The secret ingredient you should be using in your chocolate chip cookies

Who doesn't love a freshly-baked chocolate chip cookie? Hand anybody a plate of these and they're going to go all Cookie Monster — om-nom-nom 'til the cookies are gone. So beloved are chocolate chip cookies that it's hard to believe they haven't been around forever, but they only date back to the 1930s when they were invented at a restaurant called the Toll House, which is why they are sometimes called Toll House cookies.

While the original recipe — the one printed on bags of Nestle chocolate chips — is just about perfect, still, there are always those who seek to improve upon perfection by adding or changing just one magic ingredient. Luckily for us, food blogger Tessa Arias at Handle the Heat took it upon herself to test the most popular ingredient tweaks to the classic Toll House recipe: replacing butter with shortening, substituting cake or bread flour for all-purpose flour, and adding cornstarch or an extra egg yolk.

Her verdict? The secret ingredient that made the very best chocolate chip cookies was the one also endorsed by celebrity chef Alton Brown: bread flour.

How bread flour transforms your cookies' texture

Bread flour makes for the thickest, chewiest cookies, and Arias suggests you substitute at least half of the all-purpose flour for bread flour in your chocolate chip cookie recipe. If you don't use any all-purpose flour, though, you may need to adjust the proportions a bit — her recipe called for using 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons of bread flour in place of 1 cup of all-purpose flour. 

Alton Brown's famous chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe also calls for using only bread flour, which is, of course, measured in ounces (12 of them, which is approximately 2 and 1/3 cups) and he too promises that "extra chewiness" will be attained.

Why bread flour makes cookies extra chewy

According to Baker Bettie's Baking 101, bread flour has the highest protein content of any of the most commonly used types of baking flour (the others being all-purpose flour, cake flour, self-rising flour, and whole wheat flour). Extra protein translates to extra gluten in the baking process, and gluten is what creates the extra chewy factor, which explains why bread flour is a smart swap for regular all-purpose flour. Bettie also has her own scientifically-formulated recipe for chocolate chip cookies that are chewy, yet thin. This recipe, of course, calls for using bread flour as the sole type of flour. 

Bettie also provided a few other tweaks for extra added chewiness in her blog post on the science of the chocolate chip cookie: using more brown sugar than white sugar in the cookie recipe, eliminating one egg white and adding two tablespoons of milk in its place, and melting the butter instead of creaming it. According to science (and Bettie), melting the butter releases water which, when it combines with the bread flour, creates yet more gluten. Although she doesn't explain the brown sugar/white sugar ratio or the egg white/milk swap, it looks like both of these tweaks also result in adding extra moisture to the dough, which would likely amp up the gluten content as well.

Not-so-secret ingredients you can add to chocolate chip cookies

Chocolate chip cookies, while a thing of beauty in their original form, are nonetheless a versatile template that can be tweaked to include a wide variety of other ingredients adding anything from a subtle hint of spice to an entirely new dimension. One popular variant involves adding a little kick from chiles — either fresh as in this recipe from the Homesick Texan blog, or dried or in the form of a condiment, such as in this Macheesmo recipe which features chocolate chip cookies made with cayenne powder and sriracha.

A recipe from Food52 features chocolate chip cookies enhanced with the addition of cornmeal for "grit and texture" and toffee bits for "earthy sweetness" and a little sea salt to tie the whole thing together (sea salt plus chocolate for the win!), while The Beeroness posted a recipe for chocolate chip cookies flavored with chai spices, molasses, and (of course) beer.

A slideshow from The Daily Meal on the subject of over-the-top cookie recipes features quite a few chocolate chip cookie variants with anything-but-plain add-ins including trail mix, Rice Krispies, cashews, toasted marshmallows, Nutella, and pistachios. Not all in the same cookie recipe, of course, but you could always give it a try. Or how about coming up with your own even more over-the-top spin, maybe something like chocolate chip cookies with pecans, bacon, and bourbon?