If you’re a baker, you’ve got to have a go-to chocolate chip cookie recipe. This decadent treat dates back to 1930s Massachusetts and remains a staple of the cookie world.
And although every ingredient serves an important purpose, there’s one that really defines this cookie’s taste ― the namesake chocolate morsels.
“The chocolate in a chocolate chip cookie greatly affects the cookie,” said Kate Sigel, executive pastry chef at Marsh House, L.A. Jackson and Killebrew in Nashville, Tennessee.
“I think it’s what gives the cookie its personality. It’s what I lovingly refer to as ‘the business’ ― as in, you’ve made your cookie dough base, now it’s time to add the business. I like to think of the dough as the background singers in a band and the chocolate chips as the lead singer.”
Culinary scientist Jessica Gavin emphasized that the chocolate mix-ins play a major role in the cookie’s texture and flavor.
“The level of cocoa in the chocolate can provide a balance to the sweet dough, adding a welcomed bitterness,” she explained.
And if you’re using chips, you shouldn’t expect them to melt. She explains, “The shape of the chocolate impacts cookie structure. Chips are designed to hold their iconic teardrop shape, giving a taller, thicker cookie.” (This is a result of chips being coated in a substance that keeps them from melting on store shelves.) “When using chopped chocolate bars, chunks and wafers, they have a higher amount of fat, giving a more glossy, pronounced melt. These cookies will be crisper, flatter, with a more organic, rustic appearance.”
Clearly, there are many ways you can go when it comes to the chocolate you choose for your chocolate chip cookies ― bitter, sugary, firm, melty, etc. Below, baking experts share their preferred mix-ins.
Chopped Dark Chocolate Bars
“Chocolate chips will give you a traditional chocolate chip cookie, but if you’re looking for those melty pools of chocolate in your warm cookies, chop up a bar of pure baking chocolate,” said Sally McKenney of Sally’s Baking Recipes. “And when the cookies cool, the chopped chocolate will be on the softer side.”
The bar of choice for most bakers who spoke to HuffPost was dark chocolate ― which is usually defined as chocolate containing 50-90% cocoa solids (also referred to as cacao percentage).
“When I make chocolate chip cookies, I like using a good quality dark chocolate bar and cutting it into chunks myself,” said Paula Hingley, the food blogger behind How To Make Dinner. “That way I know I’m getting the best quality chocolate, and I can control the size of the chunks.”
“I like to think of the dough as the background singers in a band and the chocolate chips as the lead singer.”
“Baking bars don’t use any stabilizers, and tend to have more cocoa butter instead of solids, making them more velvety and melty during the baking process,” she said. “That’s how you get those giant pools of melted chocolate on all the beautiful chocolate chip cookies on Instagram. The trick is to chop up the chocolate fairly large, too ― you don’t want small pieces, but bigger 1/2- to 1-inch pieces.”
Semisweet Chocolate Chips
“While milk, semisweet and dark chocolate will all make delicious cookies, semisweet is preferred because it provides a good contrast and balance with the sweetness of the cookies,” said baker Annalise Sandberg of Completely Delicious.
Semisweet chocolate generally has a cocoa solid content between 35% and 65%. Sandberg recommended Guittard or Ghiradelli for easy-to-locate grocery store options. Shanika Graham-White of Orchids + Sweet Tea endorsed Hu Kitchen’s Baking Chips for dairy-free cookies.
“Semisweet chocolate tends to shine best through the cookie dough and retain its shape better than other types of chocolate because of its cacao percentage and lower sugar ratio,” she explained, adding that chopped chocolate tends to create bigger pockets of chocolate that are less uniform in terms of shape and structure. “However, with chocolate chips, they tend to ‘spread’ more evenly and perfectly throughout the cookie.”
“I use regular-size chocolate chips and only tend to use mini chocolate chips in mini cookies for the proper dough-to-chip ratio,” she noted. “Also, do not try to use Nestlé chocolate chips for any recipe that says ‘melt the chocolate chips and then spread out the melted chocolate on top of XYZ.’ Their chips have a lot of stabilizers in them and are very resistant to melting.”
“The genius of the chocolate chip cookie is the balance between the sweet, buttery cookie and the bursts of melty chocolate,” said recipe developer Robin Asbell, who prefers using very dark chocolate with 80% to 85% cacao when she bakes chocolate chip cookies. “Cordillera Colombian bittersweet chocolate discs are sold in bulk at my co-op, and they have a lush, fruity flavor that I love.”
Bittersweet chocolate has a higher cacao percentage than semisweet, usually around 70%. Chocolate discs ― bittersweet or otherwise ― come in a variety of forms with different names, but in general, they’re relatively flat and offer an alternative to chopping chocolate bars while still forming those melty puddles in the oven.
“Each manufacturer makes them a slightly different size and shape, but it’s all for the same labor-saving reason,” noted Kierin Baldwin, chef-instructor of pastry and baking arts at the Institute of Culinary Education.
