The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies

By Tessa Arias
  |  
July 22nd, 2013

Have you ever wondered why chocolate chip cookies can be chewy, crisp, soft, flat, thick, cakey, greasy, bland, flavorful, moist, or crumbly? The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies is here to show you WHY! (Originally published in 2013). Download my FREE COOKIE CUSTOMIZATION GUIDE HERE.

Figure out how to make your cookies chewy, soft, cakey, or crispy!! Make the cookie of your dreams :) :)

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
In this post I’m going to share with you how various ingredients and techniques can affect the taste, texture, and appearance of your chocolate chip cookies. This will hopefully help you understand how chocolate chip cookie recipes work so you can make the PERFECT batch every time, whatever you consider to be perfect. This information will allow you to alter or create your own chocolate chip recipe that produces cookies just the way YOU like them. You’ll be an expert on the anatomy of the chocolate chip cookie.

I used the Nestle Tollhouse Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe as my control and made little changes and variations in techniques and ingredients to show you how they affect the cookie.

I halved and adapted the original Tollhouse recipe. I kept everything the same through each recipe test, changing one key thing to see its effect and photographing the results for you. Be sure to check out my free Cookie Customization Guide to truly perfect your cookies!

Cookie Tools and Ingredients Used:

OXO Good Grips Medium Cookie Scoop
Chicago Metallic sheet pans
Silpat baking mats or unbleached parchment paper
KitchenAid 5-quart Stand Mixer
Oven thermometer
-King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
-Fine sea salt
-Light brown sugar (except the granulated sugar recipe test)
-Large eggs
-Unsalted butter that was at a cool room temperature (except the melted butter recipe test)

Control Recipe

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com

Ingredients:

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces or 142 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces or 114 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 large egg
1 cup semi sweet chocolate chips

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F. Line baking sheets with nonstick baking mats or parchment paper.

In a medium bowl combine the flour, baking soda, and salt.

In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar until creamy, about 2 minutes. Add the egg and vanilla, beating well to combine. Gradually beat in the flour mixture. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop 1 1/2 tablespoon-sized balls and place onto prepared baking sheets.

Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until golden brown. Cool for 2 minutes before removing to wire racks to cool completely.

Here is the control, an adapted version of the Nestle Tollhouse recipe. The full recipe I used to base all of the tweaks on is at the bottom of this post.

Baking Powder:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
Removed baking soda from recipe and used 1/2 teaspoon baking powder. This produced results that were more cakey and puffed while baking.

Baking Powder AND Baking Soda:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
Used 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. This produced results that were crisp at the edges, soft in the middle, with a good amount of spread. The combination of the two leaveners produced the best results in my opinion.

MORE Flour:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
Increased the flour to 2 cups (250 grams) which created a more crumbly dough and very little spread. The cookies were small yet thick and relatively undercooked (ooey and gooey) in the middle.

MELTED Butter:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
I replaced the room temperature butter with melted and cooled butter. Instead of creaming the butter and sugar with an electric mixer, I simply stirred the butter and sugars together then let sit for 5 minutes, until the sugar was better absorbed by the butter. This produced flatter cookies that had a shiny, crackled top reminiscent of brownies. They were also more crisp at the edges.

All Granulated Sugar:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
I used 3/4 cup granulated sugar in this recipe which produced flat, white, chewy, and slightly crunchy cookies but with little flavor. Since baking soda (called for in the control recipe) requires an acid (such as brown sugar) to react, these cookies fell very flat as you can see by the way the chocolate chips protrude.

All Brown Sugar:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
I used 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar in this recipe which produced thick, brown, and soft cookies with an intense butterscotch flavor. The original control recipe uses an even ratio of granulated and brown sugars. If you prefer your cookies to be flatter, chewier, or crisper, use more granulated sugar. If you prefer your cookies to be softer and thicker and have a pronounced butterscotch flavor, use more brown sugar.

