Tips, techniques, add-ins to make your homemade chocolate chip cookies even better

Illustration for article titled Tips, techniques, add-ins to make your homemade chocolate chip cookies even better
Photo: SesaThee (iStock), Graphic: Natalie Peeples

Have you ever had a bad chocolate chip cookie? I’m trying to think of an example from my own experience, and I’m just not coming up with one. Even the freebie ones you’re given when you check in to DoubleTree Hotels are totally welcome, all the more so because they’re unexpected. So, we can conclude that chocolate chip cookies are sort of like pizza, in that even the mediocre ones are reasonably tasty.


But what makes a great chocolate chip cookie? How do you improve on the classic recipe? How do you maintain the cookie’s simple essence while making it just that much better? We asked the experts.

Chop your own chocolate

“Don’t use chips. Get some chocolate you really like, the kind of chocolate you’d eat out of hand. And chop it yourself. (I find it easier to chop with a serrated knife.) Chop it into chunks and chip-sized pieces and shards. And save the dust! Add the dust in with the cookies. Every bite will be a little different. That’s the best way: good chocolate, chopped.” —Dorie Greenspan, James Beard Award-winning author of Dorie’s Cookies

Use your fridge

“Bake cookies from cold, refrigerated portions straight to the oven. You will still get the crisp edges, but with a soft, gooey center.” —Adrian Mendoza, executive pastry chef, Herb & Wood, San Diego

Let melted butter come to room temp

“I use melted, salted butter, making sure it’s at room temperature before creaming with the sugar—that gives the cookies a chewier texture.” —Heather Terhune, executive chef, Tre Rivali and The Outsider, Milwaukee


Be like Salt Bae

“Finishing the top of the cookies with a flake salt such as Maldon Sea Salt gives them a great texture and makes them a little more savory.”—Austin Fausett, executive chef, Fisk & Co., Chicago

Illustration for article titled Tips, techniques, add-ins to make your homemade chocolate chip cookies even better
Photo: Plateresca (iStock)

Mix in pretzels

“Salt is great in cookies, as everyone knows, as is a bit of crunch. Place a mini, thin-twist pretzel on top of your cookies halfway through baking, or crush a bunch up and mix ’em into your batter.”—Kate Bernot, associate editor, The Takeout


Think in black-and-white

“For chocolate chip cookies, I often split the dough in half, adding cocoa powder to one half of the dough to make it dark, and adding white chocolate chips for flavor and contrast. I leave the other half as a classic mix, and use dark chocolate chips. Then I swirl the two doughs together to make a play on black and white chocolate chip cookies! From time to time I also add chopped peanut butter cups to the dough.”—Becky Quan, pastry chef, NoMad Las Vegas


Add dried cherries

“I love to do a chocolate chip cookie with cocoa powder added to the dough, to make it a chocolate chocolate chip cookie, and add dried cherries. I love how the acidity of the cherries cuts through the richness of the cookie. Plus, I love fruit in most things.”—Natalie Saben, pastry chef, Pacific Standard Time, Chicago


Bake better with bacon

“I love the brown-butter-bacon chocolate chip cookie recipe by pastry chef Dana Cree that we posted here on The Takeout. I firmly believe that bacon makes everything better.”—Gwen Ihnat, deputy managing editor, The Takeout


Chill, form into log, freeze

“Since most recipes make so many cookies, I’d recommend chilling half the dough, rolling it into a log and wrapping it tightly with plastic wrap. Freeze it, and when you want ready-bake cookies, just slice it and throw it in the oven.” —A.E. Dwyer, contributing writer, The Takeout


Gwen Ihnat is the Editorial Coordinator for The A.V. Club.

Kate Bernot is a freelance writer and a certified beer judge. She was previously managing editor at The Takeout.


