Sunday, January 01, 2012

New Year's Eve and the Return of the Levain Cookies

Instead of hanging at home in my p.j.'s and watching an Indiana Jones movie marathon or some such, I actually had New Year's Eve plans this year! Nothing fancy, just a board game night with friends, which is about my speed. I asked my friend, June, what I should bring, and she said to bring whatever I liked. And what I like is the Levain Copycat Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies of blessed memory. I have been meaning to bring that recipe back out, dust it off, and tweak it a bit, and this seemed the perfect opportunity.

My first change was increase the proportion of brown to white sugar to get more of a caramel flavor. Second, I thought I might try reducing the amount of flour and adding a tablespoon of corn starch for a more tender cookie. Also, I added a little extra leavening, and lastly, more chocolate chips for my chocoholic friends.  The other adaptations had to do with how I handled the dough.

I made the dough the night before, scooped the cookies, then wrapped the trays in plastic wrap and chilled them overnight to ripen the dough, fully saturate the dry ingredients, and mature the flavors. And before baking, I actually froze the unbaked cookies for a couple of hours to help achieve slightly underbaked middles, which is Levain's hallmark.

I took the trays to the party and baked them over there so that guests could enjoy the cookies warm from the oven, another Levain signature characteristic. Everyone went ga-ga for them, and the hostess wouldn't even let me take the second tray of (unbaked) cookies home--she confiscated them before I could get out the door! They were just that good. So without further ado, I will let the ball drop on the world's best chocolate chip cookies.

Levain-Style Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies 2.0

2 sticks cold butter, cubed
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 3/4 cups bread flour (you heard me--bread flour!)
1 tablespoon corn starch
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 1/2 cups good quality semisweet chocolate chips or chunks (I only put this many chocolate chips in when I'm making them for others--I personally prefer just 1 1/2 cups)
1 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted, cooled, and broken into large pieces (toasting the nuts first makes all the difference--trust me on this)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

1. In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugars until well blended and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time and beat until well incorporated.

2. Add flour, corn starch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chips/chunks and nuts.

3. Transfer dough to clean work surface and gently mix dough by hand to ensure even distribution of ingredients. Using a regular cookie scoop, portion out onto parchment or Silpat. (This will make approximately 4 oz. cookies. Levain's are 6 ounces.) You want tall, shaggy haystacks--do not flatten!

4. This step is not strictly necessary, but I like to cover the trays with plastic and refrigerate overnight to develop flavor. Better yet, freeze them until they are very cold and firm (but not completely frozen) before baking.

5. Bake in the preheated oven 13-18 minutes (depending on how gooey you like the interior and whether the dough was chilled/frozen ahead of time) until very lightly browned, taking care not to overbake. Let cool on tray for 10 minutes, then completely on a wire rack. Store what you don’t immediately eat in an airtight container.

*These are best eaten warm out of the oven. If they last until the next day, freshen them in the microwave for 5-10 seconds.

Yield: 20 cookies (using a muffin scoop)

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