Last-minute treat for the Fourth
It's the day before Independence Day, and you have no idea what you're going to bring to the party. Or maybe you're throwing the party yourself, and you suddenly realize you don't know what you're going to serve for dessert.

The problem with most Fourth of July party planning, whether you're a guest or a host or hostess, is that some of the most obvious options will have already been done. You can pretty much count on there being hamburgers and hot dogs or some other great grilled protein. Coleslaw? Check. Potato salad? Double check! And as for desserts, it's almost a given that ice cream has already been procured, and somebody will have bought or baked some pie.

So, what can you make or bring that feels all-American, that everybody will love, that goes with everything else at the party, and is easy to make at the last minute. I can give you the answer in three words.

Chocolate. Chip. Cookies.

The recipe may seem as traditional and downright patriotic as the Fourth of July. So you may be surprised to learn that it was first created by accident just over 80 years ago by Ruth Graves Wakefield at her home-style Wakefield, Mass., restaurant, the Toll House Inn. (So now you know how the drop cookies studded with bits of chocolate come by one of their best-known names.) While making a regular recipe for chocolate cookies, she discovered she'd run out of baker's chocolate for the batter; so, instead, she folded in chopped chocolate, assuming it would melt and blend with the batter during baking. But you know what actually happened. World War II packages from home popularized the cookies with GIs, and by the middle of the 20th century the cookie was pretty much everyone's favorite.

My recipe for Chocolate Chip Cookies isn't hugely different from the basic approach. But I have introduced a few subtle chef's tricks to make them, I hope, even better. Instead of all-purpose flour, I used cake or pastry flour to give the cookies a finer, more tender crumb. Instead of equal parts brown and white sugar, I use a little more of the brown for richer-tasting results. And, before mixing and baking the batter, I toast the nuts, which gives them extra crunch and deeper flavor. As for the chocolate, you can use your favorite brand.

The recipe may be easily doubled if you want to bring more to the party, or leave some at home to enjoy later. For an extra-special treat, you can sandwich a scoop of your favorite ice cream between two of the large cookies.

Have a happy, and sweet, July 4th!


Makes 12 large cookies or 36 small cookies

1 cup shelled walnut or pecan halves

1-3/4 cups cake flour or pastry flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

6 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons warm water

1 large cage-free egg