24 hour CHILLED Dough:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com
I used the control recipe but chilled it in the fridge for about 24 hours before shaping and baking. This produced cookies that were slightly thicker, chewier, darker, and with a better depth of butterscotch flavor. If you have time, try chilling your next cookie dough for at least 24 hours, or up to 48 hours.

Final Comparison:

The Ultimate Guide to Chocolate Chip Cookies from HandletheHeat.com

Click here for Part 2!
Part 2 tests out shortening, corn starch, cake flour, and more!

Tessa Arias

About Tessa...

I share trusted baking recipes your friends will LOVE alongside insights into the science of sweets. I'm a professionally trained chef, cookbook author, and cookie queen. I love to write about all things sweet, carb-y, and homemade. I live in Phoenix, Arizona (hence the blog name!)

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  1. #
    Camille — July 29, 2013 at 11:16 pm

    You are doing the Lord’s work.

  2. #
    jessica — July 29, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    Oh thank you! I was just thinking of doing a grand cookie experiment such as this as I was munching on my favorite bakery cookie and wondering why mine never come out that way. We were on a road trip and so my mind wandered and I wished that someone had written a book or article on cookie tips and then i found this via pinterest…!!! Yay and thank you!

  3. #
    Rosemary Mark — July 29, 2013 at 8:18 pm

    This was excellent research and beautifully shared, thank you! I can imagine the project it was for you, and I’ll surely refer to your tips. Sunset Magazine did similar in 1995 and 1998. I’m not able to find it on-line but I could scan and email if you’re interested.

  4. #
    Laurie — July 29, 2013 at 6:56 pm

    I like to substitute some whole wheat flour in many of my recipes. Did you consider that for one of your variations? What are your general experiences with such a substitution?

  5. #
    Bev Napurski — July 29, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Great test! Interesting how small changes make such a big difference! I have used the Crisco recipe for many years and always get rave reviews. Other tip is to slightly under cook them – if you like chewy cookies! Keep up the great work!
    http://www.crisco.com/Recipes/Details.aspx?recipeID=2102

  6. #
    Paula B. — July 29, 2013 at 6:39 pm

    Thank you for such a definitive study (and for all that baking research). I think I’ve made all those cookies, myself, just accidentally! Posting to my “Recipe Box” on Pinterest.

  7. #
    Kristy — July 29, 2013 at 6:14 pm

    Great post!! I love the comparisons!

  8. #
    Kim — July 29, 2013 at 5:34 pm

    What an amazing post! I’ve tried cookie recipes where they came out “not quite right” but I wasn’t sure what made the cookies too crispy or flat or whatever so I ditched those recipes. Now I can go back and try them again with a little tweak from your handy guide. Bottom line: you’re a genius and thank you!~

  9. #
    Noell — July 29, 2013 at 5:02 pm

    I was just wondering about what causes various results today. Have you ever decreased the total amount of sugar in the recipe? I like my cookies less sweet and am wondering how that affects the texture.

  10. #
    Janet Poore — July 29, 2013 at 1:03 pm

    You didn’t say when to add the vanilla.My cookies turn out puffy when I take them out of the oven but then when they cool they go flat.So I am going to try adding the baking soda,baking powder and cornstarch and use more brown sugar and less granulated sugar.Then chill for at least 24 hours.Thanks for all the test you did.Appreciate it.

  11. #
    Sandra — July 29, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    Thanks for taking the time to do this. Your experiments answered lots f questions. Thanks again.

  12. #
    Doreen Briese — July 29, 2013 at 11:08 am

    Love this comparison! I have always added the extra flour, something I started years ago because the batter just seemed too thin, and left the mix in the refrig for 24 hours before baking (mix one night, bake the next due to work!). Always got compliments on my cookies. But now I want to try the 1/4 baking soda and 1/4 baking powder and also maybe experiment with a little more brown sugar to see how they turn out, Thank you!!

