If you ask James Beard Award-winning cookbook author Dorie Greenspan, she'll tell you that every chocolate chip cookie recipe can be traced back to that back-of-the-bag chocolate chip cookie recipe, the mother of all chocolate chip cookies.
"Everything starts with the Toll House cookie," Greenspan told me recently, explaining what delights her most about the form and function of chocolate chip cookies — their simplicity, their flexibility, and their nostalgic flavor profile. "There are things that can be changed in chocolate chip cookies and still have it be recognizable as a chocolate chip cookie. And the form is so delightfully play-around-able."
Greenspan knows a thing or two about the art of the cookie. With the publication of her newest cookbook, "Baking With Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple," this fall — which itself includes 10 chocolate chip cookie recipes, as well as a primer on ingredients and techniques for optimal chocolate chip cookie baking — she'll have written, developed, and published 28 distinct recipes for chocolate chip cookies across a total of 14 cookbooks.
As Stella Parks notes in her history of the chocolate chip cookie in her book "Bravetart," chocolate became less expensive in the 19th century, leading to a slew of recipes for "jumble" cookies with bits of chocolate in the dough. Ruth Wakefield's 1938 recipe for chocolate chip cookies, in the fourth edition of "Toll House Tried and True Recipes," uses the exact ratio of butter, sugar, flour, and chocolate established by the jumble cookies, but also contained half as many eggs and a 50:50 blend of white and brown sugar, giving the cookies a crunch and a butterscotch flavor. Wakefield's recipe allowed her to build upon her existing partnership with Nestlé, which in turn allowed the Swiss company to enter the American market.
In terms of Greenspan's chocolate chip cookie anthology, what comes first is Greenspan and Pierre Hermé's recipe for her cult classic World Peace Cookies, published in her 2002 cookbook "Paris Sweets." (Greenspan's earlier books — "Sweet Times: Simple Desserts for Every Occasion," "Desserts by Pierre Hermé," "Baking with Julia: Savor the Joys of Baking with America's Best Bakers" — were full of desserts, but no chocolate chip cookies.)
Hermé had created the cookie for Korova, a now-closed Parisian restaurant. At its core it's a chocolate sablé, a French shortbread cookie — but unlike a sablé, it's chewy, with roots in the standard chocolate chip cookie. The cookies were known as Sablés Chocolats, but according to Greenspan, her neighbor, convinced that if everyone in the world could taste the decadent, intensely chocolatey, and texturally rich cookies, there would be peace on earth, one day gave the cookies their nickname.
They exploded in popularity. If you google "World Peace Cookie," you'll be met with countless home and professional bakers' odes to the cookie, along with their own takes on the original recipe. To this day, it remains the recipe Greenspan is most famous for.
"When Pierre talked to me 20-some years ago about the World Peace Cookie, he showed me the recipe and I noticed it had brown sugar in it, and that surprised me. It wasn't a common sugar for a French cookie," Greenspan told me. "At that point, and even now, if you say the word 'cookie' to a French person, to them, the translation is American chocolate chip cookie. Pierre said to me, 'I was thinking of the Toll House cookie.'"
After exposing the World Peace Cookie to an American audience, Greenspan published five more chocolate chip cookie recipes in her 2006 book "Baking," broadening her repertoire: My Best Chocolate Chip Cookies; Chunky Peanut Butter and Oatmeal Chocolate Chipster (oats, cinnamon, and nutmeg add coziness and nuance); Chocolate Oatmeal Drops; Chocolate Malted Whopper Drops (malted milk balls, chocolate chunks, and cocoa powder join forces for serious richness); and Chockablock Cookies (filled with an abundance of add-ins — molasses, nuts, dried fruit, and coconut, in addition to chocolate chips). And of course her Toll House-inspired classic chocolate chip cookie recipe.
Instead of starting from scratch with each new recipe, Greenspan builds on existing recipes in her cookie war chest. "I no longer start from zero, at this point in my baking life," she said. "I go back to what I've done and I play with them. Sometimes what I end up with doesn't really resemble what I've started with."
Greenspan was barely halfway into her chocolate chip cookie recipe journey in 2010, when she published "Around My French Table," which contained her recipe for Cocoa Sablés, bringing her total to seven. The Cocoa Sablés were less traditional than the chocolate chip cookie variations in "Baking," hearkening back to the shortbread-esque World Peace Cookie.
