Rochester, New York City Guide
Rochester, NY City Guide

© 1996-2015 Max Lent Communications




The Art of Chocolate Chip Cookie Baking

by Max Lent

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There is an art to making great chocolate chip cookies. All three phases of cookie making: selecting the recipe, selecting the ingredients, and the preparation methods require careful attention to quality, technique, and detail. There is also a philosophy involved with chocolate chip cookie making. My philosophy is that the cookie batter is just a binder for holding together as many chocolate chips and nuts together as possible. This philosophy is appreciated by most chocolate chip cookie lovers who have tasted my cookies.

Most chocolate chip cookie recipes contain the following ingredients: flour, baking soda, salt, butter, brown sugar, sugar, eggs, vanilla, chocolate chips, and nuts. The proportion of these ingredients to each other results in a recipe. Recipes vary in the following ways:

  • large, extra large, or jumbo eggs
  • name brand or store brand white sugar
  • more or less brown sugar
  • real or salt substitutes
  • dark brown rather than light brown sugar
  • real vanilla or imitation vanilla
  • more or less flour
  • hard or soft flour
  • more or less chocolate chips
  • brand of chocolate chips
  • more or less nuts
  • walnuts or pecans

There is no substitute for quality. Even in simple recipes, like mine for chocolate chip cookies, every ingredient's quality has an effect on the recipe's outcome.



Always use fresh eggs. Eggs that are past their prime may exhibit a cloudy white and a flatter rather than rounder yolk. If you are not sure about the freshness of an egg, break it into a measuring cup to inspect it before adding it to the recipe. Washing your hands after handling eggs is good procedure. This is especially true if you are going to touch the cookie dough later or taste the dough as you prepare it.

Baking Soda

Arm & Hammer brand baking soda works fine.


There is no substitute for butter. If you can't use butter for health or other reasons, don't waste your time trying to make a great chocolate chip cookie. The result will be substandard.

I prefer to use unsalted butter, but I often use salted butter without problem. Again, a name brand butter will often work better than a store brand. Store brands often vary a great deal in their texture and taste. Experiment.

My recipe calls for softened butter. Softened does not mean liquid. If the butter becomes a liquid during the softening process the texture of the cookies will suffer greatly. My method for softening butter is to put the butter in a microwave safe mixing bowl and put the mixing bowl on a turntable in a microwave. If you don't have a microwave turntable, rotate to the bowl containing the butter every 30 seconds or so. I set the microwave level to low and microwave for a minute or two. What I look for is softened butter. The stick of butter is still shaped like a stick, but can easily be dented with the force of gentle touch of a finger. Some microwave ovens will direct their microwaves to the center of the stick of butter and cause a melted hole to form. If this happens, don't worry a small amount of liquid from the butter will not seriously damage the recipe. Next time, move the bowl containing the butter around the microwave oven when you rotate it.

If your butter does not fully soften, don't despair. You will have to work harder with your mixing spoon to stir the butter into the other ingredients, but the exercise will do you good.


My preference in salt is for iodized table salt. Salt substitutes impart a taste that is not complimentary to the cookie.

White Sugar

Grocery stores often state that their house brands are equal to name brands. My experience is that this is not always so. However, white sugars do not seem to vary from one brand to another in observed quality.

White sugar substitutes do not result in edible chocolate chip cookies.

Brown Sugar

Brown sugars do vary from one brand to the next and by how old they are. I prefer Domino brand brown sugar. If your brown sugar is hard as a rock, it will not make a great cookie. To dissolve hard brown sugar will require too much stirring and will change the texture of the cookie.

Using a dark brown sugar will produce a darker stronger tasting cookie than using light brown sugar. In my experience, most people prefer cookies made with light brown sugar. If they don't have a choice, they seem to enjoy cookies made with dark brown sugar just fine.

Brown sugar substitutes do not result in edible chocolate chip cookies.


