Monday, May 19, 2008

Another Blogga Bandwagon--Get on Board!

A few weekends ago, I was watching Food Network, as is my way, and I caught one of Bobby Flay's Throwdowns. This one was with the women of Levain Bakery who are reported to bake the best chocolate chip cookies in New York City. Poor Bobby tried, but he simply could not best the best. Before watching this progam, I had only heard of these infamous cookies via Anna's blog, but I think I kind of tuned it out because I didn't understand what she was talking about. But now I get it. Apparently, these much-heralded cookies have several mesmerizing qualities. First, they are GINORMOUS at six ounces apiece. Secondly, they are chock full of chocolate chips. Also, they are very tall and puffy, both cakey and dense. And lastly, they are very, very moist, to the point of being underbaked (cookie dough lovers, take note).

Ever since that episode of Throwdown was aired, the food blogs have been electrified with attempts to replicate a cookie like Levain Bakery's. One of the most promising early leads came from Su Good Sweets and one of her loyal readers named Lisa. Lisa felt she had cracked the code, and many bakers were happy to test her recipe with good results. I was one of them. I had a committee meeting coming up at school, the end of a very long search process to fill an important position at the college. Therefore, I thought each committee member deserved a BIG cookie for a BIG job well done! The cookies were very good, but unlike Levain's or even Lisa's copycats, they were not tall and puffy. I did make them a bit smaller (four ounces), but I think the main problem was that I formed them by hand into hockey puck shapes, and they ended up spreading a lot. Still, they were quite yummy, enough to justify a repeat attempt. I thought maybe I'd try the recipe again with a little more leavening and by mounding up the dough before baking. But before I got around to doing it, Anna jumped into the fray to perfect Lisa's recipe.

Like me, Anna had never actually tasted the real deal from Levain Bakery. But one of her readers from NYC was kind enough to ship some samples to her via express mail. (Levain does do mail order, but it's $40 for four cookies!) And as is befitting a Bake-Off winner, Anna set herself to task, baking micro-batch after micro-batch of Levain copycats until she found the winning combination. As it turns out, the cookie is most successful when it contains baking soda as the only leavening and...brace yourself for the shock...bread flour instead of all-purpose! Most importantly, to get that desirably craggy mountain of goodness, you need to bake the dough in tall, shaggy haystacks, preferably on the back of a rimmed cookie sheet. And of course, they MUST not be overbaked. That is critical.

As Anna has never led me astray, I did a test batch this afternoon. I made six four-ounce cookies, following Anna's revised recipe pretty closely. The only changes I made were to start with cold, cubed butter instead of room temperature (because that's what the Levain ladies did on the Bobby Flay show), and I added vanilla. Be advised that the Levain bakers said that they do not add any vanilla, because they don't feel that it adds anything to the flavor of the cookie. But I just could not bring myself to omit it! Well, let me tell you, the resulting cookies were terrific!

Of course, I have never had one of the real Levain cookies, but these look identical (Anna's photo of one of the cookies from Levain is below so you can compare to my pic above), and they taste awesome. The only thing I would do differently next time would be to pull them a minute or two earlier. I was concerned that they looked a little too underdone when I checked them at 15 minutes, so I left them in for another four minutes when two would have probably done it. Still, they are delicious--especially when still warm from the oven, but 15 seconds in the microwave the next day will bring them right back to soft and gooey. Try them!

(<----Photo credit: Anna Ginsberg)

Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie Copycats (via Lisa and Anna)

8 ounces (two sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature--I prefer to start with cold, cubed butter as the Levain bakers do
3/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla (optional, but I prefer it)
3 cups BREAD flour (13 1/2 oz)
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/3 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 to 1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped, untoasted walnuts

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Beat butter and both sugars just until they come together. Don’t overbeat. Add the eggs one at a time and beat just until incorporated. Blend in the vanilla, if using. Mix together the flour, salt and baking soda. When thoroughly mixed, add to batter and stir just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts. The dough should be neither sticky nor dry.

Divide dough into tall mounds, but keep them kind of raggedy. (That is, don’t smash them into compact balls or disks.) Bake on ungreased insulated cookie sheet or an upside down rimmed cookie sheet at 350 degrees for 17-18 minutes for four ounce cookies or 19-20 minutes for six-ouncers. Cool on sheet for about 10 minutes then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

This should make a dozen four-ounce cookies or eight six-ounce cookies.


Randi said...

I must try these. They look awesome!!

Anonymous said...

Okay. Now you have to try the new instant yeast version!