  13. #
    Rhonda Bovine — July 29, 2013 at 10:24 am

    Thanks so much for this post! Now, I know what I have been doing wrong, and clearly it does make a difference. Great experiment, and so glad I found this on Pinterest.

  14. #
    M — July 27, 2013 at 9:15 pm

    Came across this post via Pinterest and wanted to leave a note to say how much I appreciate it! I’m not a baker (or rather, I’m a beginner baker) so all the variations in cookie recipes can be overwhelming. This was very helpful in explaining what variations can do and which would be most appealing to me.

  15. #
    Kira — July 27, 2013 at 7:40 pm

    Thanks for putting this together. I’ve been looking for something like this!

  16. #
    Heidi — July 27, 2013 at 6:21 pm

    now I see the recipe is halved so just 1 egg , I just got confused with the add one at a time…

  17. #
    Heidi — July 27, 2013 at 6:17 pm

    I assume you meant 2 large eggs in the instructions since that is what toll house uses? The directions say add one at a time … making some right now with 2 eggs and 1/2 soda 1/2 powder.. tempted to add some cornstarch too.

    • #
      Tessa — July 27, 2013 at 6:46 pm

      Just one egg! I forgot to edit the instructions – thanks for pointing this out!

  18. #
    natalie — July 27, 2013 at 3:21 pm

    I love experimenting too. I have to say that using butter in Utah dries out my cookies faster. I find the soft batch style comes out much better using imperial magarine. I also lower my oven to 340 which has not made them spread. I cant wait to try half bs and bp. I also like the monster cookie variation of using ground oats, when taken out at 9 min, they produce hearty, moist cookies. I get the most compliments when I use the tollhouse recipe and pudding mix. Best cookie recipe by far. I can’t wait to see your next test, I loved all ur insight and tips! 🙂

  19. #
    Ashley Kaestle — July 27, 2013 at 1:07 pm

    Hi Tessa!
    Fantastic info! Just wondering what the effect of combining some of the adjustments would be? I love crisp edge, chewy centered cookies so I was thinking the baking powder/baking soda + the melted butter might be my best bet. Does it work that way though?

  20. #
    Lola — July 27, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Well done, Tessa! As a social scientist, I LOVED how methodical you were with this study. I can’t wait to see what you explore with “part II.” Thanks also to therovingstove (Julianne Rhodes) for linking me to your page. 😉

  21. #
    knitbunnie — July 27, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Have you ever added malted barley powder (not barley flour and not diastatic powder) to your cookies? It’s a fine, brown, barley sweetener that’s used in a lot of commercial baking. In the standard Nestle recipe, I sub in a 1/4 cup of it for 1/4 cup of the brown sugar. It really adds something subtle and good and keeps the cookies moist but not in an under-baked sort of way. If you’re up for more chocolate chip cookie experiments, it could be worth a try.

  22. #
    Janice — July 27, 2013 at 6:05 am

    Great idea! New to your site via Casual Kitchen who I will be forever indebted to for directing us to this. I’m already known for my cookie baking but one of my goals this year is to come up with the Ultimate Chocolate Chip cookie recipe – these tips will help me tremendously!

  23. #
    ruth — July 27, 2013 at 2:37 am

    this is a great post – thanks for sharing! i use three different kinds of flour in my cookies (always king arthur brand – it’s the best) AP, bread and cake. this gives me a chewy, thick cookie with a good bite. would be curious to see your tests varying the flour. (also kosher salt and more brown sugar than white)

    • #
      Tessa — July 27, 2013 at 8:31 am

      Interesting! I plan on including tests with different flours on part II – thanks for your comment!

  24. #
    Michelle Crowder — July 26, 2013 at 3:15 pm

    Hmmm…wonder how they would be with both baking powder and soda, more brown sugar than granulated, and chilling it for 24-48 hours?????? GOTTA TRY!!!!!

