Back to basics: the mother cookie

What’s the most clicked-on cookie recipe on this Web site? Is it Fudge Drops, whose accompanying blog generated over 100 comments? Our version of the New York Times best Chocolate Chip Cookies? Maybe my personal favorite: Kids’ Choice Chip & Nut Oatmeal Cookies. Or the ones with the best name: Faux-Reos.

Nope, nope, and nope again. The most clicked on cookie recipe at kingarthurflour.com is (drum roll, please):

Basic Drop Cookies.

Whaaaa??? With Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Biscotti, Raspberry Lemonade Squares, and Famous Department Store Chocolate Chip Cookies out there vying for the top, how could this be? I mean, there are over 100 cookie recipes online here, with another 50+ recipes for brownies and bars, and the single most compelling one is Basic Drop Cookies?

I’m struggling to know what to make of this. Back to basics? Comfort food? Newbie cookie bakers looking for somewhere safe to start?

It could just be the power of simplicity.  How many times have I looked for a “plain” pancake recipe, or simply directions for how to boil rice? Plain pancakes can become blueberry, or chocolate chip; rice turns into biryani and paella. But you DO need a starting place.

And that’s exactly what Basic Drop Cookies are. A place to begin. Cookie Chemistry 101.

And in making this recipe, I discovered some interesting things. The original version called for butter or shortening, plus the addition of milk. I know many of you avoid shortening, and very seldom do I see milk in cookies. So I set up some experiments.

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First, butter vs. shortening. I expected the butter-based cookies (at left, above) would spread more, and they did, marginally; butter has a lower melting point than shortening. But what I didn’t expect was the pronounced difference in taste. The butter-based cookies had a much richer, deeper flavor. So taste-wise, butter is definitely better.

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Next, I tested both shortening and butter cookies made with milk, or without milk.

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Here are the butter cookies, with (left) and without (right). Milk definitely made them spread more. Again, this makes sense—more liquid, more spread. “So OK, ditch the milk,” I thought.

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Ah, but then I started adding stuff to these Basic Drop Cookies. Like, chocolate chunks and pecans and dried cranberries. And with add-ins, milk makes a positive difference—if you prefer your cookies flat, rather than mounded, as I do. The cookie on the left (above) didn’t have milk in the batter; the cookie on the right did.

My conclusion? Make cookies with butter; and add milk if you’re using extra goodies in the dough, leaving the milk out if you’ll be serving them au jus.

Who knew, after all these years in the test kitchen, I still had a lot to learn about cookies?

P.S. You’re dying to know, right?  First runner-up in the Most Clicked On Pageant: Very Lemon Cookies. Second runner-up:  “Chinese” Cookies. Fodder for future blogs, for sure.

Want to read the recipe as you follow these pictures? Here it is: Basic Drop Cookies.

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Basic drop cookies start with the basic: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla.

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Beat till everything is mixed.

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Then beat some more, till the mixture is fairly smooth; a few lumps are OK.

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Add 1 egg…

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…and beat some more. This isn’t sufficient; see the egg still showing in the batter?

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Beat till the egg disappears, then scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. This gathers into the center anything that’s stuck around the edges.

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Add flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

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Beat some more. Again, this isn’t sufficient.

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Scrape the bowl…

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…beat some more…

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…and continue until all evidence of unincorporated flour has disappeared.

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Now, if you’re making Basic Drop Cookies without add-ins, just go ahead and drop the dough onto baking sheets. If you’re going to add chips, nuts, ad/or dried fruit, add the milk.

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Beat till combined; you’ll notice the dough is softer.

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Add your favorites—I like BIG, assertive stuff, like whole pecan halves, dried cranberries, and chocolate chunks.

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Mix to combine.

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Next, scoop the stiff dough onto parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheets. I always use half-sheet parchment on an 18” x 13” half-sheet pan. I reuse the parchment again and again, and never have to wash the pan. Saves time in a busy kitchen. Also, I use a cookie scoop—in this case, a tablespoon scoop, as I was in a hurry, and didn’t particularly care what size the cookies turned out—which was about 2 1/2”. But I often use a teaspoon scoop, as it makes a diet- and appetite-friendly 2” cookie.

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If you stagger the balls of dough, you can get 15 on a sheet without them spreading and running into each other.

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Bake the cookies. See? Perfectly spaced.

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And ready to enjoy.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Basic Drop Cookies.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Nabisco Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies, 42¢/ounce

INGREDIENTS:  Enriched Flour, Soybean and/or Palm Oil, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Corn Flour, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Baking Soda, Cornstarch, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Artificial Flavor.

Bake at home: Basic Drop Cookies, 11¢/ounce

INGREDIENTS: King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, butter, sugar, eggs, salt, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!

comments

  1. Lisa

    This recipe call for baking soda and powder. The Nestle Toll House original chocolate cookie recipe only calls for baking soda. What are the differences I can expect to see with both products vs just the soda? Thank you.

    Reply
    1. The Baker's Hotline

      Hi Lisa. We’ve found that baking powder gives cookies some extra insurance that once they’ve risen in the oven, they don’t deflate or collapse back down after they’ve baked. Enjoy the recipe! Annabelle@KAF

  2. Leigh

    I used an egg substitute and added in some hazelnut flour for a portion of the regular flour. First batch burned and didn’t spread, second batch spread too much but since I decreased the time, didn’t burn. Hmm, gonna have to keep playing with oven temp and timing. Tasted good in the end though!

    Keep trying, Leigh – I’m glad the “goofs” are tasty! PJH

    Reply
  3. Bill C

    Hi PJH,

    Yes to all, I followed the recipe to the letter. My thinking is the milk caused the cookie to form more gluten which stopped the spreading. What I don’t understand is why they didn’t brown as nicely as non-milked added cookies. The interiors were cake-like rather than crisp. Thanks.

    Well, the milk would make them less crisp and more cake-like, due to the protein. Did you do a side-by-side, milk vs. non-milk? Because I’d think the sugar in milk would make them brown more, not less. Maybe it’s where you had them in the oven? Wish I was there with you – these things are hard to diagnose from afar… PJH

    Reply
  4. Bill C

    When I made these cookies they were pale, soft mounds rather than the cookies shown above. Suggestions? Thanks.

    Bill, did you use large eggs? Your large eggs should weigh about 1 3/4 ounces (about 50g) out of the shell. Did you use enough sugar? Did you use King Arthur all-purpose flour? There are lots of things that control spread; these are the first that come to mind… PJH

    Reply
  5. Julie

    For those who like chewy cookies, I’ll share a tip I learned from a professional baker last summer. Take your cookies out of the oven when they have puffed up and are almost done, but before they collapse on their own. Immediately DROP the pan on the counter top from several inches above the surface. The cookies will collapse immediately, and stay softer and chewy. If you bake them on parchment (like the pros) leave them on the parchment to cool, which also helps keep them more moist. You can also leave the parchment on the pan to cool, as the pros do. On heavyweight professional pans the heat of the pan cooks the cookie about 10% more after removing from the oven, but since it is collapsed, it stays chewy.

    Reply

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