Thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies are the Pringles of dessert, so rich and crunchy and light that it's hard to stop at half a dozen, let alone one. It's a style best personified by Tate's, a brand that goes easy on the chocolate chips to shift focus to the buttery, butterscotchy crunch of the cookie itself.
Unlike so many commercial cookies on the shelf, the ingredients listed on a package of Tate's chocolate chip cookies are as straightforward as they come: chocolate chips, flour, butter, cane sugar, brown cane sugar, eggs, baking soda, salt, and vanilla.
Even if you're not a fan of Tate's per se, it's hard to argue with an ingredient list that simple, and the sort of delicious chocolate chip cookie any baker can create using those same ingredients at home.
And yet those very same ingredients go into thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies as well, so what's the difference? It all comes down to the ratios and technique. With the right balance of ingredients put together in the right way, chocolate chip cookies can be wonderfully thin, golden, and buttery, with a brittle sort of crunch.
Broadly speaking, crunch is one of the easiest qualities to replicate—all cookies are crunchy if you bake them long enough. The trick is producing the right sort of crunch, one that's delicate and crisp (tender) rather than sturdy and hard (tough).
To that end, we need to limit gluten development in the dough. Gluten is what gives a cookie structure and what gives softer styles their pleasant chew. But once a cookie is dried out in the oven, that chewiness and structure can seem downright combative.
The first step in limiting gluten development is choosing the right sort of all-purpose flour. (Surprise—no two brands are alike!) For cookies, that means reaching for a moderately starchy, low-protein style; my fave is Gold Medal blue label. Avoid all-purpose flours made from 100% hard red wheat, which are so high in protein that they can be used interchangeably with bread flour.
The second step in limiting gluten development comes down to technique. In a traditional chocolate chip cookie, the fat and sugar are aerated with the creaming method, and the egg and flour are added last.
That buttery coating prevents the moisture-loving sugar from soaking up all the water in the egg, leaving plenty for the flour to hydrate, promoting gluten formation and development, aka structure and chew. Meanwhile, the process of aeration limits spread, keeping the cookies wonderfully thick.
Here, I reverse that technique with something called...wait for it...the reverse creaming method. By combining the flour and fat up front, the buttery coat creates a physical barrier between the flour proteins and water, slowing the process of hydration and thereby limiting the amount of gluten that can form.
It doesn't typically work well in high-sugar recipes, since the lack of aeration promotes excess spread, while the limited gluten development makes cookies too tender. It's a lose-lose combination when the goal is to make a thick and chewy chocolate chip cookie, but it's exactly what's needed when the goal is thin and crisp.
Technically, the reverse creaming method can be accomplished by hand or in a stand mixer, but both have a tendency to smash the butter into flat sheets. That's great for biscuits and scones, but not what we're looking for in cookies.
Plus, with the ratios of butter, sugar, and flour involved, mixing by hand (or even on a stand mixer) takes a good deal of time and friction, softening the butter along the way, allowing the flour to hydrate prematurely.
But with a food processor, the dry ingredients can be combined with cold butter straight from the fridge in mere seconds, creating a fine, powdery mix that's still cold (ensuring the buttery coat around the flour remains intact).
It's not just the fastest way, but it's truly the best. Start by pulsing all of the dry ingredients until well-combined; then add the cold butter and continue pulsing to form a dry and powdery mix.
Next, add the chocolate morsels and pulse two or three times to combine. Normally, I'm big on chopped chocolate, but in this recipe commercial morsels really work best. Not only do they capture the right copycat vibe, but their concise shape keeps the chocolate from melting into the dough, preserving its distinctive flavor and texture.
That doesn't mean using bad chocolate; supermarkets these days stock a serious selection of chips and chunks. Look for brands that list the cocoa percentage, and stick with those in the 60% range. If you like, grab a few brands to mix and match, creating a more diverse blend of chocolate flavor.
This cookie "mix" can be held in an airtight container for up to a week in the fridge or used right away. In either case, transfer the mixture to a large bowl and add the liquid ingredients: vanilla extract and an egg.
Stir with a flexible spatula until the wet ingredients disappear. At this stage, it may seem like something has gone wrong, as the mixture will seem impossibly dry. But start hand-kneading and the crumbly mix will quickly come together in a moist and sticky dough.
Divide the dough into approximately one-tablespoon portions, working to ensure that each scoop is level and flat, and arrange on a parchment-lined half-sheet pan.
Leave ample room between each cookie to account for spread. Despite their seemingly small, one-tablespoon size, these cookies are going to grow! Because the extensive spread allows big cookies to be made from small portions, this recipe makes a lot of cookies: 56 to be exact.
That's a lot more cookies than most folks are bargaining for, but the recipe can't be halved without splitting an egg. As just about any other type of cookie, the dough keeps quite well. Portioned out in an airtight container, it can be refrigerated for a week or frozen for several months. To bake, they don't even need to be thawed; they'll spread out nice and thin all the same.
Whether fresh or frozen, bake the dough until the cookies are thin and well-browned, with a uniform color from edge to center (expect about 16 minutes in a 350°F oven). Cool the cookies directly on the baking sheet for about 90 minutes before digging in. I know, I know, I'm a monster.
Fresh from the oven, the cookies will be warm, soft, and completely unstructured. Once cooled to room temperature, they'll be easy to handle and crisp, but in a dull sort of way. It takes about an hour after that before their texture truly hits its prime.
But after that? The cookies will be shatteringly crisp and delicate, as buttery as they come, with lots of butterscotch-y notes against a backdrop of vanilla. There's plenty of chocolate, but not so much that you can't appreciate the dough.
Like any low-moisture cookie, these have a remarkable shelf life. In an airtight container, they'll keep for at least six weeks at cool room temperature—possibly more, I've just never had any stick around that long. They go down all too easy with a glass of milk.