Then, in 2016, Greenspan published "Dorie's Cookies," containing a litany of cookie recipes — including 10 new chocolate chip cookie recipes: Cast Iron Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars; Two-Bite One-Chip Cookies; Kerrin's Multigrain Chocolate Chip Cookies; My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies; Chocolate-Oatmeal Biscoff Cookies; Espresso Chocolate Sablés; Mint Chocolate Sablés; Lavender-White Chocolate Sablés; Crash-O-Cookies; and Chunkers (scoop-and-bake cookies, full of chopped-up goodness, with mix-ins like salted cashews, dried cherries, and milk and bittersweet chocolate).
Greenspan's Two-Bite One Chip Cookies, which yield 60 cookies per batch, are cookies as small as a thumbprint, and they have more flour than a typical chocolate chip cookie, so they bake into little domes. Each cookie is made by molding a bit of dough around a single chocolate chip, making it the rare Greenspan chocolate chip cookie recipe where it's better to use a chocolate chip than chopped, high-quality chocolate.
Her Crash-O-Cookies, named for family friend and artist John "Crash" Matos, is a twist on an oatmeal raisin cookie, studded with milk chocolate bits. And the handful of sablé recipes in "Dorie's Cookies" build upon the traditional French base of the cookie, but include twists like lavender and white chocolate, or espresso.
In each of these, Greenspan remains true to what she considers the integrity of the chocolate chip cookie, while making alterations that make each unique. Each chocolate chip cookie recipe, Greenspan tells me, considers the three T's: taste, texture, and temperature, as well as surprise and balance.
"A super great cookie has a play of texture," she said. "You've got some crispiness and you've got some chewy, bendy parts. You've got the chocolate intermittently, so every bite is different. And salt."
This blend of elements is present in the only cookie recipe in 2018's "Everyday Dorie," which introduced readers to Dorie's Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies. Unlike her other, more textbook chocolate chip cookies, these incorporate rolled oats and cinnamon, adding body and warmth.
Greenspan urges bakers at home to incorporate chopped chocolate instead of bagged chocolate chips — she thinks it's more than worth the extra elbow grease. "What appeals to me about chocolate chip cookies now is not the chocolate chips. I don't often use chocolate chips," she said. "It's the chopped chocolate, and the way the chocolate melts and bakes into the dough unpredictably, and the fact that it's good-quality chocolate."
Recipe: My Newest Chocolate Chip Cookies
And finally, 2021 brings us "Baking with Dorie: Sweet, Salty & Simple," and with it, 10 new recipes. There's Dorie's Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies (a fan favorite); One Big Break-Apart Chipper (a large, sheet-tray-size cookie Greenspan suggests you let guests break off pieces of); Peanut-Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies Paris Style; Mary Dodd's Maple-Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookies (named for Greenspan's recipe tester); World Peace Cookies 2.0 (fortified with rye flour, pepper, freeze-dried raspberries, and cocoa nibs); Mokonuts' Rye-Cranberry Chocolate Chunk Cookies (named for the Parisian restaurant); Copenhagen Rye Cookies with Chocolate, Spice, and Seeds; Oatmeal Cookies with Nuts and Chocolate; Caramel Crunch–Chocolate Chunklet Cookies; and the chocolate variation of her Tenderest Shortbread cookie recipe.
Each cookie in her new book is a spin on a previous chocolate chip cookie, and Greenspan says this malleability is why she's so obsessed with the chocolate chip cookie as a format. "It's infinitely variable. It's more a template than a recipe," she said.
"I love that you can play with the texture. It accepts different spices, it accepts different plays between white and brown sugar. It's one of those recipes that you can surprise someone with — it may look like a chocolate chip cookie, and yet packed inside it can be surprises."
Iterating with spice, texture, crunch, new additions, and size, the recipes take what we love so much about chocolate chip cookies — the rich caramel notes of the brown sugar, the crunch and the chewiness of the dough, the pools of chocolate — and deliver something that manages to be both new and exciting, and deeply familiar.
That's why Greenspan just can't help but keep coming up with new chocolate chip cookie recipes. "I can't stop tinkering with it," she said. "I love the form of it. I love the idea of it." The recipe development is as enjoyable as the cookies themselves.