As I’ve said before, one of the most challenging things about moving to high altitude is that I can no longer make many of my favorite recipes as I used to and have them turn out the same. Cakes collapse and cookies spread out. Unfortunately, it also happens with chocolate chip cookies. Until last week, I still hadn’t figured out the best recipe for those classic cookies. I tried about six different recipes, including one intended for high altitude, all of which spread out or didn’t rise as I’d hoped they would. I’d had enough of that. They’re simple chocolate chip cookies, after all. So, I decided to figure out how to do it myself.
South Lake Tahoe is around 6,230 feet in elevation. A few things I’ve learned about baking at high altitude are that you need to reduce most leaveners (baking powder, baking soda) by about a half teaspoon, the salt needs to be increased, and extracts can also be increased. Cake batters tend to need to be wetter than usual, and things like brownies and cookies need a bit more flour than usual to keep from collapsing or spreading out too much. Sometimes baking at a lower or higher temperature makes a big difference, too, and things don’t brown as well as they do at sea level.
I opened up the Joy of Cooking to see what its guidelines for regular chocolate chip cookies called for, then made a bunch of adjustments based on these lessons. I increased the flour quite a bit, and turned the oven down by 25 degrees F. I kept a close eye on these cookies during the baking process and, voila, I finally came up with a chocolate chip cookie that is functional at high altitude. Believe it or not, finally getting this basic recipe down feels like a big win at this point. This will be the recipe I use going forward.
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons Mexican vanilla extract
1 1/3 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a large bowl, combine butter and sugars. Butter should be at room temperature if you’re stirring by hand, but can be cold if using a stand mixer. Add egg, salt and vanilla. Stir until combined. Add flour and baking soda and stir until incorporated. Add 1 cup chocolate chips and stir until evenly distributed.
Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place 18 on each baking sheet. Bake each sheet individually for 11 minutes, or until edges of cookies are golden brown, for firm cookies; or bake for 8-9 minutes, until puffy, for softer cookies and let cool completely before serving. Makes about 40 small cookies.