Time Does Make a Difference

I've been interested in the science of cooking ever since I started watching Good Eats on the Food Network and reading Cooks Illustrated magazine. I've also had a long standing fascination in finding the perfect chocolate cookie for MY tastes (understanding that everyone has their own preferences).

Alton Brown has an excellent chocolate chip cookie episode of Good Eats where he makes Puffy, Thin, and Chewy versions of the cookie by altering the flour, eggs, and shortening in the cookies. He explains why the gluten amount in the flour or the type of shortening will effect the texture of the cookie. This is also discussed in the great reference cookbooks CookWise and BakeWise by Shirley O. Corriher.

I was intrigued about a month ago when my friend Becky mentioned a certain chocolate chip cookie recipe from the New York Times on her Facebook posting. It had a link to a rather interesting article.

The basic idea in the article is that time allows the dough to 'age' for better flavor and texture. The dough is allowed to dry as the moisture from the eggs is slowly absorbed by the dry ingredients. When first mixed the dough is very light and soft. Below you see the dough after 36 hours, kind of dry and crumbly, but it can still be pressed into balls.

In the article the testers took a batch of cookie dough and took samplings from it at 12, 24, and 36 hours. They say the dough can be chilled for up to 72 hours. Here is the result they shared:

At 12 hours, the dough had become drier and the baked cookies had a pleasant, if not slightly pale, complexion. The 24-hour mark is where things started getting interesting. The cookies browned more evenly and looked like handsomer, more tanned older brothers of the younger batch. The biggest difference, though, was flavor. The second batch was richer, with more bass notes of caramel and hints of toffee.

Going the full distance seemed to have the greatest impact. At 36 hours, the dough was significantly drier than the 12-hour batch; it crumbled a bit when poked but held together well when shaped. These cookies baked up the most evenly and were a deeper shade of brown than their predecessors. Surprisingly, they had an even richer, more sophisticated taste, with stronger toffee hints and a definite brown sugar presence. At an informal tasting, made up of a panel of self-described chipper fanatics, these mature cookies won, hands down.

I made my dough on Monday night and baked the first samplings at 36 hours and figured I'd wait the 72 hours to finish them off. I will definitely agree wholeheartedly with the insights expressed above for the 36 hour cookies. There was an immediate, noticeable flavor difference with these cookies - the strong hints of toffee and caramel.

Another observation in the article is that size matters. In this case, the bigger the cookie, the better the variation in texture. They suggest large cookies so that you have a nice crunchy edge that give way to a soft, slightly chewy center. Spot on again!

My cookies used regular chocolate chips rather than the chocolate disc/coins mentioned in the article. I couldn't go to that extra expense, although I do agree that the better the chocolate, the better the cookie. Who could argue with that?

The last detail was the sprinkling of salt on the tops of the cookies. I must admit that I forgot this detail on the first batch. On the second batch I ground fresh sea salt across the top. It does add an extra zing to the cookie.

Overall assessment? Great recipe and observations. There really is a significant flavor difference with the aging of the dough. So then it boils down to things like... Do you have the willpower to let your dough sit for two days before you bake it? How well do the cookies keep? I think this recipe does have a keeper status in my recipe file. But I also think that it will depend on the mood and patience and the reason I'm baking cookies that day to determine whether I'll be making this version or my other favorite, the Monster Cookie recipe.

Anyway, the recipe for these fabulous cookies, if you can wait the 36 hours, is located here.