Gallery: Step-by-Step: The Food Lab's Ultimate Chocolate Chip Cookies

The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
The Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

It took weeks of nonstop testing and more than 1,500 cookies to develop this recipe. It delivers chocolate chip cookies that are just crisp around the edges, with a buttery, toffee-like crunch that transitions into a chewy, moist center, which bends like caramel and is rich with butter and big pockets of melted chocolate. They're cookies with crackly, craggy tops and the complex aroma of butterscotch. And, of course, that elusive perfect balance between sweet and salty. Here's how to make them. [Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]

The Ingredients
The Ingredients

The real trick to these cookies is in the process, not the ingredients. The ingredients are pretty standard (other than the ice cube, which we'll get to in a moment): 8 ounces unsalted butter (2 sticks; 225g), 1 standard ice cube (that's about 30mL of frozen water), 10 ounces all-purpose flour (about 2 cups; 280g), 3/4 teaspoon (3g) baking soda, 2 teaspoons Diamond Crystal kosher salt or 1 teaspoon table salt (kosher salt is less dense than table salt, hence the distinction; both volumes should weigh 4g), 5 ounces (140g) granulated sugar, a couple of large eggs, 2 teaspoons (10mL) vanilla extract (artificial works just fine in this instance), 5 ounces (140g) dark brown sugar, and 8 ounces (225g) semisweet chocolate. I use a whole chocolate bar cut into chunks, which gives you better, more varied texture in your finished cookies than chocolate chips.

Step 1: Brown Butter
Step 1: Brown Butter

Here's the first trick: Brown the butter to give it a more complex, nutty, toasty aroma. You do this by heating the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, making sure to swirl it constantly to help prevent it from violently bubbling or becoming too dark. Golden brown is what you're after. Once the butter has reached just shy of its final color (about 5 minutes), remove it from the stovetop and keep swirling for about 15 seconds longer until it's finished, then immediately pour it into a bowl to prevent it from cooking any more.

Step 2: Chill Brown Butter
Step 2: Chill Brown Butter

Whisk that ice cube into the butter. This not only helps the butter cool down faster (it has to be completely cooled before we can add it to the dough), but also returns some of the moisture content that's been driven off during the browning process. Once the ice has melted, place the bowl in the refrigerator while you work with the remaining ingredients.

Cooled Brown Butter
Cooled Brown Butter

The brown butter should be starting to solidify by the time it's ready.

Step 3: Whisk Together Dry Ingredients
Step 3: Whisk Together Dry Ingredients

Whisk together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl and set aside.

Step 4: Combine Eggs and Sugar
Step 4: Combine Eggs and Sugar

Combine the eggs with the granulated sugar and vanilla extract in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment.

Step 5: Whisk the Eggs
Step 5: Whisk the Eggs

Start whisking the eggs at medium speed. The goal here is to dissolve the sugar while incorporating air into the egg mixture in order to help the cookies bake up light and crisp.

Eggs Ready
Eggs Ready

The eggs are ready after about 5 minutes, when the mixture is pale yellow and falls off the whisk in smooth ribbons when you lift it out of the bowl.

Step 6: Add Brown Sugar and Butter
Step 6: Add Brown Sugar and Butter

Add the brown sugar and the cooled brown butter to the mixer, swapping out the whisk for the paddle attachment.

Step 7: Beat in Brown Sugar and Butter
Step 7: Beat in Brown Sugar and Butter

Mix at medium speed just until the brown sugar and butter are incorporated, about 15 seconds.

Step 8: Add Flour
Step 8: Add Flour

Add the flour and mix at low speed.

Don't Over-mix!
Don't Over-mix!

The goal is to just barely incorporate the flour, about 15 seconds. It's okay if there are still a few small pockets of dry flour. Over-mixing the dough at this stage will develop excess gluten, causing the cookies to become tough.

Step 9: Add Chocolate
Step 9: Add Chocolate

Add the chopped chocolate to the bowl and, once again, mix just to incorporate the chocolate, about 15 seconds. Ideally you'll have a wide variety of chocolate pieces in the mix, ranging from big chunks that melt into rich, gooey pools of chocolate to thin shavings that weave their way through the dough.

Step 10: Finished Dough
Step 10: Finished Dough

The finished dough should look like this and taste even better. But try to stop yourself from eating it. In fact, stop yourself from even baking it today. Good things come to those who wait...

Step 11: Give It a Rest
Step 11: Give It a Rest

This is the most important step of the whole process: letting the dough rest. Put it in a bowl, cover it, and let it sit in the refrigerator until the next day. This accomplishes a few goals: First, it allows time for the flour to hydrate fully, making for tenderer cookies. More importantly, it gives time for enzymes to go to work, shearing down carbohydrates so that they form more aromatic compounds the next day. Your cookies come out much richer and more complex, with deeper butterscotch flavors.

Step 12: Portion
Step 12: Portion

When you're ready to bake, adjust your oven racks to the upper- and lower-middle positions and preheat the oven to 325°F. Use a 1-ounce scoop to place heaping balls onto either a parchment-lined baking sheet or a nonstick baking sheet.

Step 13: Arrange
Step 13: Arrange

Each ball should be about 3 tablespoons, and you should be able to fit around 8 balls per baking sheet.

Step 14: Tear...
Step 14: Tear...

For a craggier surface, tear each ball of dough in half...

...and Reassemble
...and Reassemble

...and stick the two halves back together with the torn sides facing outward.

Step 15: Bake
Step 15: Bake

Once you've torn and pressed all the cookies, place them in the oven and bake until they're golden brown around the edges but still soft, 13 to 16 minutes, rotating the pans back to front and top to bottom halfway through baking.

Step 16: Salt and Serve
Step 16: Salt and Serve

While the cookies are still hot, sprinkle with some coarse sea salt, pressing it down slightly so that it embeds into the top of the cookies. Let them cool for about 5 minutes on their baking sheets, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored in an airtight container for up to 5 days (if they even make it that long). [Photograph: J. Kenji López-Alt]