Whenever possible, I like to use oil instead of margarine in baking. I was tempted by this recipe for chocolate cookies at Not Without Salt (and see the update post), but it was a butter based recipe and the recipe explained that the creaming of the butter and sugar was important to the final texture.
I wondered: Could I substitute oil for the butter? What does extensive creaming of the butter and sugar do in this recipe? It probably adds little pockets of air, which would make for a fluffier cookie. It also probably helps dissolve the sugar, which would also impact the texture. Cook’s Illustrated claims that dissolved sugar is key for cookies that are crispy on the edges and chewy in the center, and they have a technique for dissolving sugar in melted butter. Their trick is to stir the sugar/melted butter/eggs, rest 3 minutes, stir, rest 3 minutes, stir, rest 3 minutes, and then stir in the dry ingredients.
I am partial to Pam Anderson’s recipe for chocolate chip cookies, and her recipe also uses melted butter.
So, I decided to go with the basic proportions of the Not Without Salt cookie recipe, but with 6 ounces of oil and 1 ounce of water instead of the 8 ounces of butter. I used my own mixing method, based on the Cook’s Illustrated technique, and I used the baking temperature from the Pam Anderson recipe.
The resulting cookies were chunky and chewy. They tasted better a little underbaked–when fully browned they tended to get a bit too hard when cool. The flavor was even better the day after they were baked. They remind me a little of Acme Supermarket Bakery cookies (which are made with canola oil, at least at the supermarket near me).
Update: these cookies taste even better two days after they were back, with a richer, more pronounced caramel flavor. The cookies that baked longer and were harder got softer from being stored in an airtight container with all the other cookies. Is it the little bit of turbinado sugar in the recipe that gives the amazing caramel flavor, or is it from the sugar being stirred well to dissolve better? Cook’s Illustrated claims that dissolving the sugar better before baking helps develop richer caramel flavors, so maybe that is it. All I know is that the brown sugar flavor is really intense and compensates for the lack of butter flavor.
Second Update: I have made these cookies with extra-large eggs and all dark brown sugar (instead of the mix of different sugars) and the batter is much looser and the cookies are much chewier and softer, even when baked the longer amount of time.
Chewy Chunky Chocolate Chip Cookies
Basic proportion of flour/sugar/eggs adapted from Not Without Salt. Note: Not Without Sugar recommends using a mix of white sugar, brown sugar and turbinado sugar for optimal sugar flavor, but you could use white sugar instead of the turbinado if you aren’t so particular. I reduced the sugar a little. Many chocolate chip cookie recipes call for an equal weight of flour and sugar–Not Without Salt calls for a pound of flour and a pound of sugar–but these cookies are plenty sweet with the sugar cut back just a little to 14.5 ounces.
3/4 cup ounces safflower oil (6 ounces)
2 Tbl. water (1 ounce)
4 Tbl. sugar (2 ounces)
4 Tbl. turbinado sugar (2 ounces) (update: if you use all dark brown sugar instead of the mix of white, light brown and turbinado, the cookies are much more chewy)
1 1/2 cups light brown sugar (10.5 ounces; the Not Without Salt recipe calls for 12 ounces or 1 3/4 cups)
2 eggs (3.32-4 ounces) (update: if you use extra-large eggs, the batter is looser and the cookies are softer)
2 tsp. vanilla (.25 ounces)
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. fine table salt (1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt)–Not Without Salt recommends an additional 1/2 tsp. for sprinkling on top of the cookies, which I didn’t do
3 1/2 cups flour (16 ounces)
12 ounces chocolate chips (Not Without Salt recommends 1 lb. of chopped fine chocolate, which would have been fabulous, but oil based cookie doughs tend to not be able to hold as many pieces of chocolate as butter based doughs)
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl and set aside.
Mix oil, water, vanilla and sugars in a large mixing bowl until there are no more lumps and the mixture is homogenous. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating in to thoroughly combine after adding each egg. Stir for about a minute. Rest the mixture for about 3 minutes. Stir again for a minute. Rest for 3 minutes. Stir and rest for a final 3 minutes. When you drop some of the sugar/oil/egg mixture from the spoon, a flat “ribbon” of the mixture should fall from the spoon into the bowl.
Stir the flour mixture into the egg/oil/sugar mixture. Stirring in the last bit of flour into the dough might be a bit hard. I put on disposable gloves and used my hands to get everything combined. At this point, add the chocolate chips. I needed to use my gloved hands for this, too. (update: if you use extra-large eggs, the batter is easier to stir together)
Letting the dough rest overnight in the refrigerator maximizes flavors, but I had no patience and just chilled the dough for a few hours before baking. It will be easier to shape and store the dough if you divide it into two pieces and wrap each in parchment paper. Flatten each piece into a rectangle or roll it into a log. When you are ready to bake, you can cut the dough with a knife into slightly-smaller-than-a-golf-ball sized 1 ounce portions (about 4 dozen cookies). You can freeze the dough balls before baking. Or not.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees if not using frozen dough, or 400 degrees if using frozen dough. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Put a dozen dough balls on each sheet and keep the rest frozen or refrigerated.
Bake the cookies for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly golden (update: it might take closer to 11-12 minutes if your dough balls are are a little larger or extremely cold). Baking longer to get a darker cookie means a harder cookie (not to worry if that happens, they will soften after a couple of days of being stored airtight, or at least my cookies got softer that way). They might not look done, but they will cook more as they cool.