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What We Can Give

In my little part of the world, I am known to do only several things well, the most portable of which is, to bake. June’s issue of Bon Appetit magazine printed my recipe for blueberry bran muffins, which I bake every day for my husband’s caf√© and which a customer apparently requested. After I finish typing this, I will go downstairs and make two pound cakes. And years ago, when entering a party with a friend and mentioning I felt a little nervous, she cracked, “That’s because you’re not carrying a pie.”

It’s always been a mystery to me that people will not share their recipes. What are they harboring them for? The shortbread I make comes from a great-great-aunt who (so I’m told) even on her deathbed lied about what went into it, the real recipe being discovered posthumously, written in a sort of code and hidden in a 1940s hatbox. I bake the shortbread every week, and cut it into hearts, to the delight of the many toddlers who come through the caf√©. You’d think great Aunt Winnie would like to know this, but maybe not. Maybe she wanted to be the only one who achieved that melt-in-your-mouth tenderness.

I don’t feel this way about recipes. I give mine to whoever asks, my feeling being, the more good food there is in the world, the more good food there is in the world.

I know that, no matter how meticulously I explain a recipe – and people seem to think baking is a very meticulous business, despite my telling them, I rarely measure anything – it will not taste the same as mine. Why? Because I’ve been baking since I was seven, I’m good at it and, chances are, you’re not.

I am not trying to be snotty here. If you give me a violin, and tell me exactly and a thousand times how to play a Tchaikovsky concerto, I am not going to sound like Jascha Heifetz, even if I practice, for years. I might play well, but I will not play like him. The same holds true for baking, of which I have empirical proof, but which I am nonetheless going to ask you to defy, by giving you a recipe for chocolate chip cookies I am told are the best anyone has ever tasted. I am going to walk you through it; I am going to tell you everything I know, from having baked it at least 4,000 times. While I am sure it will not taste like mine, it may taste better, or, if you are my friend Sandra Tsing Loh, much worse, an odyssey she explains in The Cookie Dominatrix (parts one and two).

Sandra had requested the recipe after eating two of the cookies at the home of our good friend Cathy Seipp, a frequent contributor to this site. This was back in February, about a month before Cathy passed away. I’d flown down to LA, from Portland, to spend some time with her, to just hang out and gossip and nap and cook. We had a great five days. Despite her not having much of an appetite, and as the well are wont to do with the very ill, I tried to feed Cathy, but she wasn’t having much of it, with the exception of these cookies, which are quite large, and which she ate with great gusto each time I set one beside her.

The recipe I give you is exactly what I gave Sandra; may you have better luck than she. And may those you make them for get as much pleasure eating them, as I have had in feeding them.

The World’s Best Chocolate Chip Cookies

Preheat oven to 350F

1 cup salted butter, a little bit softened
1 cup brown sugar (I use dark but light’s good, too)
¬Ω cup white sugar
2 eggs
1 tablespoon pure vanilla (I use the regular kind, McCormick’s or its equivalent. Do not use any vanilla from Trader Joe’s, which is too sweet and just wrong. You can buy schmancy vanilla if you want, but it won’t help the cookie.)

Mix these in electric mixer, just until blended – no fluffing!

2 cups unbleached white flour
1 generous teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix into butter mixture, just until blended

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
2 cups walnuts, not really chopped (note: kids and people with dentures hate nuts in cookies)

Mix into batter. Don’t break up nuts.

I bake these on half-sheet pans, heavy gauge. I’d say about 1/3-cup blobs of dough per cookie. I get 12 cookies per pan. They will run into each other. That’s okay.

Bake 12 – 15 minutes.

You want them to be golden, except for the centers, which will not be wet but will still have some wet sheen. You’ll have to play with the timing. With a metal spatula, take cookies off the pan immediately, and lay on the counter, on waxed paper. These are really best eaten the day they’re made.

Beverage of choice? Milk. Cold. Dunking is optional.

Nancy Rommelmann is a columnist and feature writer for the Los Angeles Times, the LA Weekly, Bon Appetit and other publications, and a frequent contributor to Portland Food & Drink. She is the author of several books, including %%AMAZON=014026373X Everything You Pretend to Know About Food And Are Afraid Someone Will Ask,%% and the recently completed memoir, Leaving Los Angeles. Her personal blog can be read here.