  25. #
    Heather — July 26, 2013 at 10:39 am

    Whoops ^^ FLOUR! lol

  26. #
    Heather — July 26, 2013 at 10:38 am

    Have you tried the NY Times Best Chocolate Cookie recipe? It uses both kinds of sugar and 2 types of flower. Also, calls for 24-72 hour chilling period. They. Are. INCREDIBLE!

    http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/09/dining/091crex.html?_r=0

    • #
      Tessa — July 27, 2013 at 8:32 am

      I’ve always wondered how using cake flour AND bread flour affects the cookies – they seem to cancel each other out in my mind if that makes sense. Will definitely be trying out different flours for part II 🙂

  27. #
    Emily — July 26, 2013 at 7:47 am

    I’m supposed to be cleaning and packing for a family trip, but now I want to stop and make a batch of cookies instead. We can always take them on the plane, right? Thanks for this interesting experiment! It explains so many of my cookie “failures.” Oh, and the one with extra flour looks super yummy to me.

  28. #
    Debbie C — July 26, 2013 at 4:52 am

    Love the tests you conducted. I use half butter shortening and half unsalted butter plus 1 tbsp water. I also scoop my cookie balls and freeze on cookie trays, then store them in baggies so I can bake as many or little as I want at anytime. The cookies turn out fantastic!

  29. #
    Wilma A — July 25, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    When I was growing up we didn’t use butter for baking, it was too expensive. We used Crisco shortening. What affect might that have had? Always used both brown and white sugar. Cookies were always good and didn’t spread out.

  30. #
    Yorbon — July 25, 2013 at 2:40 pm

    Please change the first two instances of “effect” to “affect.”

    • #
      Tessa — July 25, 2013 at 3:53 pm

      Thanks for catching that!

  31. #
    Sarah @ Sweet Miles — July 25, 2013 at 2:19 pm

    Genius!! I’ve always wondered why my cookies seem to turn out differently every time!! Bookmarking this now to refer back to it next I’m in the baking mood 🙂

  32. #
    Gayle — July 25, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    Have you tried 1/2 shortening and 1/2 butter? Crispy on the outer edges…soft inside,

  33. #
    D KALE — July 25, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    you should try adding 1 tsp corn starch to a batch. Helps them to be thicker and stay soft.
    Smiles
    D

  34. #
    Brian C. — July 25, 2013 at 10:47 am

    So were all of your tests measured by weight, then just translated to volume for recipe purposes?

    • #
      Tessa — July 25, 2013 at 11:07 am

      That’s correct. Additionally, the original Nestle recipe is written by volume and that was my control. However, you bring up a good point. Since this is somewhat of a serious baking test I went ahead and edited the post to include weight measurements of the flour as well as the original volume. Thanks for your comment!

  35. #
    Brian C. — July 25, 2013 at 10:20 am

    I find it hard to believe that someone who is so serious about their cookie tests, measures their flour by volume (instead of by weight).

    • #
      Tessa — July 25, 2013 at 10:42 am

      Hi Brian – when I bake at home I usually measure by weight but most of my readers don’t own a kitchen scale and aren’t familiar with baking by weight. I write the recipes on this blog for my readers and try to make them as simple as possible.

  36. #
    Dave — July 25, 2013 at 6:13 am

    Yes, I’m with Desiree – which one was best?

  37. #
    Desiree — July 25, 2013 at 4:19 am

    just curious– which one do you think tasted best?

    • #
      Tessa — July 25, 2013 at 8:11 am

      The funny thing is that there were little things I liked and didn’t like about each batch. I think the best *taste* goes to the 24-hour chilled dough but I also liked the butterscotch flavor of the brown sugar cookies.

