In Search of Perfection...

What could possibly be more appropriate as an inaugural blog post, than a missive regarding cookies? Everyone who knows me knows that I love to bake, and I love baking cookies above all else. My reasons are endless: the ingredients come together quickly; if you skip the stand mixer, almost everything can go in the dish washer; if you use parchment paper, you don’t have to wash the cookie sheet; cookies are easily portable for giving away to people at work to prevent you from eating the entire 2-3 dozen batch; cookies are just plain delicious, etc., etc., etc.

My track record with other baked goods is spotty at best. I’ve made a great number of mediocre cakes, with the exception of one fool-proof, mind-numbingly delicious chocolate cake recipe that I have come across, but that is a whole ‘nother post unto itself. In fact, my attempts to make Grandma Betsy’s Texas Cake have been so disastrous that Mom told me I should just give it up. But there is one thing that I seemingly can’t give up, and that is the pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie.

Personally, I feel like a person’s attitude toward recipes says a lot about their outlook on life. Some people find one thing that they like, and they make it that way for the rest of their life. Generally, this is my attitude toward recipes. I will never try a new snickerdoodle recipe, I will always want Texas Cake made from the original recipe (even if I seem challenged in reproducing it myself), and I will be making spaghetti with meat sauce the same way Mom does, for the rest of my life. Yet when it comes to the chocolate chip cookie, I find myself on a perpetual quest for perfection, trying recipe after recipe.

I may have inherited that trait from Grandma Betsy. Goodness knows she’s tried to fix enough recipes that weren’t broken to begin with. This used to drive me crazy, until I recognized the same tendency within myself. Now it still drives me crazy, but at least I can understand where she’s coming from. Mom is always saying that I’m turning into Grandma a little more every day, and I say, I could do a lot worse. But I digress; this post is about the cookies I made this week:

I had previously come to the conclusion that last year’s recipe from the NY Times was the ne plus ultra of the genre, yet when I saw the new recipe in Cook’s Illustrated this month, I couldn’t get it out of my mind. What if it was better than the chewy, salty/sweet, toffee-flavored perfection of my beloved recipe? Initially, the idea of browning the butter and using a part of an egg (for whatever reason, I generally shy away from separating eggs for recipes) kept me away, but eventually, I couldn’t deny the
recipe’s siren song.

I made them Wednesday night, fully cognizant of the irony of baking cookies while watching an evening full of America’s Next Top Model and Make Me a Supermodel. The verdict? Disappointing. The cookies did not spread very much, and as a result there was no delicious interplay between the crispy exterior and chewy interior like there is in the NY Times cookies. And while the fleur de sel sprinkling on the top has it’s critics (Mom), I really like the salty/sweet thing. Plus, without the 36-hour rest period, they just couldn’t match the complexity of flavor from my old favorites. I mean, just look at how sad they were:
For comparison purposes, here is a photo of some of the NY Times cookies from a few months ago:
So what lesson is there to be learned from this whole escapade? Should I give up the quest, and accept the perfection of the recipe I already have? For the time being, I say yes, but don’t hold me to that. I think Grandma might be on to something. Nothing makes you appreciate the greatness of what you already have like realizing that something exotic and new just can’t compare.

For those of you who are curious, here is the recipe for the NY Times cookies. I make mine 2 5/8 of an ounce, and they are plenty large. Also, don't feel compelled to hunt down the $30 Valrhona feves; the Ghiradelli semisweet chips from the grocery store work just fine.


  1. I happen to think those "sad" cookies looked better than the ones in the NY Times (which, for the record, looked cracked and dry like the desert... not dessert). Just saying :) And if you ever find the best chocochipper, let me know? I'll tell you if I have any luck, but I really genuinely like the Tollhouse kind that you can get in tubes now. Seems sad, when my mom used to spend time making them, that you can get stuff that tastes just as good out of a tube. Ah, well. Modern marvels.

    Thanks for sending me your blog, Haley :) I likes it lots. Katie M

  2. Haley!! Yay for posts about cookies! I only wish I could be around to *ahem* give you my expert opinions on cookie taste :) I consider myself lucky that I can even make cookies in my pathetic baking apparatus (ie, the bastard child of an oven and a microwave). I just manage to get by with your basic toll house recipe (it's the easiest one to get metric measurements for), and I have my own ways to get the cookies to come out right (for example, because I don't have perfect control of temperature, i have to put it higher, which makes the cookies spread flatter, so i add a bit of bread flour to prevent that). Anyway, keep up with the good posts, and I'll keep an eye on your blog in the future!

    PS - You are so wrong about your cake making skills. I recall an EXCELLENT Lemon Cake for my birthday during senior year. Mediocre? I think not :P