I tried my first Levain (“luh-ven”) cookie back in 2013 when Kayle took me on a mini eating tour in New York and it’s been a crucial stop on any New York trip ever since. For those unfamiliar, Levain Bakery has achieved cult-status fame for what they call “New York’s most famous cookie”: oversized creations that are almost scone-like in appearance with irresistibly craggy edges and extraordinarily underbaked centers. They’re so popular that the internet has spawned dozens of copycat recipes. In fact, back in 2015, my friend Morgan invited me over to experiment with Modern Honey’s recipe and it’s been my go-to recipe ever since.
So when Kim from Hi I Made This did a bake off between 7 Levain copycat recipes, my interest was piqued and I decided to do a follow up. The original idea was to test a subset of her recipes to confirm whether I found the same winner. However, when I did the first round of testing with 6 recipes (her top 3 recipes + 3 other recipes I found), I severely overbaked her winner.
To be fair, I decided to redo the bake off. In this iteration, I expanded the contenders to include her top 5 recipes along with the new frozen Levain cookies as the “control” plus a few others for a total of 9 recipes. Let’s get to it!
- 24 total tasters
- All 9 recipes were baked the day of tasting (the frozen Levain cookies were reheated per instructions)
- All tasters ranked each cookie on a scale from 0-10 overall as well as 0-10 on how accurate this was to the control cookie
- All cookies were baked anodized aluminum cookie sheets lined with parchment paper
- Cookies were baked in the following order starting at 9:40am (tasting occurred around 2-3pm):
- Modern Honey
- Joshua Weissman
- Cupcake Jemma
- Krolls Korner
- A Bountiful Kitchen
- Hijabs and Aprons
- Levain (reheated for 5 min)
- Gold Medal bleached all-purpose flour
- Swan’s Down cake flour
- Unsalted Land O Lakes butter
- Nielsen Massey vanilla extract
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated sugar and light brown sugar
- Nestle Toll House semisweet and milk chocolate chips
- Valrhona 70% baking bar (for Joshua Weissman’s cookies)
Results of the Best Levain Copycat Cookie Bake Off
One important note: I think the overall rankings are a bit skewed since we didn’t have a true Levain cookie to compare against the other recipes. (Note for anyone else trying a Levain bake off–next time I’d shell out to ship the real deal from New York! For science!) In my opinion, the frozen Levain control cookie just wasn’t that good and not very true to the bakery originals.
For the most part, these cookies were all rated fairly highly. There isn’t one cookie that I wouldn’t want to eat again–they are all incredible recipes! As always, here’s your reminder that I am solely an enthusiastic home baker and any weird results could also be due to my (lack of) baking skills.
In the below chart, you can see the overall taste ratings on the x axis and the resemblance to the Levain control cookie on the y axis (hence why the gray Levain circle is at the top of the y axis). So:
- cookies in the top right quadrant were the most highly rated and closest to the control
- cookies in the bottom left quadrant were lowest rated and most different to the control, etc.
The below chart is a more typical chart where you can see all cookies ranked from highest to lowest taster scores:
Below is a chart showing the ingredient breakdown by percentage of the ingredients in each recipe:
- Salt: Salt played a key role in counteracting the extreme sweetness in some cookies. I honestly think Bravetart may have edged out the others due to its slightly higher salt content–so many of these cookies tasted very similar, but the extra hit of salt to contrast the sweetness of the dough made Bravetart’s stand out.
- Flour: Interestingly, Bravetart led with the second-highest percentage of flour (36%) while Cupcake Jemma received some comments about tasting “too floury” with its 46% flour. I think this illustrates that a high percentage of dry ingredients can be an advantage in achieving a ideal cookie thickness, but it can be overdone (though the floury comments for CJ could also be due to the mixing technique, more on that below).
- Butter: Butter played an atypically insignificant role in these cookies. The top two rated cookies had the lowest percentage of butter (~7% for Bravetart and 8% for Hijabs and Aprons as opposed to a more average ~14-15%). I think this is because texture plays almost as big a role (if not more) as flavor–the butter flavor is not as prominent given all the chocolate and walnuts that generally mask the flavor of the dough. Plus, less butter means less spread, leading to a chunkier, thicker, more ideal texture.
- Sugar: Most recipes had a higher proportion of brown sugar than white sugar to promote chewiness and depth of flavor. I don’t think the sugar proportion had a significant impact on the overall ranking, and even overall sugar percentage didn’t show a clear pattern. At 21%, Joshua Weissman had the highest sugar percentage, but I think his cookie was ranked lower due to other factors. Bravetart took first with just 13% sugar, while Hijabs and Aprons and Modern Honey took second and third respectively with 19% sugar.
