HOME ON THE RANGE: The best chocolate cookie ever is easy to make

It’s one of life’s universal laws, how everyone claims to have a recipe for the best chocolate chip cookie ever. Mothers, fathers, teachers, firefighters, nurses, garbage collectors, aunts, uncles, plumbers: They’ve all got the goods. These holders of the best-ever recipe haughtily thrust their chins into the air and boast that they, alone, don the cookie-champion crown.

They are wrong. In fact, I possess the recipe for the best chocolate chip cookie ever. Really, truly, I do. It’s a fact.

These delightful brown pucks are perfectly crispy — nearly pastry-like. They possess an undertone of saltiness that precisely balances the sweetness of the chips. And the color, like that of caramel. But the laudable attributes don’t end there. These cookies satisfy well beyond the realm of taste, on a scale that approaches, dare I say, the spiritual. Each bite is like chomping into a crumbly miracle. Thoughts become clearer. Problems disappear. The feet warm. Hair grows. It’s as though the cookie senses what is needed and eagerly, pleasantly obliges. These sweet darlings have accompanied me during countless pivotal moments in my life. They are the Zelig of the snack world.

The recipe came to me from my late Grandma Bernice (she bought it off a gypsy). Grandma was a graceful, no-nonsense woman who washed her clothes with a wringer long after technological innovations made such practices unnecessary. I still can picture her reaching into the oven with a mitted hand, pushing up her smudged glasses with the back of her wrist. She kept an ice-cream pail full of chocolate chip cookies in the porch deep-freeze, which was easy to sneak into before dinner. She also made Jell-O cake. Remember Jell-O-cake? With a toothpick, you poked holes in a white cake and filled them with hot Jell-O. Anyway, I don’t know how she met the gypsy.

The string of cookie-related moments begins on my first day of kindergarten. School didn’t go so well. I wrestled on the sidewalk with a kid named Marky and was made to stand in the corner. I talked too much and was branded “disruptive.” Then, for some ill-conceived reason, I stood fully erect atop my desk and was sent promptly home. The world seemed pretty gloomy as I slogged the long, gray sidewalks to my house. But when I opened the door, there was Grandma, smiling, with a plate of chocolate chip cookies. My troubles floated away on a bumpy, nutty cloud. And so it went for confirmations, birthdays and funerals. The cookies were always there.

Later, when I was 18, I moved all the way to Oakland, Calif., and took a job rehabbing Victorian houses for a Hare Krishna entrepreneur. On a particularly warm, sunny day — it must have been 100 degrees — the house I was working on, and living in, caught fire (it’s a long story). The crew and I stood, arms crossed, watching it burn. The mailman approached. He had a package for me. It was a box of chocolate chip cookies, homemade, from my sister.

And again — if I may provide another example — the cookies were present the first time I met my boyfriend Delano’s extended family. I’d baked them myself, hoping to impress his grandma Phyllis (yes, of Phyllis’s Rhubarb Delight). She took one nibble and her eyes lit up. She declared them wonderful. With a wink, she said, “I sure do enjoy a dry cookie.” Just as she uttered those words, she choked on a crumb. When she’d downed a glass of water and ceased coughing, she polished off two more. We’ve been friends ever since.

Not only are these cookies delicious and of crucial importance, they are very easy to make. If you keep a reasonable base of ingredients around the house — flour, sugar (brown and white), spices, nuts and chocolate chips—you need never be without a warm, tasty treat, even if you live in the middle of nowhere, as I do. Even if your car breaks down. Even if you contract the flu and can’t leave the house. Even if you get into a bar fight and can’t see for your swollen eye. The cookies will always be there.

Best chocolate chip cookie

1/2-cup brown sugar

1/2-cup white sugar

1 cup shortening

1 large egg

2 cups flour (sifted, if you’ve got a sifter — it makes the cookies more airy)

2 teaspoons cream of tarter

1 teaspoon soda

1/2-teaspoon salt

1 package chocolate chips (6 oz.)

1/2-cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, with a large fork, cream together the brown sugar, white sugar, shortening and egg. Mix well. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, cream of tarter, soda and salt. Pour the dry ingredients in with the wet, a little at a time. Stir, stir, stir. When this is thoroughly mixed, toss in the chocolate chips and nuts. Stir some more. The dough should be stiff, but not crumbly. Add a dash of water if it gets too dry.

In your hands, roll bits of dough into spheres a little smaller than golf balls. Place them, unflattened, on an ungreased baking sheet, leaving enough room for expansion (they will not flatten completely). Bake them at 325 degrees for 10 to 12 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let them sit for a minute or two. Finally, place them on a double-layer sheet of newspaper.

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