Arguably more American than apple pie, the chocolate chip cookie - which celebrates its 80th birthday next year - is adored for its simplicity and nostalgic nature. Because opinions differ widely about how the perfect chocolate chip cookie should taste, the internet is swimming with recipes claiming to be "the best," often promising results that would be super-chewy, crispy, extra-chocolatey or even health-conscious.
We wanted to single out one recipe as victorious, probably stirring up controversy, so we tried 10 of the more promising recipes and narrowed the options to six, based on popularity and notable ingredients or baking techniques. We made sure each produced distinguishable differences in flavor. Then we tapped three local bakers to sacrifice their afternoons and glucose levels and offer their opinions of the finished products. And boy, did they have opinions.
One cookie was so gooey, you needed multiple napkins to eat it; one was so dry that a tester almost spit it out; and one was so dense that our 10-year-old judge couldn't even break it in half.
So which recipe took the cake, er, cookie? First, let's meet our judges:
Caitlin Dysart is an executive pastry chef. Victoria Harris helping start a company specializing in sweet and savory foods laced with cannabis. Maya Jindal, 10, is a former contestant on Food Network's "Kids Baking Championship."
The least favorite cookie among all three judges was clear: a shortbread variation that they found too dry and crumbly. The unanimous winner - titled The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies from Joy the Baker - was hailed for its chewy center and sprinkle of coarse sea salt.
The 2014 recipe, one of the blog's 10 most popular posts, took founder Joy Wilson more than a year to perfect and was inspired by her father's penchant for cookies with a strong butter flavor. "He used to add Orville Redenbacher popcorn oil to his dough," Wilson said when we called to tell her the good news. "I thought there had to be a better way to intensify the flavor, so I tried browning the butter." Clearly it worked.
The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Yield: 36 cookies
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, half at room temperature 1 cup packed light brown sugar 2 teaspoons vanilla extract 1 teaspoon molasses 1/2 cup granulated sugar 1 large egg, plus 1 large egg yolk 2¼ cups flour 1 teaspoon kosher salt 1 teaspoon baking soda 1 cup bittersweet chocolate chips 1/2 cup coarsely chopped pecans Flaky or coarse sea salt, for sprinkling
Melt the chilled half of the butter in a medium skillet over medium heat, swirling it in the pan occasionally. It'll foam and froth as it cooks and start to crackle and pop. Once the crackling stops, keep a close eye on the melted butter, continuing to swirl the pan often. The butter will start to smell nutty, and brown bits will form in the bottom. Once the bits are amber brown (2½ to 3 minutes or so after the sizzling stops), remove the butter from the heat and immediately pour it into a small bowl, bits and all. This will stop the butter from cooking and burning. Let cool for 20 minutes.
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven; preheat to 350 degrees. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
Combine the remaining 8 tablespoons of room-temperature butter and the brown sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer, or use a handheld electric mixer; beat on medium speed for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth but not quite fluffy. Reduce the speed to medium-low; beat in the vanilla extract and molasses until well incorporated.
Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl, along with the granulated sugar. Beat for 2 minutes (medium-low) until smooth; the mixture will lighten in color and become fluffy.
Reduce the speed to low; add the egg and egg yolk, beating for 1 minute, then stop to scrape down the bowl. Add the flour, kosher salt and baking soda; beat on low speed just until everything is incorporated. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips and pecans and finish incorporating all of the dry flour bits into the dough.
Scoop the dough in 2-tablespoon-size balls onto the prepared baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches between the balls. Use a light, two-fingered pinch to sprinkle each portion of dough with coarse or flaky sea salt.
Bake (upper and lower racks) for 12 to 15 minutes until golden brown, rotating the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through. Let the cookies rest on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.
Repeat to use all the dough.
Nutrition information per cookie: 160 calories, 1 g protein, 19 g carbohydrates, 9 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 25 mg cholesterol, 35 mg sodium, 0 g dietary fiber, 12 g sugar.