- Mixing technique: According to this video showing the founders making the original cookies, the butter and sugar are creamed first before adding the eggs, then the dry ingredients (then the semisweet chocolate chips and last, the walnuts). Cupcake Jemma and Delish flipped this script by adding the eggs last so everything barely binds together before shaping and chilling the dough. Both recipes resulted in slightly drier, craggier, grainy-looking exteriors that more closely resembled the top of a Levain original vs. the more smooth, rippled top of other recipes.
- Bake time: Bravetart had one of the longest bake times and was able to retain a gooey center while also ending up with the most picturesque, golden crust. Most of the other cookies had bake times in the 10-12 minute range, which allowed a crust to develop around a gooey center, but oftentimes the crust was lacking an appealing golden color. Aesthetically, I would chose Bravetart’s recipe as written for the most beautiful cookie that also tastes great (and has slightly more crunch). You can, of course, always tweak a recipe to bake slightly longer or at a hotter temperature for more browning.
- Chill time: Cupcake Jemma, Joshua Weissman and Delish were the only recipes to require chilling. Chilling always helps enhance cookie thickness and reduce spread by bringing down the temperature of the butter–the longer the butter stays cold while baking, the less cookies will spread. In this case, chilling did not seem to improve the overall rating. Given the high ratio of dry ingredients, Levain-style recipes are much more amenable to baking right away and remaining thick.
- Freshness: These cookies, more than others, are extremely dependent on the freshness. I completely acknowledge that it was not 100% fair to have some cookies baked 4 hours ahead of other cookies, but I was limited by oven space. However, I don’t think the baking order really affected the rankings (you can see the order I baked them in the methodology section above).
Analysis of the Best Levain Copycat Cookie Recipe
Krolls Korner: an ultra-thick, very sweet, chocolate-packed masterpiece for cookie dough lovers
Going by authenticity, Krolls is at a sharp disadvantage as the recipe does not include walnuts. Tawnie explicitly notes that while her cookies are INSPIRED by Levain (as well as another local California bakery), they’re not meant to be an exact copycat. So it wasn’t quite fair to include these in this bake off, but they looked so incredible that I just had to try! These doughy masterpieces use both all-purpose and cake flour, an extra egg yolk for richness, a teaspoon of cornstarch for thickening, more brown sugar than white sugar for additional moisture and a chewy texture, and a recommended 2 cups of milk chocolate chips for an uber-sweet, chocolate-packed cookie.
To me, these cookies are a more polished caricature of the Levain aesthetic with a smoother, more rippled top. The inside is almost pure cookie dough–tender, gooey and meltingly doughy. Tawnie notes that you can make these cookies with semi-sweet chocolate chips or a mix of walnuts and chocolate, which I would try next time–these are quite sweet with only milk chocolate chips.
And that was primarily the main critique from tasters–“a little too sweet overall.” On the plus side, nut-haters loved these cookies and many praised the super soft texture and cookie dough-like innards. Some observed that the “outside wasn’t very crispy” and was “much gooeier than the control.” Aside from being too sweet, others commented that it was “lacking a bit in flavor.”
“A bit too sweet for me, but still an excellent cookie” sums up my thoughts. Despite the comments around flavor, I would 100% make this cookie again (and already have) for the luscious cookie dough texture. Going forward, I’ll be trying these with a lower proportion of semisweet chocolate and walnuts.
Delish: a crusty, well-structured cookie that most closely resembles Levain, but slightly lacks in flavor
As the winner of Kim’s bake off, I was very excited to try this cookie. The most unusual feature about this cookie is that it requires a bake time of nearly half an hour at 375 degrees. Similar to Cupcake Jemma, it also calls for a mixing technique where the eggs are added last to just barely bind everything together.
During the first bake off, I severely overbaked this cookie (partially due to opening/closing the oven multiple times)–so when I added on extra minutes, the bottoms ended up burning and the insides were fully cooked. I did retry them the next day (baking for a perfect 26 minutes without opening the oven) which resulted in perfectly golden brown tops that looked concerningly raw underneath but when I broke them open, they were the perfect mixture of craggy-topped but melty inside.
“A good replica of the authentic cookie, a little bit of a floury texture,” said one taster. Many tasters thought this was similar to the original but with better texture, though several critiques generally centered around it being a little bready, dry, grainy and crumbly with not as much flavor. “One dimensional flavor,” said one taster. “Love the doughy middle but the edges were a little too crumbly,” said one. “Bready and dry, could taste the flour. Denser than others,” said one taster.
