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mystery and frustration of the chocolate chip cookie

February 16, 2011

Somehow, some way, the basic chocolate chip cookie is one of the most maddening and rewarding of items to bake in the kitchen. The process and the ingredients couldn’t be simpler. And yet, despite a consistently buttery and chewy result, the vast differences among batches couldn’t be greater, really. I know it has something to do with the oven, with the humidity, with the thickness of the baking sheet, among other things.

In reading the venerated Cook’s Illustrated in recent months, I’ve begun learning more and more about the chemistry of cooking—about the formation of molecules, the effects of certain temperatures, the nature of aeration. It’s been quite an education. And I really like it. I always enjoyed chemistry, and always cooking, so it’s a perfect marriage, really. And especially wit the baking, where the vast changes that foods are inspired to undergo are truly staggering, and, accordingly, apt to end in some sort of disaster, or at the least, not what one expected.

I consider myself an especially proficient baker. Especially with respect to cake. I don’t know what it is, but, I find baking both highly therapeutic, wonderfully methodical and really, quite easy. Perhaps it’s the straight-forward nature of baking directions—step by step, with specified times and temperatures. Stove-top activities like such clean-cut orders—there’s more judgment involved. Surely many beg to differ—I know a lot of people who are downright frightened of baking. I can’t figure that out.

In any case, after purchasing a simple five-speed mixer, I baked my inaugural batch of cookies at my new apartment last night. The result was crisp on the bottom, light and poofy on top. It had a cake-like texture with a fluffy crumb. These descriptors I’ve only recently learned from Cook’s Illustrated, so excuse me for my pretentious. They were quite good, and I’ve refrigerated another batch of dough for later.

Depending on the humidity, on how the oven is feeling that day, it could be a whole different kind of cookie.

And that is the beauty of cooking at home.


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