Saturday, April 2, 2011

Week 16: The Chocolate Chip Conundrum

It is often said that you get what you pay for and that quality will cost you. But when it comes to chocolate chip cookies, does that still hold true?

Chocolate chip cookies are one of those things that are always good. Even when they're bad, they're good, unless of course you burn them. But even then they might still be pretty good. So would I be splitting hairs if I set out to find the 'better' chocolate chip cookie? Probably, but that's no reason not to.

In my freezer I had two bags of chocolate chips. One was Trader Joe's house brand, which costs about $2.50. The other was from San Francisco chocolatier Guittard, which costs about $5. Both are semi-sweet, perfect for cookies and both came with recipes printed on the back.

Guittard calls its recipe 'THE ORIGINAL CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIE' (yes, actually in capital letters) while TJ's modestly titled its as 'Chocolate Chip Cookies'. The truth is, both recipes were exactly the same except for the ratio between brown and white sugar. Another thing is that folks at Guittard like little baby cookies, because their recipe claims to yield seven dozen, while TJ's, two.

Comparing the chips alone, Guittard's are a clear winner. Their chips just taste smoother and with less in-your-face sweetness. But then again, this is a chocolate chip cookie test so I had to see how they'd compare when engulfed by dough.

I suppose the fairest way to have done this was to add each chip to its respective advertised dough recipe, but they differ so little and I personally really like brown sugar, so I chose TJ's recipe. I made the dough as directed and then divided it into two separate bowls before adding the chips. I then scooped out the dough with a level tablespoon and refrigerated it for an hour (apparently cookies are better if you let the flavours 'marinate', the NY Times said so). They were baked side to side for consistency (This is serious science).

Once they were all baked, cooled and anonymised, I set out to gather some data. Unlike most scientific studies, this was easy to recruit subjects for. All I had to do was offer people a cookie with one catch, they had to take TWO cookies. It was really hard, really.

I got quite a few interesting guesses on what was different between the two batches. "This one's store bought and this one you baked!" No. "These have sea salt" No. It was great fun.

The results:
TJ's: 7
Guittard: 11

Can you guess which is which?

I guess money does buy quality. But the numbers are pretty close, so I have other suspicions. First, you have to watch this:

Ok, watched it? I think chocolate chips are like Malcolm Gladwell's spaghetti sauce. There's no perfect chip, only perfect chips, as he would put it. Personally I liked the 'cheaper' cookie, I think the sweeter TJ's chips worked better because the cookie itself was quite sweet and they needed the sweeter chip to be able to stand out. On the other hand, one of my friend's like the more subtle Guittard chip and thinks its because she doesn't really like things that are over sweet. I guess my chocolate chip palate isn't so refined, but I am perfectly ok with that.

And yes, this post has a larger word count that the current state of the real lab report I have to hand in soon. Ugh, school.

Chocolate Chip Cookies
From the TJ's bag (This is half the recipe)
Yield: 6-7 dozen baby cookies
  • 1 cup + 2 tablespoons flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
  • 1/4 cup white sugar
  • 1/2 cup butter, softended
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 egg (I replaced this with 1 tablespoon ground flax + 3 tablespoons water)
  • 1 cup chocolate chips
  1. Preheat oven to 375F
  2. Cream butter and sugars. Add vanilla and egg.
  3. Mix all dry ingredients and add to wet.
  4. Scoop the dough in spoonfuls and refrigerate for as long as you can resist (Make sure you scoop then refrigerate, its really hard to do it the other way around)
  5. Bake for 8-10 minutes

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

Love it. I'm always doing--um--experiments like this too. Scientists, we are.


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