How To Ditch The Pillsbury Dough-Log And Make Your Own Cookies

Ah, the chocolate-chip cookie. Many a confectionery addiction kicked off the moment an impressionable youngster watched a vulgar blue puppet shovel platefuls of these things into his gaping, vacant mouth-hole. This obsession probably also explains why the Sexy Cookie Monster costume exists. (Related: I'm still looking for an investor for my sexy-Fonz-jumping-over-a-sexy-shark costume.)

Anyway, the beauty of the chocolate chip cookie is that, so long as you don't burn the damn thing, it's pretty hard to make it unenjoyable. The recipe requires the most basic of ingredients and has an immediately identifiable pre-baked form that you could set your watch to: unless you can scoop out your dough, you probably won't be baking it.

With such a high baseline, though, should come much higher expectations. This may not be the first dessert off the board in the "what am I going to use to accentuate my beer gut" draft, but it's definitely a high-floor, higher-ceiling pick that nobody would let slip to the second round.

With this in mind, I've been fine-tuning my cookie recipe for years, baking batches back-to-back with minor tweaks to discover what makes for a better cookie. I'm not the first to do so, nor the most skilled. I do, however, have the narcissism and free time to make it all about me. Are you ready for my (me me me) cookie recipe?

Before we get started, though, a couple thoughts on some basic cookie ingredients and what approaching them from a different angle will do for you.

The Chocolate

If you want the ideal chocolate chip cookie experience, you need to chop that chocolate from a bar yourself. Full stop. You're going to want pure, unadulterated chocolate, so get a chocolate bar that has no ingredient labeled as an "emulsifier." Soy lecithin is the most common one, and any pre-shaped chocolate chip or chunk has it built right in there. These additives will prevent the chocolate from really melding its flavor with the cookie or melting into those pure, gooey pockets of heaven.

The Egg

New or old eggs? The age of the egg determines, essentially, how well it can maintain its form once whipped. As the egg ages, its protein structure begins to break down. While this means you can more easily bend the egg to your whim, it also will hold its new form (i.e., the thick foam that makes the cookie dough less dense) for a shorter period of time.

So what does this mean for you and your cookie? Using new eggs will give you a lighter cookie dough, baking up a bit more and giving it a cakier, airier texture. Using old eggs will net you a denser, chewier experience. Both are good things, in the long run, and a simple matter of taste.

The Butter

The butter is where you can really enhance the flavor of your cookie. Out of the wrapper, butter contributes just a little in the way of flavor, mostly existing to provide density (and a binding platform) for the other ingredients. The cooking process, especially in conjunction with the other ingredients, is when you start to see the benefits of using butter over, say, shortening.

A novel approach to enhancing the butter's flavor, and one I picked up from the Serious Eats Food Lab, is this: if you melt and brown your butter, you'll get a richer, more toffee-like flavor and crunch than if you cream it and add it directly to the cookie dough. The butter simply does not have enough time to develop its flavor during an 8 to 12 minute exposure to indirect heat.

On the other hand, there is a counterpoint for those who are feeling too lazy or want to recreate the classic cookie flavor. Creaming the butter adds pockets of air the same way it does an egg, which will contribute a similar cake-like effect to your dough. Thus, using creamed butter will give you the double bonus of lighter flavor and lighter texture. Browned butter will do the opposite. Do with that what you will.

Anything Else?

Yes, as a matter of fact. This recipe is very modular, meaning you can add and subtract ingredients on a whim. You can exchange one kind of sugar for another, use cocoa powder in the cookie dough itself, whip in a couple shots of booze for a more "adult" flavor experience, or add any number of "mix-ins" in addition to the chocolate chunks. Whatever your heathen heart desires.

The only thing to keep in mind is any ingredient you add will have its own effect on your cookie. Some are easily accounted for, e.g., adding cocoa powder will necessitate removing just a bit of flour to offset the dry powder, but others will have unexpected effects and can even possibly ruin your cookie. For example, forgetting that oats do not have NEARLY the same binding ability as flour will result in this little disaster.

