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Chocolate chip cookies have a history far longer and richer than the "original" recipe on the back of a bag of chocolate morsels would suggest. They date all the way back to the late 1800s, with a simple drop cookie recipe that called for two cups of shaved chocolate. Problem was, shaving chocolate in a world without air conditioning or Microplanes was an obnoxious affair, so bakers sometimes decided to replace that with two cups of chopped chocolate instead.
But shaved chocolate weighs just about two ounces per cup, while chopped chocolate clocks in around six ounces. So what seemed like a harmless swap in technique fundamentally altered the nature of the recipe, tripling the amount of chocolate involved.
This all went down well before Ruth Wakefield was even born, which makes it kind of hard to believe she "invented" chocolate chip cookies at the Toll House Inn. Besides, long before her recipe came along, grocery stores across America were already advertising chocolate chip cookies by the pound.
Their name came from the fine shavings and chips produced by chopping chocolate, not the mass-produced, teardrop-shaped morsels we know today. With chopped chocolate, those cookies were flecked with shards of chocolate as well as the powdery dust left on the cutting board, creating a backdrop of cocoa flavor along with big chocolaty bursts in every bite.
For that reason, my recipe gets back to the true origin of America's favorite cookie, using chopped chocolate instead of commercial chocolate drops. (I mean, c'mon, they don't even look like chips!) Plus, chopping my own chocolate frees me from the limited selection of bagged morsels, allowing me to mix and match whatever types of chocolate I have on hand—in this case, an assortment of Valrhona baking bars. Or, if you're aiming for a more authentic vibe, try a mix of chocolates between 60 and 72%.
Whatever kind of chocolate you choose, be it bittersweet or dark, chop it with a large chef's knife to create a blend of bite-size bits, shards, and chips. Set aside a handful to garnish the cookies, and toss the rest with the all-purpose flour called for in the cookie dough. This streamlines mixing later on, so the chocolate bits and flour can be incorporated all at once, reducing the risk of over-mixing. As usual, I recommend a red/white flour blend such as bleached Gold Medal, which gives the cookies a perfect balance of protein and starch.
For the dough itself, combine everything but the egg in the bowl of a stand mixer: unsalted butter, white sugar, brown sugar, kosher salt, baking soda, baking powder, nutmeg, and vanilla. It's worth noting that chocolate chip cookies (or any American dessert, for that matter) will do best with American butter: European styles contain more fat and less water, which negatively affects gluten development, giving the cookies a crumbly rather than chewy texture.
Once the butter and sugar are properly creamed, add the egg and continue beating only until well combined. I like using a cold egg straight from the fridge, as it limits spread in the oven by keeping the dough nice and cool.
As soon as the egg has been incorporated, reduce the speed to low, and add the flour/chocolate all at once. The mixture may seem crumbly and dry at first, but continue mixing until it forms a soft dough. With a cookie scoop, or even a pair of spoons, divide the dough into approximately 32 portions.
Roll each one smooth and round—this encourages all the cookies to spread and bake more evenly—then arrange them on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan. Yup. No waiting. In the spirit of the original chocolate chip cookies, a low-key dessert invented by American housewives, this recipe doesn't require aging the dough overnight in the fridge. The cookies are ready to bake as soon as they're formed. Top with an extra chunk of the reserved chocolate for a more gooey and inviting look, and sprinkle with a pinch of kosher salt.
Bake until the cookies are puffed and pale gold around the edges, about 15 minutes at 350°F (180°C). They may seem a touch underdone when you pull them out, but the cookies will continue to bake from their own residual heat and that of the sheet pan.
If you don't plan on serving up all the cookies at once, I strongly recommend bagging up some of the portioned dough to freeze for later (see tip #3 in this guide to baking cookies in bulk). Far better to have a ready supply of dough to bake into fresh chocolate chip cookies on a whim than a regretful binge on a dwindling cache of cookies past their prime.
You can find variations on this recipe (including brown butter, double chocolate, maple walnut, and homemade Famous Amos, as well as a gluten-free option) in my book, BraveTart: Iconic American Desserts.
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