  38. #
    Megan — July 23, 2013 at 9:56 am

    I loved this … I rarely follow a recipe and this explains so much. I have one chocolate chip recipe that always worked well for me, even with substituting whole wheat flour and using honey rather than white sugar. But the “family’s” favorite has always been the Toll House Recipe that Grams used. Grams always followed the recipe … 😉

  39. #
    Debbie — July 23, 2013 at 8:52 am

    This is so great! I am on a quest for the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and will be experimenting very soon! I was wondering what are your thoughts about the amount of eggs? It didn’t seen like you tested that and I was wondering what an extra egg would do… Guess I’ll have to see! Lol

  40. #
    christina — July 22, 2013 at 8:26 pm

    THIS IS AWESOME!! I’m a huge fan of chocolate chip cookies and have tried so many variations. I feel like I was nodding the whole time reading this because I’ve been there, done that with all of this!!! 🙂 Thank you!

  41. #
    Susan at Savvy Single Suppers — July 22, 2013 at 7:30 pm

    Tessa thanks to you for taking on this experiment. I pity the poor taste testers in your life 😉 . Ive been hunting for the perfect chocolate chip cookie and this should help me. I’m going to try the soda + powder, a titch more brown than white sugar and chill for 24 hours. In my family one recipe calls for using vegetable shortening rather than butter. Have you tried this substitution before?

    • #
      Tessa — July 22, 2013 at 7:49 pm

      I am not a fan of shortening so I may be a little biased but in my experience I think butter is the better choice for a few reasons:

      1. Butter has a lower melting point (right around body temperature) than shortening which is why things with lots of butter seem to “melt in your mouth” whereas shortening can often leave a filmy residue on the tongue.
      2. Butter offers better flavor.
      3. Because butter has a high moisture content, it provides moisture to the cookies and encourages spread (which can be good or bad depending on your preferences). Cookies made with shortening tend to be drier/crumblier and thicker.

  42. #
    Averie @ Averie Cooks — July 22, 2013 at 7:22 pm

    I CAN ONLY IMAGINE!!! how many dozens and dozens of cookies you made in the process of this ‘little’ experiment, Tessa! It’s amazing what you’ve done and thank you!!!!

    I love posts like this and comparisons and could take cookie science forever. I am loving this post, so much.

    For me, I am in love with adding 2 tsp of cornstach to my dough b/c it creates softbatch-style cookies, minus any cakiness. I have also tried many of the popular recipes out there for cookies, i.e NYTimes and many others and keep coming back to the cornstarch trick. I have about 10 versions and recreations with various add-ins on my site.

    Pinned to group boards! Thank you for this post!

    • #
      Tessa — July 22, 2013 at 7:44 pm

      Thanks Averie!! I think I’m going to do a part II post and include a test on that cornstarch trick because I’ve seen it in your recipes and also on Sally’s Baking Blog. Thanks for the tip!

      • #
        Judy Torck — July 28, 2019 at 2:20 pm

        I’m going to try the half baking soda and half baking powder. I like mine a little thick, chewy and crispy around the edges

  43. #
    Gianna — July 22, 2013 at 6:07 pm

    My favorite are warm and chewy. I usually make a big batch for the week to store in the fridge. I scoop out enough for a couple of trays so they are warm and chewy when I want them.

  44. #
    Sonia — July 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm

    What an amazing experiment, its incredible to see the difference amongst the cookies. I will definately try the tollhouse recipe with the baking powder and baking soda the next time I make these.
    Thank you for sharing.

  45. #
    Dan @ Casual Kitchen — July 22, 2013 at 2:07 pm

    This post is absolutely brilliant! I loved how you ran a control, then tweaked just one variable at a time. Pure, mad-sciency genius, and for a great cause: the search for the perfect cookie. I can’t wait to share this with my readers!

    Dan @ Casual Kitchen

  46. #
    marcie@flavorhtemoments — July 22, 2013 at 1:53 pm

    Thank you for the visual on this! I love my cookies puffy and thick with minimal spread, so I’m going for the chilled 24 hour version.

  47. #
    Marissa | Pinch and Swirl — July 22, 2013 at 1:02 pm

    Great post! What a nice resource for any cookie recipe.

