Ah. The chocolate chip cookie. Has anyone else been on a quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie? I have, and I began to wonder what that means about me, as a subject and citizen in a world where thinness is the highest form of being. I thought, for fun, (and to stretch my brain a little), I could try and understand this quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie using Foucault.
Foucault was concerned with subject formation – how we become self-disciplining citizens – and so, to a certain extent, the quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie is a form of resistance to current debates within food and nutrition discourses that are focussed on eating for health purposes. Subjects are constructed through the relations of knowledge and power. Knowledge of food and nutrition currently suggests that we eat for health purposes, so as to avoid getting fat. Such knowledge promotes the consumption of fruit and vegetables, whole-grains and lean proteins. If we eat such foods, we will remain healthy, and ultimately, not become a burden on our societies or government funds. Populations are taught what to eat through public awareness campaigns, schooling and labelling. Therefore, what we chose to eat is, to a certain extent, constructed by society.
There is a long history in Western societies of food and pleasure and the need to quell any pleasurable associations of food and eating. By disassociating food and pleasure and linking food to health, we, as subjects, are required to construct ourselves with concern for the ‘proper’ way of eating – that is, to limit consumption of certain foods, maintain a ‘healthy’ weight, and ultimately, to not become a burden on society. This can be seen through popular TV shows that shame fat people and encourage them to be thinner, campaigns in schools that measure BMIs, and growing concern that we are not eating enough ‘fresh’ foods, made from scratch, around the table.
Those of us who promote the consumption of butter and sugar are engaging with a discourse of pleasure – that food and eating should be pleasurable, it should give you joy. Such an idea is a form of resistance to the healthy foods, health weight ideas described above – to such discourses, food is not about pleasure, it is about health. Through the production and consumption of the chocolate chip cookie we are engaging in a form of resistance to the formation of ourselves as healthy subjects. We are (possibly) also introducing the idea that food need not be about health, that it can be about pleasure, enjoyment, memory, conviviality and taste too. The quest for the ultimate chocolate chip cookie is therefore also a quest to stretch the boundaries of acceptable food behaviours…
The chocolate chip cookie is said to have been invented by Ruth Wakefield, who ran the Toll House restaurant in Massachusetts, in the 1930s. In 1939, Nestle purchased the rights to the cookie from Ruth as well as the Toll House name and so, the Toll House chocolate chip cookie was born. You could say the world has never been the same since…
In an article in The New York Times, David Leite ponders the debates that surround the perfect cookie. The first is at what temperature the cookie should be served. This may seem slightly bizarre – surely the cookie is served when it has cooled? But actually, the best cookies are served still slightly warm from the oven. Pastry shops and bakeries have various techniques to achieve this warmth. It is also hugely important, in chocolate chip cookie discourse, to have a soft centre but a crispy edge. This is achieved through scrupulous baking times – both in the oven and cooling on the trays. The third important step in achieving the perfect cookie is to chill the dough. This is particularly important with these cookies, as you will brown all the butter and so to even roll the dough into portions, chilling time is necessary. Finally, you want the cookies perfectly golden brown, almost perfectly rounded and the chocolate needs to be slightly melted when you eat it. Achieving all of this in a single cookie is a big ask. But the pleasure that is gained is pure happiness so it’s worth the effort.
Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from The Little Loaf Blog
190g unsalted butter
120g golden caster sugar
100g soft brown sugar
80g dark brown sugar
1 egg plus 1 yolk
225g rice flour or buckwheat flour or a combination of both
1 tsp baking soda
pinch of salt
100g each of dark, milk and white chocolate chips
First of all brown the butter. All of it, in a saucepan on the stove. This takes up to twenty minutes and basically entails melting the butter over a medium heat and then cooking it (it will bubble and splutter quite violently at various points) until it turns brown and begins to smell nutty. Watch it carefully here – you want it a dark-ish golden brown but not black (which will mean it is burnt and you have to start over.)
Set the butter aside to cool for about 10 minutes.
In a large bowl, mix together the three sugars, breaking up any lumps. Pour the slightly cooled butter onto the sugar and mix until smooth.
Then add in the egg and yolk, followed by the flour, baking soda and pinch of salt.
Roughly chop the three different chocolates. Use any combination up to 300g-worth. Add this into the batter/dough.
Mix everything until the chocolate is well-combined into the dough.
Now you have to exercise some self-control and chill the dough for 24 hours at least – I usually just clingfilm the bowl and store it on a shelf in my fridge. This resting time allows the butter and egg to be absorbed into the flour and ultimately will give you a better cookie.
Once the 24 hours are up, roll the dough into balls – I use a teaspoon to extract the dough. I normally roll all the dough (it makes approximately 30-40 balls, depending on size) and then freeze the ones that I don’t want to bake immediately. This way you always have emergency cookie dough. Because who doesn’t need emergency cookie dough right?!
Place the ones you want to bake on a baking sheet and preheat the oven to 170C. Once the oven is hot enough, bake them for 10 minutes. Turn the tray around and bake for a further 2 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cookies to cool on the tray for 2 minutes. Then slide them off the baking sheet and allow them to cool slightly before devouring en masse.
Enjoy with the knowledge that eating the chocolate chip cookie is a form of resistance…