Whenever two bakers gather to talk baking the debate over whether to use real vanilla extract or imitation vanilla will likely arise. My experience is that real vanilla extract is absolutely necessary for some recipes. For example, I use real vanilla extract when I am adding the vanilla to a cooked custard that I use in a chocolate eclair cake. However, real vanilla extract seems to lose its flavor when exposed to high temperatures like those required to bake chocolate chip cookies. I recommend imitation vanilla extract for this recipe.


Selecting a flour is also a matter of personal preference. I prefer to use a harder flour. Hard flours will often have labels that say something like "better for bread." Cake flours produce a cookie with a finer texture which in my opinion is not desirable.

Chocolate Chips

The quality of chocolate chips varies greatly. Nestles Toll House chocolate chips are very good and are available at most markets. I personally don't enjoy the flavor of Hershey's chocolate chips. My preferred chocolate chip brand is Guittard. These chips are available through Sam's Club stores. When I can afford them, I also use Merkens' semi-sweet chocolate chips. Merkens' chocolate chips are available through The King Arthur Baker's Catalogue (800-827-6836).



Although most chocolate chip recipes call for walnuts, pecans are preferred by most everyone I have asked. Use whatever nuts you prefer, but don't say that you are using my recipe unless you use pecans. Nut quality is also very important and not easily obtained. Old nuts will be soft and mealy. Taste the pecans before you put them into the dough. If you feel like you would like to have a second or a third, use them. If the not, look for better quality nuts. The brands carried by Sam's Club an BJ's stores are excellent. The Diamond brand nuts found in most markets are so so and overly expensive.

Ingredients for Recipe

  • 1 stick or ¼ pound unsalted butter softened, but not liquid
  • 1 jumbo egg
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup light or dark brown sugar
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon imitation vanilla extract
  • 1 1/8 cups flour. If the cookies come out too flat and runny, use a little more flour next time.
  • 3 cups chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups pecans whole or chopped


Preheat oven to 365 degrees F. Arrange oven racks so that your cookie rack is in the middle of the oven.

  1. In a large bowl, add softened butter, and egg.
  2. Sprinkle the ½ teaspoon baking soda, and ½ teaspoon of salt over the butter and egg.
  3. Add ¼ cup white sugar and ½ cup brown sugar.
  4. Pour 1 ½ teaspoon vanilla extract over the brown sugar.
  5. Mix ingredients just until evenly moist.
  6. Add 1 1/8 cups of flour and stir until incorporated.
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  1. Add chocolate chips and nuts stirring until evenly blended. You may want to break up the nuts by breaking them into pieces before stirring them into the batter. I usually leave them whole and let the stirring process break up the nuts.
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  1. Spray cookie sheets lightly with a aerosol oil like Pam.
  2. Use a teaspoon measure walnut size clumps of cookie dough onto cookie sheets. Do not crowd cookies. Leave space for them to spread out a little and not touch. Women seem to prefer smaller cookies. Men and children prefer larger cookies.
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  1. Bake one cookie sheet at a time for about 13 minutes. Do not over bake.
  2. Cool cookie sheets on wire racks. Separate the cookies from the cookie sheets with a spatula or pancake turner before they cool completely.
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  1. Store in closed container at room temperature. As with all quality baked goods, chocolate chip cookies taste best if eaten within 24 hours of being baked. After 24 hours the texture and taste of the cookies degenerates.


A recipe that contains so few ingredients shouldn't require artfulness to prepare, but it does. Although most recipes call for creaming the eggs and sugar before adding other ingredients, that process turns what should be a great chocolate chip cookie dough into something that tastes overly processed, something more like a mall cookie.

Do not use an electric mixer or food processor to make this recipe. Both appliances ruin the texture of chocolate chip cookie dough.

Do not refrigerate or freeze cookies. Even putting the cookies in a cold room overnight can change their flavor. They should remain a room temperature until they are eaten. If you can't eat all of the cookies you make, share some with a friend or neighbor.

Special note for publishers and editors

If you liked this article, it is available for publication in your books and periodicals. Assignments are welcome.


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