The Science Behind the Quest to Bake the Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie

Serious Eats Chief Creative Officer J. Kenji Lopez-Alt baked 1,536 cookies in his quest to find his personal perfect chocolate chip cookie, and he has been kind enough to share the results of his baking experiments in a fascinating longread that explains the chemistry behind these classic cookies.

Seriously, if you have any interest in the science of baking—or just want to tweak your own cookie recipe—go read Lopez-Alt's Food Lab post, which explains how to achieve different textures and flavors using different ingredients and techniques. He has even included photos comparing various test cookies, and his explanations of the science are pretty entertaining:

If there's one single thing you can do improve the flavor of your cookies, it's to let the dough rest. They bake up darker and more flavorful. That butterscotch note that was barely hinted at when you baked the dough right after mixing? It'll blow you away with its intensity and complexity by the second day.

So how does it work? Harold McGee explains it in Keys to Good Cooking. Turns out that during the resting process, both flour proteins and starches break down a bit. How does this help improve flavor?

It helps to think of proteins and starches as large LEGO structures. During the process of browning, those large structure are broken down into smaller parts and individual pieces and subsequently rearranged. Sort of like destroying that LEGO castle so you can build a dozen spaceships. Now, both of these phases—the breaking down and the reconstruction—take time.

By resting the dough, you give the deconstruction phase a head start. It's as if you left your LEGO castle sitting out over night and your annoying little sister came by and smashed it all, King of Tokyo-style. With the pieces separated, building your spaceships is much faster.

It's really the same thing, except instead of LEGOs, you've got proteins and flour. Instead of an annoying sister, you've got enzymes. And instead of awesome spaceships, you get awesome cookies. How awesome? We're talking, oh, a million puppies on the moon wearing superhero underpants under their little doggie spacesuits levels of awesome.

Lopez-Alt's wife apparently grew weary of his constant cookie baking. If he's looking for a (admittedly tiny) kitchen for his next culinary experiment, send him my way.

Top photo by Jamison Judd.

The Food Lab: The Science of the Best Chocolate Chip Cookies [Serious Eats via MetaFilter]