Are Chocolate Chip Cookies Worth Their Salt?

Most people, even irregular bakers, have a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. And I suspect the most popular go-to is Nestle Toll House recipe. It comes on the back of the bag of Nestle chocolate chip, which is of course consumed in its entirety, and it makes for nice, flat, soft and crunchy cookies.

That being the case, I was surprised to learn that the go-to recipe for Julie’s family from Hershey’s. However, I looked over the recipe and it seemed awfully familiar. In fact, in the entire recipe, there are only 2 differences:

  1. Toll House calls for a full teaspoon of salt whereas Hershey’s has 1/2 teaspoon
  2. Toll House bakes for 9 to 11 minutes whereas Hershey’s bakes for 8 to 10 minutes.
  3. Toll House calls for rounded tablespoons per cookie whereas Hershey’s has teaspoon sized cookies

So the main difference in recipes is 1/2 teaspoon of salt. However, I had to know: does it matter? It was time to do a blind taste test.

To avoid making 80 cookies, I actually cut the recipes in half and baked them back-to-back. I tried to control for most things, but there were a few notable differences:

  1. Half-way through the first batch, I noticed my stand mixer wasn’t scraping the bowl well, so I adjusted the beater height by a half turn
  2. The butter wasn’t exactly the same temperature between both batches
  3. On the first batch, I just dumped the dry ingredients over the wet ingredients without blending first, so there may have been inconsistencies in the salt distribution
  4. I baked each batch separately rather than putting some of both on the same sheet in the oven at the same time

Given the differences, the second batch generally held together better than the first batch, so I presume my adjustments made it slightly better.

I also went with 1 1/2 tablespoon scoops rather than 1 teaspoon or 1 heaping tablespoon: it was a consistent size, and it’s how big my cookie scoop is.

I ended up baking for 10 minutes on both batches. It’s in the proposed range. I probably would have baked for longer on my own guesswork, but it ended up working out well. I hadn’t considered how much the cookies puff and settle.

And after all of the baking, I ended up with two batches that, frankly, looked indistinguishable to me. As I write this, I actually forgot which one I did first, hence why I keep saying “first” and “second” batch.

The chip-less ones were from scraping the bowl

I waited for at least an hour so both batches could cool fully before presenting them for consideration. Julie and I split one cookie from each batch, then discussed again. So what was the verdict?

We couldn’t tell a difference. Interestingly, we were both focusing on the salt, and we actually thought the Hershey’s batch (with 1/2 teaspoon less) tasted saltier. Go figure.

Although it was a little disappointing to not have a clear victor, it was actually somewhat reassuring that the change wasn’t noticeable. Conventional wisdom is that baking, unlike general cooking, is a precise art, but most home bakers aren’t precise. Even getting past error and laziness, we don’t even agree on how much a cup of flour is, so it’s probably okay if your salt measurement is a bit off.

Of course, the real winner in the end was actually Costco: their chocolate chips are tasty and cheap. You got my money in bulk.

The Costco bag actually has a somewhat different recipe. Maybe I’ll break it out for a future experiment.

Also here’s a picture of the vegetarian chili we had going at the same time. It filled the kitchen with a wonderful smell that fortunately didn’t permeate or flavor the cookies.

One reply on “Are Chocolate Chip Cookies Worth Their Salt?”

According to Serious Eats “Salt (and quite a bit of it) is essential to balance the flavor of caramelized sugars”

Here’s the info on the science of the perfect chocolate chip: cookie

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