James Beard’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

There’s a reason the James Beard Awards have the namesake they do. These chocolate chip cookies are ample proof. I’ve been filling out my collection of vintage classics to complement the oddball books I hoard – I now have Julia, Craig, and James sitting on my shelves alongside volumes like The Gay Nineties Cookbook.

I must confess: I’m often lazy when it comes to recipe experimentation. It’s not that I don’t have ideas – it’s just so easy, most of the time, to take the path of least resistance and stick generally with a recipe. Especially when it comes to baking, where small tweaks can have broad consequences. So, instead, I’ll try recipes that have made their own slight alterations. Like this cookie recipe, which uses less butter than most chocolate chip doughs, and calls for addition of milk.

A note, to begin: that’s not just milk being poured in above. I added bourbon at the same time, in place of vanilla extract. This is one tweak I’m pretty comfortable making; in fact, at this point I use whiskey so often in chocolate-based recipes that I don’t keep vanilla in my pantry. While the bourbon’s effects are rather subtle, the impact of the milk was very noticeable in the finished cookies. These were a little crisper than your average chocolate chip cookie, but they also had a lovely lightness. The addition of milk makes them, fittingly, absolutely perfect for dunking in a nice cold glass of the stuff.

OK, so adding bourbon wasn’t the only change I made: this recipe calls for sifted flour, and since I don’t have a sifter I measured by weight (sifted flour is 4 oz. a cup, un-sifted about 4.25) and whisked the dry ingredients together to break up clumps.

Finally, because I used large, flat Ghirardelli chocolate chips instead of small Nestle morsels, I had to make balls of dough walnut-sized – quite a bit bigger than the “half teaspoon” James Beard tells one to drop on the pan.

The lesson here: even when we don’t actively set out to change recipes, the process of translating from notes on a page into a finished product necessitates constant adaptation and discretion. And this is why cooking – even when following a recipe – never bores me. Now here’s your formula. Adapt at will. And perhaps try the milk trick in other butter-based cookie recipes…

Chocolate Chip Cookies (Makes about 2-3 dozen)
3/4 c. unsalted butter (1 1/2 sticks), room temperature
3/4 c. white sugar
3/4 c. packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla (or bourbon)
3 tbsp. whole milk
2 1/2 c. sifted flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt
12 oz. semisweet chocolate chips
1 c. chopped walnuts (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment. Cream the butter and sugars together until light and fluffy.
2. Add the milk, vanilla, and egg to the butter-sugar mixture and blend until smooth.
3. Sift (or whisk) the flour with the salt and baking powder, and add gradually to the wet ingredients. Mix until a smooth dough forms.
4. Add the chocolate chips and nuts and stir them through the dough so they are evenly distributed.
5. Using a tablespoon, drop walnut-sized balls of dough onto the prepared cookie sheets, about an inch and a half apart.
6. Bake the cookies for 10-12 minutes, until the tops are golden and the bottoms start to darken slightly. Cool completely on a rack before serving. Enjoy with milk!