What would become America’s favorite cookie—several billion are eaten annually today—owes its very existence to a kitchen crisis at the Toll House Inn in Whitman, Massachusetts. Sometime in the early 1930s, owner Ruth Wakefield, finding she was out of nuts for her cookie dough, decided to chop chocolate bars into chunks and add them instead. She expected the chocolate pieces would melt, but they stayed intact. Diners at the Inn loved the contrast of the crispness and butteriness of the cookies with the crunchy nuggets of chocolate. She named her cookies, “Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies,” and they soon became a nationwide sensation.Eighty-four years have passed since Mrs. Wakefield’s creation of this iconic treat, and in its wake bakers have devised hundreds of versions of her original recipe. Entire books on chocolate chip cookies are in print, with all sorts of additions—macadamia nuts, pecans, white chocolate chunks, oatmeal, dried cranberries, candied ginger—to the basic dough. The recipe has also changed, with bakers substituting whole wheat flour for the white flour, adding more brown sugar, using less egg, melting the butter instead of creaming it, changing the oven temperature and baking times, and increasing the size of the cookies from tiny—Mrs. Wakefield says her recipe makes 100 cookies—to huge, 18 cookies per batch.
Fortunately, Mrs. Wakefield’s recipe survives, and here are her ingredients and instructions from Toll House Tried and True Recipes. The semisweet chocolate morsels became an ingredient in 1939 after she formed a business relationship with the Nestlé company.
Cream 2 ¼ cups flour sifted with
1 cup butter. Add: 1 teaspoon salt. Add:
¾ cup brown sugar 2 cups semisweet chocolate morsels
¾ cup white sugar 1 cup chopped nuts
Add 2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla
Dissolve 1 teaspoon soda in
1 teaspoon hot water. Add
Drop by half teaspoonfuls onto greased cooky sheet. Bake in moderate oven, 375˚F, for 10 to 12 minutes. Makes 100 cookies.
At Toll House we chill dough overnight. When mixture is ready for baking, we roll a teaspoon of dough between palms of hands and place balls 2 inches apart on greased baking sheet. Then we press balls with finger tips to form flat rounds. This way cookies do not spread as much in the baking and they keep uniformly round. They should be brown through, and crispy, not white and hard as I have sometimes seen them.
What I like most about this recipe is the decidedly buttery taste and crunchy texture of the cookies. Be sure to use unsalted butter or decrease the salt by half if using salted butter. I’ve seen many recipes based on Mrs. Wakefield’s that say to make the cookies larger and to bake them at 325˚ or 350˚F. The lower baking temperature will not result in the sugar caramelizing with the butter, and so the rich depth of flavor will not be there. Be sure to bake the cookies at 375˚F. The crunch of the cookie adds to the delight of eating them.
Be sure to beat the butter and both sugars until light and fluffy, then beat in the eggs well. The butter should be cold but malleable. You should be able to bend the stick of butter without breaking. The temperature of the butter should be about 65˚F. After creaming with the sugars the temperature will rise to between 68˚ and 70˚F. Perfect. Stop to scrape the bowl a few times during the creaming step, and beat the butter with the sugars for 4 to 5 minutes. Beat in the eggs and vanilla. Dissolving the soda in the hot water is a step that has been eliminated from most modern recipes. I don’t know why it works–perhaps in Mrs. Wakefield’s day, baking soda was cakier and not as powdery as it is today–but I always do it. After mixing in the flour and soda, stir in the chocolate morsels and nuts (if using). I leave the nuts out. Then I refrigerate the dough overnight or for up to 3 days. Longer is okay, too.
I make my cookies larger than Mrs. Wakefield’s, 48 instead of 100. I roll each cookie between my palms to form balls and place them 2- to 3-inches apart on parchment-lined cookie sheets, 12 cookies to a 14 x 17-inch pan. I flatten each cookie to a thickness of about 1/2-inch, and I bake one sheet at a time on an oven rack adjusted to the center position, about 11 minutes, until cookies are brown all the way through. This makes them crisp and crunchy. Cool the cookies on their pan for a few minutes to firm up a bit, then transfer them with a wide metal spatula to cooling racks. When completely cool, store airtight.
A key step in Mrs. Wakefield’s recipe is allowing the dough an overnight rest in the refrigerator. Omitting it will give you a tasty cookie, but it will lack depth of flavor due to less caramelization during baking. I’ve refrigerated the dough for 2 days, and the cookies tasted even richer. Supermarket refrigerated Toll House cookie dough may owe its popularity, at least in part, to this simple step.
The Baking Wizard Says:
1. Refrigerating cookie dough overnight allows sugars to dissolve completely resulting in increased caramelization during baking.
2. What this recipe shows is how seemingly small changes—which by themselves may seem trivial—can produce radically different results. But it’s the cumulative effect of the changes that are important.