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Chocolate Chip Cookie Tasting Panel

We organized a panel of 12 cookie lovers and conducted a blind tasting of four contenders for best cheap chocolate chip cookie: Keebler's Chips Deluxe Chocolate Lovers (starting at $2.38/13.3-ounce box), Nabisco's Chips Ahoy Original (starting at $2.50/13.72-ounce box) and Chips Ahoy Chewy (starting at $2.50/14-ounce box), and Trader Joe's Charmingly Chewy (starting at $2.50/14-ounce box). As a ringer, we threw in a homemade cookie that was prepared according to the recipe on bags of Nestle's Toll House Semi-Sweet Morsels.

Identifying the best chocolate chip cookie in our price range was not easy.

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Although the race for the top spot was neck-and-neck through most of the afternoon tasting, panelists had reservations about all the commercially-produced samples. But they had a job to do and ultimately declared Chips Deluxe Chocolate Lovers by Keebler the best chocolate chip cookie for the combination of crunchy texture, chocolate-y sweetness, and heft. Chips Ahoy Original by Nabisco fell behind by a crumb or two but was cited for its satisfying crispness and old-time classic taste. The other Nabisco contender, Chips Ahoy Chewy, slipped into last place for a dough with disappointing taste and texture. The Charmingly Chewy cookie from Trader Joe's was a hit with panelists keen on chewiness but didn't rank because the brand is not widely available. Perhaps not surprisingly to anyone who has ever tasted a homemade cookie, the entrant that came straight from our own oven blew away the other cheap chocolate chip cookies we tested. In the end, however, we discounted this result due to the gross unfairness of the comparison.

As shoppers know all too well, Nabisco and Keebler have a lock on the cookie aisle in most supermarkets, each offering several variations on thebest chocolate chip cookie theme alongside numerous other cookie treats. In the chocolate chip category their products compete against stalwarts such as Pepperidge Farm, Famous Amos, and Newman's Own, which all cost a fair bit more than the brands in our tasting. Many retail food chains also stock chocolate chip cookies under their own private label (Trader Joe's being a prime example) and some also bake up batches right in the store. Independent, artisanal bakers abound, their wares often found in gourmet markets where one cookie might retail for upwards of two dollars; our sample cookies cost as little as seven cents each. And then, of course, there are family recipes that have been passed down through generations.

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In recent years chocolate chip cookies have been doctored up (adulterated, some might argue) with a mind-boggling array of taste sensations - M&M's, coconut, oatmeal, cherries, peanut butter cups, and an assortment of nuts and chocolate types. Still, cookies with regular old chocolate chips are perennial favorites. The basic ingredients in the best chocolate chip cookies at the frugal end of the market don't vary much from one brand to another: all contain flour, sugar, shortening, eggs, leavening, chocolate chips, additives, and flavor enhancers. High-end and homemade varieties often include both brown and granulated sugar and butter. Even the best chocolate chip cookies we tasted, though, don't contain butter and none had brown sugar, either; sweeteners used in these commercial cookies include sugar, cane juice, date paste, molasses, and high fructose corn syrup.

Chocolate chip cookie fans are divided between those who like crisp and those who prefer chewy. We came across numerous debates on cooking forums concerning what makes a cookie crisp or chewy. When we posed the question to our panelists about their preferences, the response was a near even split. Most expressed a liking for both textures in the same cookie, although that ideal proved elusive even in the best chocolate chip cookie treats.

Full disclosure: As noted above, we originally included a cookie baked according to the Toll House recipe. Although we subsequently eliminated these cookies from the running, please indulge us for an editorial minute.

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Baking your own chocolate chip cookies is far cheaper than buying the commercial offerings. The Toll House recipe yields five dozen cookies if you follow the package directions exactly; the store-bought packages we sampled contain far fewer, ranging from a low of 18 Charmingly Chewy cookies to a high of 36 Chips Ahoy Original cookies. Based on the prices at the market where we shopped, the total cost for a bag of Nestle's Semi-Sweet Morsels and two sticks of butter was equivalent to the cost of one package of Chips Ahoy or Chips Deluxe Chocolate Lovers. (We didn't figure in the cost of flour, eggs, sugar, and vanilla because most households keep these basics on hand.) Despite protests that buying a bag of cookies at the store is far more convenient, we found that the dough-making process took seven minutes (including time needed to locate a lost bottle of vanilla) from start to finish using a hand mixer. Baking proceeds rapidly, especially if you have multiple cookie sheets.

Sure, there's cleanup involved, but the finished product was superior: chewy and crunchy, the chips a bit melty, and the taste tinged with butter. If you have the time to spare, homemade is by far the best chocolate chip cookie. Well worth the effort and money-saving, too.

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In this review:
  1. Best Chocolate Chip Cookies
  2. Soft Chocolate Chip Cookies Review
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