  48. #
    Rachel @ Bakerita — July 22, 2013 at 10:58 am

    LOVE this post. Such a great idea, using a control recipe that pretty much everyone, their mother, and their grandmother have made. Such a good resource 🙂 especially for those that may not know how different ingredients react with one another!

  49. #
    cd robinson — July 22, 2013 at 10:43 am

    This is a great post. Thanks for doing all the research and work. This will now be my guide to the perfect ccc.

  50. #
    Mimi @ Culinary Couture — July 22, 2013 at 10:23 am

    Love love love this post Tessa! Really breaks everything down so nicely!

  51. #
    Laura — July 22, 2013 at 8:52 am

    Thank you SO much for this!! I am a big food science lover and chocolate chip cookies are a special favorite so it’s like you wrote this for me!! LOL!!! 😉

    I’m a recent convert to your melted butter recipe!! I _love_ the cookies that recipe produces!! I thought that I noticed that mixing time made a difference with that recipe. I have used a stand mixer and done it by hand and the cookies made with the stand mixer, and mixed a lot longer, seemed to have a better finished product. Do you think mixing (and maybe aerating) the batter effects the final cookie?

    • #
      Tessa — July 22, 2013 at 8:58 am

      That is very possible! I read something from a Cooks Illustrated publication while doing research for this post that when using melted butter + sugar in baking, the longer the sugar has to absorb into the butter the better the flavor and texture will be because the caramelization process will begin quicker.

  52. #
    Annalise @ Completely Delicious — July 22, 2013 at 8:51 am

    Such a fabulous post and resource, Tessa! I’ve been wanting to do something like this myself just for fun, but it’s always seemed like such a daunting task. What did you do with all of those cookies?? 🙂

  53. #
    Zainab @ Blahnik Baker — July 22, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Wow, thanks for this! It’s so helpful and lots of great tips!

  54. #
    Chelsea — July 22, 2013 at 7:37 am

    This was so helpful!! I’ve been making a family homemade chocolate chip recipe for years and could never figure out why I couldn’t ever have two similar batches. I never accounted for the state of the butter when added would play such an integral role. Hopefully now I can make the recipe more consistent and pay better homage Grandma’s good ol’ homemade chocolate chip cookie recipe! Thanks so much!

  55. #
    Samantha — July 22, 2013 at 7:29 am

    This is great! So much great information! I have always wanted to know how certain elements effected cookies. Thank you so much!

  56. #
    Tracey — July 22, 2013 at 6:51 am

    What a great experiment Tessa, I love seeing the way a small change can really impact the outcome of the recipe!

  57. #
    Crystinna — July 22, 2013 at 6:08 am

    Recently I had the dilemma of “sad” chocolate chip cookies as our chef likes to call theme when I used granulated sugar. Second round I found chilling the dough with brown sugar helped a ton and they looked awesome!

    I was wondering if you had experience baking in high altitudes? By the way hope you don’t mind if I share this post in my class 🙂

    • #
      Tessa — July 22, 2013 at 7:13 am

      I bet those cookies are awesome! I totally don’t mind – hope your class finds it helpful. I have absolutely 0 experience with high altitude baking so I’m of no help there.

  58. #
    Tieghan — July 22, 2013 at 5:45 am

    Thank you for this! I have always wandered what ways are best to make cookies and I think I am more of a baking soda and baking powder girl. Those cookies look perfect!
    Such a great post!

  59. #
    Michael — July 22, 2013 at 5:24 am

    That explains why my cookies are sub-par with melted butter. I’ll have to try chilling the dough. I’ve read about that in a couple baking books. Maybe I’ll give it a shot!

  60. #
    Indrė — July 22, 2013 at 5:10 am

    Thanks for sharing!
    My fav are in the 1st picture. Is that basic or with more flour?

    • #
      Tessa — July 22, 2013 at 7:07 am

      Those are the control recipe – I took that picture a day later though.

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