Lord of the Ducks

During the holidays I make thousands of cookies. Here are some useful tips from my duck filled kitchen:

  • First add whatever you want to your cookies. They are your cookies, make them how you like.
  • Bread Flour if you want chewier cookies or to help offset the addition of any ground oats or nuts or other non-glutenous flours.
  • If adding oats or nuts, grind up about a third of the them and add to the flour. This brings more flavor and enhances texture.
  • If using oats, use steel cut oats. They work great with the natural crumb of the cookie and don’t get gummy like rolled oats can.
  • Half shortening half butter. Butter flavored shortening is best. Keeps cookies softer longer.
  • It is okay to use margarine for your cookies. The amount of flour may need adjusting depending on the water content of the spread.
  • Cheap ingredients can still make amazing cookies, but be wary of some off-brand chocolate flavored chips and some of the vegan/organic chips as they can have an odd flavor or bake poorly.
  • If using cheap chips, try to cut them with some real chocolate chips or add a few spoonfuls of coco powder to the flour to add a bit more coco flavor.
  • If using dried fruit, soak it over night in either fruit juice or liquor. Cherries soaked overnight in either cherry juice or bourbon area nice touch. If you are worried about the rehydrated fruit adding too much moisture to the cookies, give them a very light dusting of flour or corn starch before adding to the dough.
  • Darker chips work well with sweeter mix-ins and semi-sweet or milk chocolate chips work well with more bitter/savory mix-ins.
  • If you hate chopping chocolate or are otherwise unable to safely hack away at a block of chocolate, but want to use a type that doesn’t come in chip form you may want to melt it in the microwave and pour it out over parchment paper. Let cool then break/hack into pieces.
  • Add any spices to the butter before mixing.
  • Add extracts when adding the eggs.
  • Use Dark brown sugar when the recipe calls for brown sugar. If you only have light brown sugar, use it in place of the brown and castor sugar or add about 1tbsp molasses per cup of light brown sugar.
  • Vanilla extract, real or immitation, is fine. No need to waste vanilla beans or paste. Vanilla Paste will not bring any more flavor to the cookies, but does add some color. You can get the same color by adding a spoon or two of coco powder to your flour.
  • Adding a little almond extract can help liven up your cookies.
  • Experiment with extracts and liquors to bring new flavors.
  • Use table salt or another inexpensive salt inside the dough.
  • If adding salt to the exterior of the cookie, add it to the bottom of the cookie. Lightly sprinkle a large size salt (like koshering salt) on the baking sheet before adding the dough. Don’t worry, the salt won’t burn. Salt will have more impact on the bottom of the cookie. For salt to fully enhance the other flavors it must make contact with the tongue first.
  • You might consider making a super saturated solution of salt water and lightly spraying the cookie sheet before adding the dough. This will add a thin layer of salt to the bottoms of the cookies. You can also spritz the top of the cookies as well.
  • If you are not so great at mixing, consider reserving some chips to add as needed. This way that last cookie or two aren’t chipless.
  • Use different types and size chips to add variety to the cookie. If I’m making a huge batch, I’ll often combine the various chips I’ve bought on sale over the past month.
  • Cover the bowl and let the dough rest in the fridge overnight up to 2 days. This will give time for the flavors to fully develop.
  • Silicone baking mats or non-stick aluminum foil are great for chocolate chip cookies. With foil, you can lift the foil and cookies right off the tray and set it on the cooling rack. Useful if you have issues with your chips falling out of your cookies when transferring to the cooling rack. Also a time saver if you only have a few baking sheets and are making a lot of cookies.
  • Try baking them with the convection/fan on. If you are baking chip cookies that call for baking at 350, there is a good chance it was adapted from a professional kitchen that uses convection ovens and that bit got left out when scaling down the recipe. Normally chip cookies bake best in a conventional oven at 375 or a convection oven at 350. Using convection also helps you get a crisper outside while maintaining that gooey inside. Be aware that baking times may need to be adjusted and ovens vary so keep an eye on your bake.
  • Store cooled baked cookies in an airtight container with a slice or two of bread, separated from cookies by piece of waxed paper. This will keep cookies soft as they steal the moisture from the bread.