We've gone uptown. We've roamed the streets of Midtown. And now, we're eating our way through lower Manhattan in search of the best chocolate chip cookie. After a few preliminary taste-offs, eliminating a few from the pack, we've done a blind taste-test of our favorite cookies south of Union Square.
The contenders: Milk and Cookies, Insomnia Bakery, Jack's Stir Brew, Bouley Bakery, Balthazar, Dessert Club, Paradis To Go, Roasting Plant, Sugar Sweet Sunshine, and the Downtown Cookie Company.
The good, the burnt, and the gooey, after the jump.
The Crumbly Cookie
The shop smells incredible. The cookies come from a jar. They cost just fifty cents. But that's pretty much all we love about the chocolate chip cookies from Sugar Sweet Sunshine on the Lower East Side. "Dried-out." "Bland and unmemorable." Most telling comment? "Why are you trying to game this tasting with Chips Ahoy?"
The Candy Shop Cookie
I've had perfectly tasty cookies from NYU
stoner student cookie delivery service Insomnia Cookies, but for one of two reasons: one, it was 2:00am, I was ravenous, and a gooey cookie was all I wanted; two, it was straight out of the warming tray. It's hard to resist a confection so hot it hurts your fingers. But a few minutes out of the oven and these chocolate-chip cookies show their true colors: generic and unmemorable. "Processed." "Huge chunks of low-quality chocolate." "Sickly sweet." Some freshness and chewiness points, but that was about all.
The Baker's Giants
Balthazar makes one intimidating chocolate chip cookie: "This looks big, bad, and mean!" one taster wrote. We're fans of crispy edges, but no one loves a dry cookie. "It's like a too-thick, too-baked generic Toll House." "I like the crust... but don't like that the whole cookie is crust." Ed's comment? "Mmm... burnt walnut."
Equally imposing, but slightly less dry, was the chocolate chip cookie from Bouley Bakery. "Great chocolate, but a little too burnt on the burnt-crispy spectrum." Though it got softer farther in, the interior was more "cakey" or "bready" than gooey. Consensus? A solid cookie, but sadly overbaked.
Two Delicious, Not-Quite-Chocolate-Chip Cookies
The chocolate chip cookies from Milk and Cookies had quite a few vocal fans, who loved their texture (gooey chocolate, soft interior, crispy edges) and buttery, chocolatey taste. But with more than a hint of oat in the batter, it just wasn't the chocolate chip cookie we were dreaming of.
The perfect cookie composition award might go to Jack's Stir Brew in the West Village and at the South Street Seaport, a coffee shop that bakes these soft, manageably-sized beauties every day. Essentially, the coffee lovers adored these cookies, and the less coffee-inclined did not. The pros: "Intriguing! I love the richness of the batter—dark, almost like pecan pie filling." "Pleasantly chewy, perfect edges, salty contrast." But others balked at a relative lack of chocolate—and with that (we believe) hint of coffee in the batter, it wouldn't win a classic choco-chip cookie competition. (Even though this writer will be back for a few more!)
The Cookies of My Childhood Dreams
If I were seven years old with a huge bowl of cookie dough, I'd probably create enormous pancake-sized cookies that resembled those from Paradis To Go. (Which might explain the six elementary-schoolers on Razor scooters I tripped over on the way out.) Thick in the middle and dramatically thinner on the edges—almost like a bell curve of a cookie—these cookies passed our soft-and-crunchy test with flying colors. "Perfect chocolate: rich but not bitter." "Crispy edges, squishy middle." Ed liked the clean flavor and crunch. But others sensed too much sugar ("So sweet, I can hardly keep eating") or too little salt ("This tastes... flat.").
What I loved about the contestants from Downtown Cookie Company, sold at Joe the Art of Coffee: they tasted exactly like the first stage of chocolate chip cookies, when you're creaming the butter and sugar, and maybe vanilla, but the eggs and flour are nowhere in sight. As a cookie dough fanatic, I could devour twelve of these in a sitting. Others agreed: "I love the soft, thick, middle." "Buttery bliss." More on the dough: "Throw it in some Ben & Jerry's, and you're good to go." It didn't taste all that much like a chocolate chip cookie: "snickerdoodle," "sugar cookie," and "straight-up dough" were a few of the comments. But as a coffee companion, we'd eat it any day.
"From where?" was the response when we unveiled the identity of the treats from Roasting Plant Coffee. We hadn't tried them before the Downtown preliminaries. But these perfectly chewy cookies prompted an absolute outburst from Adam ("These are incredible! These are a revelation!") on first taste. The rest of our judges were nearly as enthusiastic ("These win the gooey award!" "Crisp and airy edges that the others didn't have." "Stops just short of too buttery." "I could eat these all day.") A few tasters found them too sweet, or too gooey, but they were far outnumbered by the thumbs pointed up. Bonus? It's open 24 hours.
The Classy, Chocolatey Winners
We're Dessert Club fans, so it wasn't too surprising to watch these chocolate chip cookies rack up the rave reviews. "The gooeyness of the chocolate gives it a perfect texture." "I love how it's woven in and swirly." "Soft, chewy, crisp." "You get the buttery, the salt, and the sweet."
The only dissenters were those who thought that the chocolate dominated the rest of the cookie. (And Adam, who sensed an inexplicable "Twizzler aftertaste.") But for most of our tasters, the chocolate wasn't a bad thing.
So we'll have Dessert Club and the Roasting Plant in our finals. Stay tuned next week for the outer borough edition.