'The true cook is the perfect blend, the only perfect blend, of artist and philosopher. He knows his worth: he holds in his palm the happiness of mankind, the welfare of generations yet unborn.'

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Brown butter chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies. That iconic cookie that is loved and raved about universally, and one that provokes the strongest personal responses and biases. Crisp vs chewy; giant vs dainty; nuts vs plain. A quick search on Google yielded 24,200,040 results which only shows how popular and divisive this humble cookie is! Every serious baker has got to have his own chocolate chip cookie recipe in his sleeves. Well, this is mine. I must qualify that statement because I always tweak the recipe slightly depending on what I have on hand - less nuts, no nuts, more chips, using a higher percentage of chocolate, etc. I suppose that's what makes this American cookie so endearing and endlessly creative - it's the fact that you can mix and match to suit your own taste.

With this in mind, this version sums up how I like my chocolate chip cookie: flat and crisp, with nuts, and loaded with the finest dark chocolate chips. I'm fully aware that in America, which is where this cookie originated, the majority of the people fancy the thick and chewy kind. Maybe it's a cultural thing, but I've always found that underbaked chewy centre rather challenging. Most American versions also contain an astonishing amount of sugars (white and brown) to attain crispiness/chewiness. In fact, it's impossible to recreate the traditional American cookie texture if you cut down on the sugar.

Beside the textural issue, I'm quite sensitive to blood sugar fluctuations so I tend to stay away from mainstream chocolate chip cookies. I therefore keep the sugar level rather low - there's sweetness in the chocolate chips anyway. Here are a few things I do to attain crispiness to compensate for the low sugar level:

1. Fully bake the cookies.
2. Replace the egg with milk so that the cookie spreads more and thins out during baking.
3. Use only white sugar. Brown sugar and corn syrup absorbs moisture from the air and makes the cookie soft.
4. Use some demerara sugar for extra crunch.
5. Add some slivered almonds for texture.

Another thing that I like to do is to brown the butter. It's imperative that you use the finest butter for this cookie since it's responsible for the background flavour. European cultured flavour is ideal for this. On occasions when I use non-premium butter, I like to brown the butter first to add nuttiness and depth of flavour to the dough which you can do either on the stove or the microwave. If you're short of time or are happy with the taste of your butter, by all means just melt the butter rather than brown it. Remember to adjust the amount of milk in the recipe accordingly though! Here we go, chocolate chip cookies as I like it. Try it and adjust to your own tastes.

Crisp brown butter chocolate chip cookies my way

200g (1 1/3 cup) all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
150g (10 tbsp) unsalted butter
30g (2 tbsp) white sugar + 50g (3 tbsp) demerara sugar
80ml (1/3 cup) milk (browned butter) / 50ml (3 tbsp) milk (melted butter)
150g fine dark chocolate, at least 70%, preferably more than 80%, chopped up
75g (3/4 cup) slivered almonds (optional)

1. Start off by browning the butter. You can either do this on the stove top or in the microwave. If you decide to do it in the microwave, put the butter in a glass bowl, covered, and heat in the microwave on high in 1 minute bursts until the butter is browned. Be careful when removing the bowl from the microwave, it will be extremely hot. You can simply melt the butter if you don't want to brown it.

Some of the nicest fragrances you can ever experience!

2. Now add milk to the butter: 80ml if you browned the butter and 50g if you melted it. Add the salt and white sugar to the bowl and mix together with a spatula. Leave the mixture until it is at room temperature - a process that can take up to an hour.

3. Mix the flour, baking soda and demerara sugar in another bowl with a whisk. Add to the cool butter mixture together with the chocolate chips and slivered almonds. Stir until it just forms a dough.

4. Now set aside the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes for the flour to absorb the moisture and gelatinise.

5. When ready to bake, form balls of dough spaced well apart on baking sheets lined with parchment paper. It's entirely up to you how big you want them to be.

6. Now flatten them as much as you can.

7. Bake in a preheated 160C/325F oven until thoroughly baked and the centre is firm-ish when you touch it. The exact baking time depends on how big you formed your dough. Remove from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets.

8. Store in an airtight container, and share them with people you love.

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