How To Ditch The Pillsbury Dough-Log And Make Your Own Cookies

Yep. I'm a fucking idiot. At least the chocolate ones turned out okay.

Okay, now with all the caveatin' out of the way, let's bake us a cookie.

The Recipe

  • 2 1/2 cups white all-purpose flour
  • 3/4 cup packed brown sugar
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar (white, raw, or cane are fine)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon table salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 1/4 sticks butter
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 8-10 ounces chopped dark chocolate
  • Nuts, berries, and stray band-aids or bath beads optional

1. Whisk together flour, salt, and baking soda and set aside.

2. Prepare your butter. This means either creaming it together with the brown sugar or melting it down and browning it.

If you choose the latter, brown it in a shallow pan at medium-high temp, whisking continuously until it starts to turn brown (takes about 3 to 5 minutes) and starts to get a nutty, toffee-like smell. Immediately remove from heat and whisk in an ice cube until it melts completely (to replace the moisture lost from the browning process). Transfer the cooked butter to a non-metal bowl and place in the fridge for about a half-hour. It should still be liquid but lukewarm when it comes back out. Give it a stir every once in awhile as the cooked particles will settle.

If you choose to simply cream it, do so for about a minute at medium speed, then give it another 30 seconds mixing with the brown sugar. Scrape it all together and set it aside.

3. Beat together eggs, white sugar, and vanilla for 2-4 minutes with a mixer on medium-high speed. Go longer if you want a cakier cookie, less if you want it chewier. You should see it starting to hold its shape just a bit before it's done.

4. Mix in brown sugar and butter (which should, again, still be liquid if you browned it) JUST until it's blended. The brown sugar should still be visible as tiny bits in the mixture, like a gooey, possibly salmonella-contaminated leopard with delicious, crunchy spots.

5. Mix in the flour mixture for another few seconds until just barely blended together. Some (tiny) stray pockets of flour are okay here. Better to mix it too short rather than too long.

6. Mix in chopped chocolate (and any other mix-ins) along with any little chocolate crumbs left from when you chopped it. These will preemptively melt into the dough from friction (yeah, science!) and bolster the flavor of the dough when it bakes. This should take another 20 seconds or so.

(Note: Here, I recommend refrigerating the dough for at least an hour to let it set prior to baking. This will help your cookies maintain their peaks and valleys during the baking process, and it'll make the scooping process much less ... sticky.)

7. You can scoop it out any way you want, but if you whipped the eggs for a bit longer you can make the cookies bigger — I'm talking about whole damn giant ice cream scoops worth of cookie. [waves American flag]. Otherwise, a rounded tablespoon will give you the usual, non-gluttonous, three-inch cookie size.

8. Bake at 325 for 10-12 minutes for small cookies and 13-16 minutes for the bigger cookies.

If you want to make absolutely sure your cookie bakes evenly, and by George do I ever recommend this, preheat the oven to at least 350 and then turn it down to 325 as soon as the cookies go in. Since opening the oven will let some heat out, if you don't preheat a bit high, it'll re-fire and cook one side faster than the other. I recommend baking in the top half of the oven as well.

How To Ditch The Pillsbury Dough-Log And Make Your Own Cookies

9. When the cookies come out, press some flaked salt into the top of them. The salt in the cookie helps to release all the flavors in every bite, but that little extra burst on top really helps cut through the sweetness and let the understated flavors of the cookie shine.

10. Hand the cookies to people and smile magnanimously as they melt into tiny, willing puddles at your feet.

And there you have it. Sure, cutting open a roll of slice-and-bake with a smiling, rotund Norman Bates-type blob of cellulite wearing a chef's hat on the wrapper is simpler, but if we did things the easy way, we'd all be dirty, penniless hippies. No offense to dirty, penniless hippies.


Joshua Sweeney is a longtime Deadspin commenter, a wine industry veteran, and a former wine blogger. Follow him on Twitter @wineaccguy.

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