Take a moment here with me and imagine the best freaking chocolate chip cookie you’ve ever sunk your gnashers into. It’s warm, right? Of course it’s warm. The outside of the cookie is perfectly crispy and easily gives way to a chewy center. The chocolate flavour is rich and coats the inside of your mouth. The sweetness is strong without being overpowering and the whole flavour experience ends with just a hint of salt to leave you hungry for more.
Ok, now that your mouth is watering, let me tell you that you have the power within you to make these very same chocolate chip cookies right at home in your very own kitchen. “Pft! No way,” you scoff, “I’m no baker. The perfect cookie isn’t coming out of my kitchen.” And that’s where you would be wrong. Because I am going to share with you all the secrets and science you need to enjoy that perfect cookie whenever the fancy grabs you.
“The Importance of Resting Cookie Dough in Baking”
My number 1 tip on improving even the most basic cookie recipe: rest your cookie dough! If I spent my whole life shouting this one message from the mountain tops I believe it would be a life well spent. Magic happens when you simply take your raw cookie dough and let it chill out in the fridge for a few hours. (And by ‘magic’, I mean science.)
First, let’s talk gluten. You might only think of gluten as a mystery allergen that you have to avoid when your sister-in-law comes over, but gluten in cookies is the magical substance which dictates texture. Not enough gluten and your cookie will be crisp, crumbly and crunchy. Too much gluten and your cookie will be rubbery, rough, and downright rude to your taste buds. When you form your cookie dough and whack it straight in the oven – that’s not enough gluten. When you knead your dough too much in your hands or mixer – that’s too much gluten.
So how do you achieve the perfect middle ground? Let your dough rest in the fridge for a minimum of 5 hours (I’ve tested this). Here’s what happens: the water from the margarine in your dough activates the protein in the flour [gluten] and it starts to form coil-shaped strands that increase the elasticity of the dough. Initially, these coils are tightly wound and make for a firm texture – that’s the solid ball of dough that you make your cookies from.
Chemically, the bonds between the protein molecules are weak, so over time they break and the dough relaxes into a softer, chewy texture. You still have those coiled proteins which are like little springs giving your cookie a pleasant chew, but the springs aren’t so tightly wound that your cookie is rubbery and tough. Picture the springs round the edge of a trampoline slowly being stretched out; that’s what’s happening to the gluten molecules when you rest your dough.
It’s also worth noting that the fat [margarine] and sugar also help to limit the formation of gluten so these are also helping to create that chewy texture.
“Choosing the Right Flours: Plain Flour and Bread Flour”
Have you ever stood in the baking aisle at the supermarket and wondered why there are so many different types of flour? I have. And lucky for you I’ve done the required research to give you the TL;DR.
In my experience, the best combination of flours for a truly excellent cookie is 50% plain flour and 50% bread flour. Bread flour contains more protein and makes more of those gluten coils we just talked about. Plain flour makes fewer gluten coils. Using all plain flour wouldn’t create enough gluten and the cookies would have a more cake-like texture. Using all bread flour would create too much gluten and the cookies would be too chewy or even rubbery. Using these flours in equal amounts creates just the right amount of gluten, and therefore, the best chewy texture.
“Why Chocolate Chip Cookies Are Everyone’s Favourite Treat”
Putting into words why we love something is rather tricky, if not completely impossible. However, there are some legit quantifiable reasons that everyone loves a chocolate chip cookie. For starters, sugar is addictive. Evolution has made us all natural experts at seeking out sugar and when we find a good source our brains become obsessed. Almost everything we eat has sugar though, so there’s got to be something extra about cookies.
Have you heard of dynamic contrast? Very simply speaking, dynamic contrast refers to a taste experience that is varied in flavour and texture. This variety is super interesting to our brains; those neurons are firing all over the place trying to figure out exactly what is happening in the mouth. It’s complex, and also simply delicious. Your brain cannot get enough of it.
Complex might seem like the wrong word for a treat as basic as a chocolate chip cookie, but hear me out. Remember at the start of this article when you imagined that best ever cookie? It’s crunchy AND soft. It’s rich AND bitter. It’s sweet AND salty. The caramelisation of sugar and butter, the varied gluten strands, the maillard reaction on the outside of the cookie… there’s actually a lot going on, scientifically, in a good chocolate chip cookie. It’s a simple recipe that results in some serious complexity.
Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe
You’ll need: 1 large bowl, 1 large spoon or spatula, an electric mixer, an airtight container, 2 flat baking sheets, reusable baking parchment OR approx. 1tsp vegetable oil.
Time: 15 minutes prep, 5-24 hours resting, 15-30 minutes baking, 30 minutes cooling
- In a large bowl combine 145g margarine, 145g brown sugar and 112g caster sugar. Stir vigorously with a large spoon or spatula, or you may wish to use an electric mixer if you have one. Mix until the spread and sugar are well combined and light in colour. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a spatula and stir in 1tsp vanilla extract.
- To the bowl add 125g plain flour, 125g bread flour, ½ tsp bicarbonate soda, ½ tsp baking powder, ½ tsp salt and 100g chocolate chips. Stir thoroughly with a large spoon or spatula until all the ingredients are evenly mixed and a soft dough forms.
- Roll the dough into 12 evenly sized balls, each about the size of a golf ball. Place the dough balls in an airtight container and put in the fridge to rest. Let your dough rest for a minimum of 5 hours and up to 24 hours.
- Preheat an oven to 190C/170C fan/Gas mark 5. Line 2 baking sheets with reusable baking parchment, or rub them thoroughly with a light vegetable oil (e.g. sunflower oil).
- Take the dough balls out of the fridge and arrange onto the baking sheets roughly 5cm apart. Bake in the preheated oven for 15 minutes or until cookies are light golden, set on the top and have a very slight wobble in the centre. Keep any extra dough cold in the fridge between batches and repeat step 5 until all the cookies are baked. Allow cookies to cool before serving.
You can make these cookies yourself at home, but if you wanted an extra helping hand you can buy the baking kit for this exact recipe in my online shop.
Most of the science-y info I’ve gleaned from Harold McGee’s On Food and Cooking. If you are even the slightest bit interested in food science then I would strongly recommend this amazing and extensive book.
Dynamic Contrast is a flavour experience explored and explained by Hyde and Witherley in their 1993 paper Dynamic Contrast: A Sensory Contribution to Palatability.
I’ve tested the resting time of my own cookie recipe and you can see me testing the results on TikTok.