Inside the white paper bag was a battlescape of chocolate. Rich ganache snuggled between two slender planks of firm yet yielding brioche had melted out of its neat sandwhich during my sweaty trek across Central Park and seeped into various crevices of the bag, making it impossible to extract the other half of my purchase–the famous chocolate chip cookie–unscathed. But I withdrew the craggy monster of a cookie–hand accumulating chocolate smears–and broke it apart.
People were passing by: a German-looking family, a French couple, a middle-aged Asian woman who decided to sit on the other end of my bench. If they noticed me inspecting my cookie–the golden, ridged edges, the moist interior rich with butter and silky chocolate, the center so gooey and underdone like warm cookie dough that it should be illegal–I only hope they knew where to get their own.
And that place, of course, is Levain Bakery in New York. I went in mid-July to visit a friend before she left for a whirlwind tour of the world as a digital nomad, and during a lunch break walked across Central Park to procure the cookie I’d been dreaming about since the lovely Kayle first guided me there during a trip in 2013.
My only regret: at the last minute, I switched my order from a chocolate chip and a dark chocolate peanut butter chip cookie to a chocolate chip and the chocolate chip brioche. The brioche was incredibly chocolatey and a really nice dense but still sufficiently fluffy and rich dough, but where Levain really excels is the cookies and I should have just gone all in. Anyway, the cookie experience was just as otherworldly as I remembered, so when my lovely and very talented personal chef friend, Morgan, asked if I wanted to help her test out the Levain recipe when I got back, the answer was a giant YASSSSSS.*
We tried two recipes, a few alterations and a BUNCH of different baking temperatures and times. While we didn’t do anything earth-shattering to the excellent copycat recipes that already exist on the interwebs, I thought the research that we did in oven temperatures was worth sharing, so here are our results!
Chocolate Chip Cookie: we used Modern Honey’s recipe as our base.
At 375 degrees, with 5 cookies per sheet baked on the middle rack, we found:
15 min: too gooey in the center. I didn’t think this could exist, but it was like eating straight up cookie dough with a slightly crispy shell. Delicious, but lacking the structural integrity of the Levain cookies.
17 min: definite goo factor, just right in our opinion. However, the cookies were a bit on the pale side, lacking the golden-brown highlights of the Levain originals.
At 410 degrees for 9 min, we found the cookies were too gooey but held together. Our ultimate favorite would be 11 min at 410 degrees!
For the chocolate peanut butter cookies, we baked them all at 410 degrees:
10 min: Pretty gooey, a little under cooked.
11 min: Great but a little too molten gooey- another cookie in the same batch was almost thoroughly baked with no goo factor. This could be an issue due to uneven oven heating; would try rotating the pan next time.
13 min: Gooey and soft in the center, yet holds together perfectly. Ideal batch!
I’m posting the recipe for the classic Levain chocolate chip copycat below exactly as we made them, but here’s a high level summary of the changes/specific details for both recipes:
- Added 1 teaspoon of vanilla and 1 teaspoon of vanilla bean paste to both cookies. You can skip the paste if you don’t have it and just add some extra vanilla. We also used the pre-packaged, chopped walnuts, which I think worked slightly better in our slightly smaller sized cookies–even halved walnuts might have been too chunky for the small mounds of dough.
- We used a 2.66oz scoop to scoop each cookie, which yielded about 15 cookies per recipe instead of the 8 that Modern Honey recommends. So I can only guarantee that our oven experimentations will work based on a 15-cookie yield!
- For the chocolate peanut butter cookies, we tried using invert sugar instead of regular granulated sugar. Invert sugar tends to make cookies more chewy, but I found that the day after, I preferred the texture of the chocolate chip cookies to the chocolate peanut butter ones. Perhaps this is also due to the cocoa in the chocolate peanut butter cookies, but they turned slightly cakey the day after being baked. I’d stick with regular granulated next time.
Levain Cookie Experimentations
- 1 cup Kerrygold butter cold and cut into cubes
- 1 cup brown sugar
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
- 1½ cups cake flour
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon cornstarch
- ¾ teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups 70% Guittard chocolate chips
- 2 cups walnuts roughly chopped
- Preheat oven to 410 degrees.
- In large mixing bowl, cream together cold cubed butter, brown sugar, and sugar for 4 minutes or until creamy.
- Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each one, then the vanillas.
- Stir in flours, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt. Mix until just combined. Fold in chocolate chips and walnuts.
- Use a 2.66oz cookie scoop to scoop dough into large balls and place on lightly colored cookie sheet. You should be able to get 15 cookies, and I recommend baking them 5 to a cookie sheet.
- Bake for 11 minutes or until golden brown on the top. Let cookies rest for at least 10 minutes before eating.