I actually think these cookies most closely resemble the original Levain aesthetic with its craggy, grainy top which I think is due to the egg-last mixing technique. Overall, I really liked the texture of these and the flavor was good, but it didn’t blow me away. If I made these again, I would try increasing the salt.
Joshua Weissman: a decadently buttery and chocolatey cookie that is not very true to the original Levain
I didn’t include Joshua’s cookie in my original mini bake off because it departed so far from the original (notably: using chopped chocolate instead of chips). Plus Kim noted that while it is an undeniably good cookie, using egg yolks and melted butter is extra fuss. It also didn’t make sense to me to chill the dough, then shape it and chill again (optional but recommended), so when I tested these, I simply shaped the balls and chilled overnight.
Overall, these cookies are fairly straightforward to make, but they’re more time-consuming given that you have to melt butter, separate eggs, chop chocolate, toast walnuts and chill the dough. The result? A spectacularly gooey, well-salted cookie with crisp edges and scenic puddles of chocolate. But it’s lacking the vertical heft and cakey thickness signature to a Levain cookie, and for this reason I would not dub this an accurate Levain recreation.
Tasters liked that this cookie wasn’t as sweet as others and the fact that it was “gooey without tasting raw.” “Salt content was great. So nutty and buttery, complex tasting” praised one taster. However, many agreed that it was “not fluffy enough to be comparable to Levain” and it “doesn’t resemble the control visually or tastewise.” Some thought the bittersweet chocolate was a little overpowering. Ultimately, most liked this cookie but agreed it is not a Levain copycat.
Levain (frozen cookie): a one-dimensionally sweet, mostly crisp cookie that pales in comparison to the original
Though I was very excited about having the option to use the newly-launched frozen Levain Bakery cookies (now available at Central Market in Texas!), we were unfortunately disappointed. To me, a key part of a Levain cookie is its monstrous size, which lends itself to a gooey center and a super-thick texture. When scaled down to 2 oz cookies (2.25″ in diameter and .75″ thick vs. the original 4″ diameter and 1.25″ thick according to the website), the cookies aren’t hefty enough to get a gooey center when re-heated. Perhaps the best thing about them was the craggy, caramelized exterior that bore a very close resemblance to the original cookies, but flavor-wise, they were just very sweet and rather underwhelming.
I was surprised that this cookie was ranked as high as it was (fifth place) given the lackluster comments and flavor. This could be because it was the first cookie or perhaps people ranked it higher because it was supposed to be authentic.
Tasters liked the “vanilla flavor,” the “good balance of chocolate and nuts” and some liked that it was sweeter. However, most noted that the texture was “too dry” and too sweet. “Crispier and sweeter than I expected. Disappointed in size and lack of goo,” said one taster. “Too sweet and cakey,” said another.
Overall, I’d rather make any of the other cookies from scratch than buy the frozen cookies again.
Cupcake Jemma: a craggy cookie with a gooey interior and a slightly floury flavor
Using a mix of cake flour and all-purpose, Jemma’s recipe stood out for its use of caster sugar (a superfine sugar often used in the UK), self-rising flour, milk chocolate and toasted walnuts. Like Delish, this recipe using the egg-last mixing technique. After freezing until solid (90 minutes), the dough is baked for 17 minutes. The recipe calls for the finicky step of toasting the walnuts and then rubbing them together in a towel to remove the skins (to remove the bitterness of the skins). Note: a little birdie informed me that the bakery does NOT toast their walnuts, so feel free to skip this step (I didn’t notice a difference between cookies with toasted/skinned walnuts vs. not).
Tasters generally liked the crispy outer texture, doughy interior, and found it fairly close to the control cookie: “the exterior texture is about as dry as the control, but it’s slightly saltier and has a far gooier center.” While some praised the flavor (“flavor was perfect,” “I liked the butteriness and vanilla flavor”), others disagreed, wishing for more flavor and even more chocolate chips. “This is just one dimensionally sweet,” said one taster. And of course, several critics didn’t like the sweetness from the milk chocolate.
As noted above, Cupcake Jemma (CJ) had the highest ratio of flour of all the recipes, and this manifested in a notably dry and crumbly crust which seemed slightly thicker than others, perhaps due to the longer bake time. I think CJ and Delish come closest to the craggy aesthetic of the Levain originals, though I think Delish has an aesthetic edge over CJ (the latter is almost too craggy), but I personally prefer the sweetness of CJ’s dough.
