What's the most clicked-on cookie recipe on this Web site? Is it Fudge Drops, whose accompanying blog generated over 100 comments? Our version of the New York Times best Chocolate Chip Cookies? Maybe my personal favorite: Kids' Choice Chip & Nut Oatmeal Cookies. Or the ones with the best name: Faux-Reos.

Nope, nope, and nope again. The most clicked on cookie recipe at kingarthurflour.com is (drum roll, please):

Basic Drop Cookies.

Whaaaa??? With Chocolate-Dipped Vanilla Biscotti, Raspberry Lemonade Squares, and Famous Department Store Chocolate Chip Cookies out there vying for the top, how could this be? I mean, there are over 100 cookie recipes online here, with another 50+ recipes for brownies and bars, and the single most compelling one is Basic Drop Cookies?

I'm struggling to know what to make of this. Back to basics? Comfort food? Newbie cookie bakers looking for somewhere safe to start?

It could just be the power of simplicity.  How many times have I looked for a “plain” pancake recipe, or simply directions for how to boil rice? Plain pancakes can become blueberry, or chocolate chip; rice turns into biryani and paella. But you DO need a starting place.

And that's exactly what Basic Drop Cookies are. A place to begin. Cookie Chemistry 101.

And in making this recipe, I discovered some interesting things. The original version called for butter or shortening, plus the addition of milk. I know many of you avoid shortening, and very seldom do I see milk in cookies. So I set up some experiments.

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First, butter vs. shortening. I expected the butter-based cookies (at left, above) would spread more, and they did, marginally; butter has a lower melting point than shortening. But what I didn't expect was the pronounced difference in taste. The butter-based cookies had a much richer, deeper flavor. So taste-wise, butter is definitely better.

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Next, I tested both shortening and butter cookies made with milk, or without milk.

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Here are the butter cookies, with (left) and without (right). Milk definitely made them spread more. Again, this makes sense—more liquid, more spread. “So OK, ditch the milk,” I thought.

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Ah, but then I started adding stuff to these Basic Drop Cookies. Like, chocolate chunks and pecans and dried cranberries. And with add-ins, milk makes a positive difference—if you prefer your cookies flat, rather than mounded, as I do. The cookie on the left (above) didn't have milk in the batter; the cookie on the right did.

My conclusion? Make cookies with butter; and add milk if you're using extra goodies in the dough, leaving the milk out if you'll be serving them au jus.

Who knew, after all these years in the test kitchen, I still had a lot to learn about cookies?

P.S. You're dying to know, right?  First runner-up in the Most Clicked On Pageant: Very Lemon Cookies. Second runner-up:  “Chinese” Cookies. Fodder for future blogs, for sure.

Want to read the recipe as you follow these pictures? Here it is: Basic Drop Cookies.

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Basic drop cookies start with the basic: butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, and vanilla.

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Beat till everything is mixed.

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Then beat some more, till the mixture is fairly smooth; a few lumps are OK.

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Add 1 egg...

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...and beat some more. This isn't sufficient; see the egg still showing in the batter?

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Beat till the egg disappears, then scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. This gathers into the center anything that's stuck around the edges.

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Add flour, salt, baking powder, and baking soda.

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Beat some more. Again, this isn't sufficient.

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Scrape the bowl...

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...beat some more...

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...and continue until all evidence of unincorporated flour has disappeared.

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Now, if you're making Basic Drop Cookies without add-ins, just go ahead and drop the dough onto baking sheets. If you're going to add chips, nuts, ad/or dried fruit, add the milk.

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Beat till combined; you'll notice the dough is softer.

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Add your favorites—I like BIG, assertive stuff, like whole pecan halves, dried cranberries, and chocolate chunks.

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Mix to combine.

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Next, scoop the stiff dough onto parchment-lined (or lightly greased) baking sheets. I always use half-sheet parchment on an 18” x 13” half-sheet pan. I reuse the parchment again and again, and never have to wash the pan. Saves time in a busy kitchen. Also, I use a cookie scoop—in this case, a tablespoon scoop, as I was in a hurry, and didn't particularly care what size the cookies turned out—which was about 2 1/2”. But I often use a teaspoon scoop, as it makes a diet- and appetite-friendly 2” cookie.

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If you stagger the balls of dough, you can get 15 on a sheet without them spreading and running into each other.

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Bake the cookies. See? Perfectly spaced.

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And ready to enjoy.

Read, rate, and review (please!) our recipe for Basic Drop Cookies.

Buy vs. Bake

Buy: Nabisco Lorna Doone Shortbread Cookies, 42¢/ounce

INGREDIENTS:  Enriched Flour, Soybean and/or Palm Oil, Sugar, Partially Hydrogenated Cottonseed Oil, Corn Flour, Salt, High Fructose Corn Syrup, Baking Soda, Cornstarch, Soy Lecithin (Emulsifier), Artificial Flavor.

Bake at home: Basic Drop Cookies, 11¢/ounce

INGREDIENTS: King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour, butter, sugar, eggs, salt, baking powder, baking soda, vanilla.

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Filed Under: Tips and Techniques
PJ Hamel
The Author

About PJ Hamel

PJ Hamel grew up in New England, graduated from Brown University, and was a Maine journalist before joining King Arthur Flour in 1990. PJ bakes and writes from her home on Cape Cod, where she enjoys beach-walking, her husband, two dogs, and really good food!