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BY EMILY BATTLE
If you're looking to try your hand at baking from scratch for the first time, the original Toll House recipe for chocolate-chip cookies offers a pretty user-friendly experience.
You don't even need to make a shopping list. Just go to any grocery store and head for the baking aisle. Pick up a yellow bag of chocolate chips and turn it over.
Your supply list, instructions and key ingredient are all right there in your hand.
The chocolate-chip cookie was supposedly invented 78 years ago, when Ruth Wakefield--proprietor of the Toll House Inn in Massachusetts--threw a broken-up chocolate bar into her butter cookie dough.
It has since become an American favorite, even rivaling the much ballyhooed apple pie.
We buy them pre-packaged at the grocery store, piping hot and big as hubcaps at the mall. We substitute them for birthday cakes and put them on sticks like lollipops.
My husband and I were even given some treats for our dog that look like tiny chocolate-chip cookies--with carob standing in for chocolate, of course.
While the original Toll House recipe is a sure bet if you're looking to pull something fresh, tasty and homemade from your oven, that hasn't stopped America's home cooks from messing with it.
A Free Lance-Star request for readers' favorite chocolate-chip cookie recipes yielded about a dozen different dispatches from around the region.
They range from simple--yellow cake mix, butter, eggs, chips--to fine-tuned and complex. The recipes included four different kinds of sugar, four different kinds of chocolate chips and quite an array of fats.
We saw "secret ingredients" that ranged from Nestle's Quik powder to Amaretto to ground-up mint-flavored Oreos.
After baking just four of these, it was clear that the words "chocolate-chip cookie" doesn't conjure up a cookie-cutter image in our minds.
There are the cakey cookies, with a light color and soft texture.
There is shortbread-like dough that bakes up into the texture of a store-bought cookie.
Then there are the batters that go heavy on the brown sugar. Some bake into chewy little rounds, and others spread out into thin, wide treats with a doughy center and dark, crisp edges that taste like candy.
Which one is best depends on the cookie-eater.
I put the four varieties out in our newsroom and asked for comments.
One recipe with a soft, brown-sugar dough and three different kinds of chocolate chips got a range of comments, including, "nice and gooey," "too gooey" and "I like the gooeyness."
A flat, crispy cookie drew one taster to say, "My favorite. Love the crunchy, thin kind," and another to say, "Too thin. Don't like the crispy kind."
It seems our tastes for what might be the national cookie are as diverse as our views on politics and "American Idol."
Our newsroom seems to be full of thin-cookie-lovers. My co-workers overwhelmingly loved King George resident Shirley Braden's recipe for Brown Sugar Chocolate-Chip Cookies.
But every variety was somebody's favorite.
Spotsylvania resident Margaret Mosher wins the prize for packing the most chocolate into one cookie. Her recipe calls for two to three bags of assorted chips. She's also the cook who suggests adding a splash of Amaretto into the batter with the vanilla.
"I say the real reason for a chocolate-chip cookie is to eat the chocolate chips, not the cookie part!" Mosher wrote.
Me? I'm into the cookie part. My favorite recipe is a bit nontraditional. It comes from "Mama Dip's Kitchen," a cookbook by Mildred Council, aka Mama Dip, one of the best Southern chefs in Chapel Hill, N.C., where I went to school.
Mama Dip adds cocoa powder and pecans to her dough. I love it.
Below, you'll find the four reader recipes I tried. It was tough to choose just a few to make, but if I'd made them all I would have ingested far more raw cookie dough than is healthy.
The four chosen represent very different textures, colors and flavors.
If you'd like to look at all of the recipes submitted, visit fredericksburg.com.
Emily Battle: 540/374-5413
Prep time: 5 minutes
1 box cake mix of your
Prep time: 2O minutes
1 cup butter, softened
Prep time: 2O minutes
4 sticks butter, still cold and
Prep time: about 20 minutes
2 cups all-purpose flour
Bake 8 to 10 minutes until set. Let set further on baking sheet for a minute or so after removing from the oven.Recipe from: King George resident Shirley Braden found this in a magazine years ago. She said she recently discovered that the original author is Alexis Stewart, daughter of Martha Stewart.
Here are some bonus recipes:
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