My favorite two cooking shows are America's Test Kitchen and Good Eats. I love them both because they really take a proper scientifically educational tack. What I mean by that is that they do more than tell you how to do something, but they show you why you should take their advice. They both do this by taking a dish we all know, and may not be entirely fond of, and prepare it, all the while explaining why they do it the way they do.
It's particularly interesting when both shows cover the same topic, as they recently (or in the case of Good Eats, not so recently) did for one of the quintessentially american dessert recipes of all times: The Chocolate Chip (aka Toll House) cookie. This recipe was made famous by the Nestlé company, which printed the recipe on the back of every bag of chocolate chips they've sold since the end of the pleistocene.
I grew up with these cookies. My mother used to bake them and mail them to me in care packages when I was at summer camp. And they were good. But I never had particularly high standards for them.
What changed my mind was the Good Eats episode, "Three Chips for Sister Marsha," where he took the original recipe and demonstrated how to tweak the recipe to send it in three different directions, resulting in caky cookies, thin crispy cookies, or - my favorite - chewy cookies.
So now we have my two favorite cooking authorities weighing in on the same subject. Let's compare and contrast.
Alton specified bread flour, ATK was content with AP. Alton used the customary 2 and 1/4 cups, ATK reduced it to a cup and 3/4.
Alton replaced the 2nd egg white with 2 tbsp of milk. ATK simply omitted it.
ATK doubled the vanilla quotient. Alton left that alone.
While Alton melted the butter, ATK went to the extra trouble of actually browning it.
ATK used 14 oz of butter - 10 browned and 4 added whole to cool - Alton stuck with 16 (two sticks).
ATK used 3/4 cup of brown sugar and half a cup of white. Alton used 1 and 1/4 cups of brown and 1/4 cup of white.
ATK used 1/2 tsp of baking soda, Alton stuck with 1 tsp.
Rather than go to the ATK website and print out the recipe or try to use the pause button and get the ingredients, I decided to simply use the same Alton "chewy" recipe I've been using all along, but to brown 3/4 of the butter first, cooling it with the remaining butter before combining the result with the sugar. I also let them cool on the pan (as ATK suggested) rather than moving them straight to a plate to cool.
The other ATK recommendation concerned the chips. They recommended Ghirardelli bitter-sweet chips, rather than the Netslé milk chocolate chips I usually buy.
So how did they turn out?
I'm very happy with them. I actually think that the change to the bittersweet chips made the biggest difference. The cookies have a powerful chocolate flavor that they never really had before. Cooling them on the pan crisped up the bottoms, giving them a sort of half crunch, half chew consistency that is nice. I think the chocolate flavor of the chips overwhelms whatever other differences there may have been in the batter, but Scarlet disagrees with me there - perhaps my palate isn't discriminating enough.