Lopez recommended Valrhona’s “feves,” which she described as “flat, half-inch long discs that have the convenience of chocolate chips but the melting quality and flavors of chocolate bars.”
“You can chop it up with a knife so that the size of the chocolate chips varies,” she said. “If you can’t find 70% I suggest doing a 50/50 mix of milk chocolate and dark chocolate.”
“If I’m feeling like I want an outrageously chocolate cookie, I will even stuff the center of the cookie with a few feves for a full-on molten chocolate chip cookie,” he said. “This is not for the faint of heart, but absolutely is a chocolate lover’s dream. A final trick I will never skip is a sprinkle of Fleur de Sel or Maldon sea salt on top of each scoop right before baking. It really helps bring out the flavors of each chocolate and elevates the average chocolate chip cookie to a new level.”
Another category of disc-like mix-ins is Callebaut’s chocolate callets, which resemble larger, flatter chocolate chips.
“They’re super smooth and creamy, with none of that waxy texture some chocolate chips have,” said Elizabeth LaBau, baker and “chief sugar officer” at SugarHero. “They melt beautifully but still retain their shape in cookies, and they have the perfect chocolate flavor ― sweet enough to blend well with the brown sugar cookie base, but dark enough to keep the cookies from being too sweet and cloying.”
Diana Manalang, chef and owner of Little Chef Little Café in New York City, also prefers callets.
“It’s fancy, but the dark chocolate flavor provides a rich creamy texture and slightly bitter flavor that offsets and balances the sweetness and chewy crunch of the cookie,” she said.
Chips And Chunks Combined
“If you want puddles of molten chocolate goodness, then chopped chocolate, chunks or discs are the way to go,” said Erin Dooner of Texanerin Baking. “Should you want evenly distributed tiny bursts of chocolate, then go with chocolate chips. To get the best of both worlds, I like to use a mixture of both. We have allergies in the family, so I use a mix of [allergen-free] Enjoy Life Mini Chips and Mega Chunks.”
She also recommended the semisweet chocolate chips from Ghirardelli because they’re widely available and “not as waxy as some other brands.” You can choose to mix semisweet and dark chocolate for a more complex flavor.
“If I’m going all-out and baking a batch of cookies to impress, I like to combine chocolate chips with a roughly chopped semisweet chocolate baking bar,” Sandberg echoed. “This way you get small pieces of chocolate that almost disappear into the baked cookie, and other large puddles of melted chocolate.”
“Look at the ingredient list of your chocolate and make sure that cocoa beans, chocolate, or chocolate liquor (i.e., ground-up cocoa nibs) are the first ingredient.”
If you’re going for a sweeter cookie, milk chocolate might be the move for you. Jessica Hylton of Jessica in the Kitchen recommended looking for milk chocolate with at least a 30% cacao percentage, even when you’re baking with vegan chocolate.
“You want chocolate that’ll soften nicely, not remain hard after baking,” she said.
Most bakers who spoke to HuffPost found milk chocolate to be overly sweet for their taste, especially when combined with the sugary cookie dough, but Asbell acquired a fondness for it.
“I used to bake for a family that loved milk chocolate in their cookies, and I admit, I learned to love them, too,” she said. “As long as your cookie is properly under-baked, it’s kind of hard to go wrong with a warm, freshly baked chocolate chipper!”
You can also cut the sweetness by adding in another type of chocolate.
“I prefer a combination of semisweet chocolate chips and milk chocolate,” said Nicole Washington, the food blogger behind Brown Sugar. “For me, it doesn’t matter if it’s chunks or chips.”
Dark, Milk And White Chocolate Combined
Megan Giller is the author and founder of Chocolate Noise, which leads team-building chocolate tastings. She uses dark, milk and white chocolate for her triple chocolate chunk cookies ― an approach that gives each bite a little something different.
“I highly recommend including multiple types of chocolate in one batch of cookies,” she said. “I prefer chopped chocolate so you get some big pieces and some tiny ones in each bite. I love baking with Guittard and Valrhona. That said, there are some amazing chocolate chips available now. My favorites are from French Broad and ’57 Chocolate.”
Whatever You Like In High-Quality Form
Giller said that people who try her chocolate chip cookies always ask if there’s a “secret ingredient” that gives them such a rich chocolate flavor.
“The truth is that it’s high-quality chocolate,” she explained. “Look at the ingredient list of your chocolate and make sure that cocoa beans, chocolate, or chocolate liquor (i.e., ground-up cocoa nibs) are the first ingredient. With lower-quality products, you’ll often find that sugar is the first ingredient or that they don’t contain any of the three ingredients I just mentioned but rather Dutch-processed cocoa as well as preservatives and fillers.”
Lopez also advised prioritizing high-quality chocolate since it provides the primary flavor you taste.
“If you’re on a budget, I recommend using generic versions of ingredients like flour, butter, sugar, and just splurging on the chocolate,” she said.