clockwise from upper left: #4 (whole wheat) #3 (yeast) #1 (control) #2 (bread)
I’m a scientist. I spent years working in labs, and I kid you not that what I did was combine ingredients and bake them. I did not, however, eat the results of those experiments. My cooking lately has become increasingly similar to my lab work. Notes are laboriously taken, samples are diligently labeled, variables are carefully controlled. But in this case, I do get to eat the results. It’s a key difference.
This comparison is a little different than ones I’ve done in the past, because I wasn’t looking at different recipes. Instead, I used a master recipe and varied just one component in each batch of cookies. I mixed the dough, flash-froze the dough balls, transferred them to plastic bags, then took them on a 9-hour (make that 10-hour, because we missed a turn) drive. I baked each batch without adjusting the oven temperature in between. I had four tasters (including myself). I did not tell the other tasters what the differences between the cookies were.
Batch #1: This was my control recipe. A fairly standard chocolate chip cookie recipe, the only difference between this recipe and Tollhouse is an increase in the ratio of brown sugar to white sugar.
Batch #2: This was the same as Batch #1, except I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour.
Batch #3: This was the same as Batch #1, except I added 2 teaspoons instant yeast. The idea to use yeast in chocolate chip cookies came from this recipe, which I liked quite a bit. (Thanks to branny for bringing this to my attention.) However, since the recipe differs from traditional chocolate chip cookie recipes in a number of ways – bread flour, browned butter, less butter per flour – I couldn’t be sure what roll the yeast played. This is what spurred this whole comparison.
Batch #4: This was the same as Batch #1, except I used whole wheat pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour.
Batch #1: Frankly, these aren’t my ideal chocolate chip cookies. That’s okay, because the purpose of this experiment was to identify differences, not necessarily find an ideal. (My notes say, simply, “soft.” So much for laborious note-taking!) They tend to be a little too flat, a little greasy, and, yes, very soft.
Batch #2: Alton Brown knows what he’s doing when he uses bread flour to make his cookies chewy. These were the overall favorite, with a nice balance between the greasy side and the cakey side – i.e., chewy.
Batch #3: Yeast apparently makes cookies fluffy. We found this one a little too cakey for our tastes.
Batch #4: I probably should have substituted just half of the all-purpose white flour for whole wheat pastry flour. A complete substitution resulted in cookies that were greasy, flat, and grainy. The flavor was a bit nutty. Kind of what you’d expect from whole wheat cookies, I suppose.
- Bread flour makes cookies chewier, taller, and less greasy (or drier).
- Yeast makes cookies more cakey.
- A 1:1 substitution of whole wheat pastry flour for all-purpose flour in cookies is a bad idea.
- I am obsessive, at least when it comes to cookies!
left to right: #4 (whole wheat) #3 (yeast) #2 (bread) #1 (control)
One year ago: Summer Rolls
Chocolate Chip Cookies, previously:
Chocolate Chip Cookies (4 recipes)
Chocolate Chip Cookie (Cook’s Illustrated’s “Perfect”)
Master Recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookie Experiments
Please note that I’m not saying that you can’t make good cookies without bread flour, or that yeast will make all cookies too cakey. These were just the results with this particular recipe. All I’m saying is that yeast makes cookies cakier, and bread flour makes them chewier.
2¼ cups (10.8 ounces) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon table salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) sugar
1¼ cups (8.75 ounces) brown sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate chips
1. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position. Heat the oven to 375F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. In a small bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a hand mixer, or a spoon or whatever), beat the butter until creamy. Add the sugars and beat on medium speed until fluffy. Add the eggs, one a time, mixing for one minute after each addition. Add the vanilla. Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, mixing just until almost combined. Add the chocolate chips and pulse the mixer on low speed until the chips are dispersed and the flour is incorporated.
3. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto the lined baking pan, spaced an inch or two apart. Bake the cookies for 7-10 minutes, until slightly browned around the edges and just set in the middle. Cool the cookies for at least 2 minutes on the sheet before transferring to a rack to finish cooling. (If they still seem fragile after 2 minutes of cooling, you can just leave them on the sheet to cool completely.)