GOOD FOOD CHEAP: Classic Chocolate Chip Cookies With All Natural Sugar
My GOOD FOOD CHEAP recipes have a couple of goals: First, they're about GOOD FOOD, both in taste and in quality. Second, they're about cooking on the CHEAP - in other words, how do you take food that you love, and make it as inexpensively as possible?
Having fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies at our house is a favorite treat, one that we stumbled onto strictly by budgetary needs. In looking for ways to trim our food costs, I decided that I could bake cookies instead of buying pre-made ones, but being the lazy cook that I am, I went with the ready-to-bake cookie dough. The cheapest one I could find was the tub of Nestle's Tollhouse cookie dough and we used that for a while.
However, in an effort to improve the quality of the food that we eat, even the treats, I decided to see if I could improve upon the classic chocolate cookie recipe by making my own dough from scratch. I developed this recipe, which maintains a delicious taste and texture, but with high quality, minimally processed ingredients.
- 2-1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 lb. (2 sticks) butter, unsalted
- 3/4 cup Florida Crystal natural sugar
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Sugar in the Raw (turbinado sugar)
- 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons Sucanat
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 2 eggs
- 2 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
- Add flour, salt and baking soda to a large bowl and combine well. Set aside.
- Place softened butter and all sugars in a mixing bowl, and beat 2 to 3 minutes until creamy.
- Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and two eggs to the mixing bowl and beat well.
- Gradually add in the flour mixture, beating until it's well combined.
- Stir in 2 cups of chocolate chips. Chill the dough for at least 30 minutes.
- Drop by level tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, or for convection, 325 degrees for 7 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes; then remove with a spatula.
The following provides more detailed information on the step-by-step process of cooking this recipe.
Mixing Dry Ingredients
The first step is to combine your dry ingredients - the unbleached flour, sea salt, and baking soda. You do this to ensure that all the ingredients are well combined before you put them in the mixing bowl with the wet ingredients.
Cream Butter and Sugars Together
If your butter is not softened, put it in the microwave for just a few seconds at a time to get it slightly soft, but not melted at all. Add your softened butter to the mixing bowl and beat until creamy.
Add all sugars to the bowl, and beat 2-3 minutes until creamy.
When you're done combining the butter and sugar, the Sucanat will leave little brown flecks throughout the butter, which is fine.
Add Vanilla and Eggs
Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 2 eggs and beat well.
Add Flour Mixture
Gradually add in flour mixture, beating well after each addition.
Stir in Chocolate Chips
Stir in 2 cups of chocolate chips.
Chill completed cookie dough mixture for at least 30 minutes. If you use the dough immediately, the cookies spread out too thin, so be patient and let it chill!
Place dough by level tablespoon onto an ungreased cookie sheet, leaving about 2 inches between cookies. (Once you're used to the size of dough needed for one cookie, you can just scoop out the dough with a regular spoon, rather than having to measure it.)
I like to press the dough down a little with my fingers so that the cookies aren't too puffy.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8 minutes, or for convection, 325 degrees for 7 minutes. (Ovens temperatures vary, so for your first batch of this recipe, set the timer for a minute or two less than the recommended cook time, and check the cookies. When they're done, they should be a nice golden brown. Watch carefully - just an extra minute or two will cause the cookies to start to burn!) Let cool on the cookie sheet for 2 minutes; then remove with a spatula.
Making It Good
There are a number of adjustments I made to this recipe to maximize the quality of the ingredients, while still maintaining the taste of a classic chocolate chip cookie. I tried to make sure that each ingredient was minimally processed and as close to it's natural state as possible.
I started with unbleached all-purpose flour, since it does not contain the bleaching agents used to make white flour. I used sea salt instead of regular table salt, which is processed at high temperatures. I used pure butter, not margarine or oil blends. I made sure the vanilla extract was pure vanilla extract, not articial vanilla flavoring. I used cage free brown eggs, because cage free seems more humane to the hens, plus I figure a less-stressed hen will produce a higher quality egg. And the brown...well, I just think they're prettier than the white ones! You could certainly use white cage free eggs if you like them better.
For the semi-sweet chocolate chips, just make sure that they contain all natural ingredients. I'm a fan of Nestle's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Morsels because they are all natural and pretty reasonably priced.
The biggest change to the classic cookie recipe was in my choice of sugars. Most classic recipes call for 1 part white sugar to 1 part brown sugar. White sugar, made from sugar cane, is highly processed. It goes through many steps to remove the liquid and molasses from the crystals, and the crystals are treated to achieve the white color. Commercial brown sugar is usually white sugar that has had a certain amount of molasses sprayed back on it, 3.5% by volume for light brown and 6.5% for dark brown.
In place of the white sugar, I decided to use Florida Crystals Natural Sugar. It goes through much gentler processes to remove the liquid and molasses, and the resultant golden crystals are simply dried instead of going through a whitening process. You can visit Florida Crystals web site to read more about their natural mill process.
For the brown sugar replacement, I used a half-and-half blend of 2 different types of natural sugars, Sugar in the Raw turbinado sugar and Organic Sucanat dried sugar cane juice. Sugar in the Raw minimally processes its turbinado sugar, evaporating pure sugar cane juice to get the crystals, and then gently rinsing the crystals to remove enough stickiness for the product to be free-flowing. The result is a lovely golden color, the distinctive taste of molasses, and crystals which are larger than the Florida Crystals Natural Sugar. Turbinado sugar gets its name from spinning the sugar in a turbine or centrifuge as part of the processing. You can read more about Sugar in the Raw products on their website.
The other half of my brown sugar replacement was Sucanat, made by Wholesome Sweeteners. Sucanat is an acronym for "sugar cane natural", and it is simply dried sugar cane juice. It is very minimally processed, with the pure sugar cane juice being heated to create a thick syrup. The syrup is then hand paddled which results in the Sucanat granules. As they say on their package, "basically nothing has been added and nothing has been taken out!" It adds a really robust taste of molasses, which is why I toned it down by mixing it with the turbinado sugar as my brown sugar replacement.
Unbleached all-purpose flour
Semi-sweet chocolate chips
COST PER COOKIE
Making It Cheap
My goal here was to take each ingredient and find it at the least expensive price that I could. Generally that meant shopping at my local Wal-mart for most things, and using the Great Value store brand when available.
Butter can be pretty pricey, up to about $4 per pound, so make sure you shop for bargains. Occasionally my favorite store will have it priced at 2 pounds for $4.00. I buy several pounds, and put the extras in the freezer.
If you're lucky enought to have access to a Sam's Club, they often carry the Nestle Tollhouse Semi-Sweet morsels in a bulk bag. You can get a 72-oz. bag for $9.89, which is the equivalent of 6 12-oz. bags. That works out to about $1.65 for the cost of chocolate chips for one batch of cookie dough. That is a GREAT deal compared to paying $2.28 for one 12-oz. bag of chocolate chips at Wal-mart!
Overall, making your own dough can definitely be cheaper than buying the pre-made dough. My local Wal-mart sells a 36-oz. tub of Nestle Tollhouse dough for $4.58, or about 12.7 cents/oz, while my homemade dough makes about 48-oz. of dough for $5.17, or about 10.8 cents/oz - a savings of almost 2 cents/oz.!