Taking a classic cookie to new heights


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 egg
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.

Cookies to satisfy any craving


When I was a kid, peanut butter cookies were my favorite treat. My mom used to make them by rolling the dough into balls and flattening them by making criss-cross fork imprints on the top. I used to love eating them warm shortly after they came out of the oven.

Around the same time, my grandmother in Wisconsin sent me a couple books from the “World Famous Muriel” series. In each book the heroine, Muriel, would solve mysteries as long as the person seeking her help provided her with peanut butter cookies. My grandmother must have seen that we had that in common.

Even now, I still enjoy peanut butter cookies; but I now use a recipe that incorporates chocolate. When I’m craving something sweet, I often turn to Curtis Stone’s Peanut Butter Cookies With Chocolate Chunks. The best part is how quickly they can be made. I had seen him make these cookies on an episode of “Take Home Chef,” and was delighted when the recipe was included in his most recent cookbook, “Relaxed Cooking With Curtis Stone.”

The original recipe calls for 5 ounces of semisweet chocolate. The first time I made them, all I had was a 4-ounce semisweet chocolate bar, and that turned out to be plenty. I once used chocolate chips, but I prefer chunks of chocolate for this recipe. When it comes to breaking up the chocolate, I’ve found the best way to do it is to smack the wrapped 4-ounce bar of chocolate on the edge of the counter until it feels broken up enough. The different size chunks add a homemade charm to the cookies. If using a stand mixer, just throw the whole bar into the bowl and let the stand mixer break it up into chunks.

The recipe says to remove the cookies from the oven when they’ve puffed up and begin to brown on top. At first, it might seem like you’re taking them out prematurely, but really, follow the recipe. The cookies continue to cook because of the residual heat. If you follow the recipe, you’ll have large, soft cookies to satisfy your sweet tooth.

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup natural chunky peanut butter
1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated / caster sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 ½ tablespoons honey
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 ounces semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Mix the flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl.

Using an electric mixer, beat the peanut butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, butter, honey, egg, and vanilla in a large bowl until well blended.

Stir the dry ingredients into the peanut butter mixture in 2 additions. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Scoop about 3 tablespoonfuls of dough for each cookie onto the prepared baking sheets, spacing them 2 1/2 inches apart.

Bake for about 12 minutes, or until the cookies puff and begin to brown on top but are still very soft to the touch.

Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for 5 minutes.

Using a metal spatula, transfer the cookies to a rack and eat warm or cool completely.