by Kristina Domitrovich // photos by Lindsay Pace Daffron
These Salted Caramel Chocolate Chunk Cookies are the ultimatum. Throw out all other recipes, because this cookie is the end-all be-all. It brings the familiarity of chocolate chip cookies that taste like comfort, but combines it with the flavor combination we salty-sweet dreamers crave: salted caramel. In attempts to bring about the best cookie, here’s a break-down of the methodology behind each element. This isn’t your average cookie, so a trip to the store to get the precise ingredients instead of mediocre substitutions will pay off in the end. Buckle up and get pumped, because these cookies will change your world forever.
We’ll start with the Nestle Chocolate Chip Cookie as our base – because, let’s be honest, why mess with perfection? – but tweak it ever so slightly: Brown the butter. Browned butter elevates any baked good by at least 10 levels – don’t ask for the measuring system, we don’t know its exact science (but it’s true, at least 10 levels) – and it’s so easy. But when it comes to cookies, the key is to let the melted, gloriously browned butter resolidify. The process of creaming together the butter and sugar is crucial to a cookie, because it incorporates air into the cookie’s base, so it helps with that beloved fluffy softness we all love in a good cookie. While browned butter is the best, don’t sacrifice a cookie’s texture for that flavor when you can have the best of both worlds. Opt to brown the butter, but cool it back down to a solidified state at room temperature. Then, and only then, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy.
While you’re at it, pack that brown sugar. Really get it in there. Load up the measuring cup one spoon’s scoop at a time, packing it as you make your way to the top. When you have a full 3/4 cup, pack it some more, and top it off as much as possible. Why do you want to get as much brown sugar in there as you can? Brown sugar creates a chewier cookie, whereas white sugar will make a crispier cookie. So why have both? Each helps balance out the cookie, creating the perfect texture. Bottom line: Pack your brown sugar.
The Trifecta: Chocolate, Caramel and Salt
When it comes to ultimate chocolate experiences, three things come to mind: the chocolate, obviously, caramel and salt. The holy trinity, the Trifecta. Translate that into a cookie.
Chocolate chip cookies are the best. They’re speckled, they’re fun, and biting into a chocolate chip – whether melty or room temp – is so satisfying. But chocolate chunk cookies really put up a fair fight, too, because the chunks marble the cookie with chocolate. So, for the ultimate cookie, get a combination of both: Make it gooey, make it marbled, make it chunky. At a diagonal, chop two bars of chocolate. This will create chocolate shards – some big, some mere slivers – warranting the ultimate marbling. To satisfy the kid in us all, and to get that beloved chocolate chip reminiscence, add a cup of chips, too – or more, no judgment here. The slivered, shard and chip forms of chocolate will add to the ultimate cookie experience, I promise. Semisweet or bittersweet? In the end, the average Joe probably can’t tell the difference in a baked good, so whichever is more readily available to you.
For the caramel aspect, you can simplify or spiff it up as much as you’d like. For the extra mile, feel free to make your own caramel ahead of time to chop up and mix in; but in general, this cookie is pretty ultimate already, even if you go for the bag of premade caramels.
For the salt, do not skip it. Salt has a bad rap, which we can get into later; but whatever prenotions of salt you may have, please toss them out the window, at least for now. For the cookie base, it calls for 1 teaspoon salt – go ahead and use the table salt here. But for the topping, splurge on a larger, more coarse salt (think sea salt or kosher), and use the coarsest setting on your salt grinder. As a rule of thumb, the larger the salt, the less compact its crystals are. That means it has a crunch, takes longer to dissolve and has much less of a punch-you-in-the-face saltiness, and more of a let-me-elevate-this-sweetness-to-new-heights, flavor-enhancing subtleness. Salt your food, people, it’s important (even in the world of baking).