With 1,514 ratings and a 5-star review, it’s safe to say that the New York Times’ Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe is one of the most popular chocolate chip cookie recipes on the Internet. What makes it so special? The recipe has you chill the dough for at least 24 hours (preferably 36), which the folks at NYT claim leads to a firmer dough—and ultimately a chewier cookie.
Here’s the thing: that’s a long time to wait for a chocolate chip cookie. If you’re in the mood for a warm homemade cookie, waiting two days to eat it just won’t do. In the spirit of our Is It Worth It series, we set out to determine whether the chilling makes a difference. To do so, we made one batch of our Chocolate Chip Cookies and put the dough in the refrigerator for 24 hours. When the time was almost up, we whipped up a second batch, then baked them off at the exact same time.>
As you can see in the photo above, the refrigerated batch didn’t spread as much in the oven, and took on a darker color. Our staffers, who tasted the cookies in a blind taste test, were split on which cookie they preferred: some liked the softness of the non-refrigerated cookies, while others preferred the crispness and intense sugary flavor of the refrigerated ones (and figured they would be better for dunking into milk). So, for half of the tasters, refrigerating the dough was worth it: but does that mean it just comes down to personal preference?
Let’s talk about the science of what's happening in the refrigerator. According to PJ Hamel, senior digital content editor at King Arthur Flour, chilling the cookie dough solidifies the butter in the dough. As the cookies bake, the butter melts more slowly, which is why the refrigerated cookies don’t spread as much in the oven. The time in the fridge also gives the sugar time to absorb more of the liquid, resulting in a drier dough. Drier dough = more concentrated sugar = chewier, crispier, sweeter cookie. One more close-up look, below.
In conclusion, refrigerating cookie dough for 24 hours is not worth it. If you prefer a crispier, chewier, thicker cookie, a quick half hour in the fridge will do. “Thirty minutes accomplishes probably 90 percent of what 24 hours accomplishes: controls spread, increases caramelization/browning, enhances flavor,” Hamel said. If you like a softer, more tender cookie to begin with, no need to refrigerate at all.
Want even more control over your chocolate chip cookie? Check out our cookie cheat sheet for ultimate customization.