The Nature of Things·Chef Secrets

How to make the perfect chocolate chip cookie, according to a scientist

Lesa Tran Lu teaches a university course called ‘The Chemistry of Cooking.’ She explains how thinking like a scientist can make you a better baker

Lesa Tran Lu explains how thinking like a scientist can make you a better baker

To find the right formula for a “chewy and gooey” chocolate chip cookie, Lesa Tran Lu began with a popular recipe on the back of a chocolate chip package. Then she experimented with the ingredients. (CBC/Chef Secrets: The Science of Cooking)

Lesa Tran Lu’s perfect chocolate chip cookie recipe is below! 

When Lesa Tran Lu isn’t teaching the popular Chemistry of Cooking class at Rice University, she loves baking — a skill that runs in her family. 

“My parents owned the only fortune cookie factory in Houston,” she explains. “So I was known as the fortune cookie girl growing up. To this day, I am sick of fortune cookies!” 

Tran Lu’s cookie of choice is chocolate chip. And if there is such a thing as the perfect chocolate chip cookie, she may have developed the recipe — at least, it’s her idea of perfect. She says she based it on both science and personal preference. 

“It’s all in the mouth of the taster,” says Tran Lu. “For me personally, the perfect chocolate chip cookie is chewy and gooey, and only crispy on the outside.”

Experimenting with different types of flours and sugars helped Lesa Tran Lu perfect her chocolate chip cookie recipe. (CBC/Chef Secrets: The Science of Cooking)

In Tran Lu’s classroom, students experiment with texture and flavour by following her golden rule: Think like a scientist.

She says it’s a rule that applies to home bakers, too. 

Change a single variable in your recipe at a time. Make observations. Sample the outcome. Then draw a conclusion and incorporate the change into your recipe — if you achieve a more delicious result.  

To find the right formula for “chewy and gooey,” Tran Lu began with a popular recipe on the back of a chocolate chip package. 

Then she experimented with ingredients, like different types of flour (white vs. whole wheat) and sugars (Tran Lu says that dark brown sugar provides more flavour), plus variables like oven temperature and dough temperature (Tran Lu found the warmer the dough before baking, the flatter the cookie).

Unlike some home bakers who guard their recipes, Tran Lu is sharing her secret recipe with the rest of us. Enjoy! (And don’t forget to experiment a little.)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup (140 g) bread flour
  • ½ cup (70 g) all-purpose flour
  • ¾ tsp (5 g) salt
  • ½ teaspoon (2 g) baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon (3 g) baking soda
  • 8 tbsp (113 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • ½ cup (100 g) granulated white sugar
  • ¼ cup packed (55 g) light brown sugar
  • ¼ cup packed (55 g) dark brown sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ tsp (2 g) pure vanilla extract
  • 8 oz (226 g) bittersweet chocolate chips

Preparation

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugars on medium-high speed until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. 

Add the egg and vanilla, and mix well. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly add the dry ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed, until nearly combined. Add the chocolate chips and stir until just combined.

Roll the dough into 12 balls (about 65 g each). Cover them with plastic wrap and refrigerate or freeze overnight.

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two baking sheets with non-stick mats.

Place the cookies on the baking sheets and bake them for 13 minutes if chilled or 15 minutes if frozen. 

Let the cookies cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.

How to make the perfect chocolate cookie: Think like a scientist | Chef Secrets: The Science of Cooking

2 months ago
Duration 1:53
Lesa Tran Lu teaches a university course called ‘Chemistry of Cooking.’ She explains how thinking like a scientist can make you a better baker 1:53
Servings: 12 cookies

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