often see a line of skiers start to form at the bakery counter when they heard the timers on the cookie ovens go off. They didn't want the cookies on the counter. Those cookies were at least an hour old. They wanted gooey goodness, fresh from the oven. And who can blame them? Well, I've been told that gooey cookies are underbaked cookies. Don't you believe it. If a cookie is hard when it leaves the oven, then it's overbaked.
How do you know when the cookie is done? As your scooped cookies bake, they will begin to spread. As they spread, there will still be a little dome in the center. When it's time to test for doneness, that dome may still be there. If it's gone, pull your cookies and hope they're not overbaked. If it's still there, bang it against the oven rack. Don't bang it like you're trying to drive a nail, you don't want to start bending your oven racks or anything. If the center falls, then your cookies are done. If they still stand, they have more time to go. Gooey or no, your cookies should still sit for a minute or two, just to let the carry-over cooking finish them off. I like to give my cookies at least five minutes, to let them firm up enough that I can pick them up without them falling apart, but still be a little gooey and a lot chewy.
If you bake your cookies just right, they will actually stay chewy for a while. Amazingly, I have a few cookies left over from a batch last night, and they're still chewy. They'll probably even stay chewy and fresh for another day or two. When they start tasting a little stale, it's not time to throw them out just yet. A quick minute or two in a 300F oven will refresh the cookies and make them taste just like they did when they were freshly baked. But you can't pull this trick more than once or maybe twice, so only reheat what you think you're going to use.
What about long-term storage, after the cookies are baked? Unfortunately, refrigeration tempuratures (chilly, but not freezing) will actually promote staling. That's right, while refrigerating wheat-based products will retard things like mold and other nasty things you don't want to eat, it will also make them go stale faster. Fortunately, I have a little secret for you. Freezing tempuratures will actually slow the staling process, while also slowing other things like mold, etc. I've gotten away with freezing baked cookies for up to a couple of weeks, and then just refreshing them in the oven. They probably won't taste freshly baked anymore, but they'll be close, and I've found mine to be a little chewier.
That's the low-down on chocolate chip cookies, from a professional baker's perspective. Armed with this knowledge, you too can improve upon perfection in your own kitchen. Everyone has their own little things that they like to do with their cookies, and before long I'm sure you'll have your own version tweaked to your personal specifications, and then you will discover what is, for you, the perfect chocolate chip cookie.