Still, in my opinion the taste and texture of this cookie doesn’t justify the extra effort (chill time + skinning walnuts) or having to buy special ingredients (caster sugar and self-rising flour, though I bet you could sub regular sugar and DIY self-rising flour and achieve very similar results). However, if you do decide to make these, you will not regret it (and I think they would benefit from bumping up the salt a bit)!
A Bountiful Kitchen: a beautifully bronzed cookie with a barely-there, nearly-raw center, great for gooey cookie lovers
Si has an extremely thorough post on how she developed her Levain copycat recipe, which includes scouring videos and extensive flour trials. This recipe is similar to Modern Honey with some small changes–1/2 cup less cake flour, no cornstarch, added baking powder and 1/4 cup less brown sugar. She includes a helpful note for how to sub extra flour/chocolate chips if you want to omit the walnuts.
Aesthetically, though this was missing the signature Levain graininess, I thought the speckled golden tops and rippled dough texture was one of the closest aside from the slightly flatter texture (even after refrigerating the dough balls for 1 hour prior to baking). It wasn’t nearly as flat as Joshua Weissman, but slightly flatter than Bravetart or Hijabs and Aprons. Texture-wise, I baked my cookies for exactly 11 minutes and my cookie centers came out looking quite a bit more raw (as you can see in the photos) compared to her pictures. I loved this texture but obviously you can bake to your desired texture if you make these.
Tasters were divided on the texture front: those who love gooey cookie dough LOVED this cookie. Comments included: “Cookie dough in a shell! Absolutely love,” “honestly, I love cookie dough so this one is fantastic,” “ultra gooey in the middle and crunchy on the outside, so it was like dipping a baked cookie in cookie dough.” However, some thought it was too raw in the center. One noted that there was almost too many mix ins: “love the flavor and texture of the cookie, however, too much chocolate and nuts. Wish there was more actual cookie.”
I loved the flavor of this cookie and would definitely make it again. The only reason it wouldn’t be my top go-to cookie is because the flatter texture is just sliiiightly flatter than my ideal, but I would highly recommend giving it a try!
Modern Honey: a well-balanced, flavorful cookie with a perfectly doughy interior
I’ve always loved Melissa’s recipe for its straightforward simplicity. The trickiest thing about it is to ensure you have cake flour on hand. While I’ve long been skeptical that the 1 teaspoon of cornstarch really does anything in the recipe, I always include it. Although this recipe contains more dry ingredients (flour and brown sugar) than A Bountiful Kitchen, it was similarly on the flatter side–of course, still a thick and gooey cookie, but they didn’t quite mound in the middle the same way others did.
Tasters called this cookie “way better than the original,” complimenting the doughiness and overall texture of “medium crust and very soft.” Overall, tasters seemed pleased with the texture but were divided when it came to flavor–some liked the sweetness and salty contrast with the semisweet chocolate whereas others thought it could use more salt to add an additional flavor punch.
Personally, I loved the flavor–it was almost juicy and buttery in the best way. It had the third highest amount of salt (3/4 teaspoon per batch of 8 cookies), which may be why: I am always Team More Salt (when it comes to balancing sweetness). Overall, I thought A Bountiful Kitchen and Modern Honey were quite similar in taste, appearance and effort. To be honest, if you’re trying to choose between them, I would flip a coin. Perhaps I would give the slightest of edges to Modern Honey because she uses more salt…but A Bountiful Kitchen is great because her recipe doesn’t require cornstarch! It’s a tie!
Hijabs and Aprons: a low-effort, high payoff cookie with questionable structural integrity but great taste
Although I first compared Leena’s recipe to A Bountiful Kitchen (quite similar except it uses all AP flour and half the butter), I then realized it was actually closer to Bravetart (though it uses 1/4 cup more flour, less salt, 1/4 cup more sugar, a different brown/white sugar ratio, and slightly less chocolate chips). Fortuitously, this recipe requires no chilling, uses all-purpose flour (no cake flour!) and has a short bake time of just 9-10 minutes.
Despite using HALF the amount of butter compared to other recipes (8% vs. 17% in Joshua Weissman!), I was stunned to find that this (and Bravetart’s) recipe resulted in a cookie that was just as gooey and tempting as the others, and I didn’t notice it lacking in flavor. Note: though I followed the bake time to the letter for all other cookies, I did bake this one for an extra 3 minutes just because it looked so raw and pale at 9 minutes. The structural integrity definitely improved the longer it sat on the cookie tray, but it’s the type of cookie that, if underbaked properly, will remain soft and gooey inside even hours later.
Tasters called this cookie a “standout” and many noted that it was “closest to” or “better than the original. This texture and flavor is a near match, just better. Perfectly gooey, nutty, and crunchy.” Tasters also praised the “very good flavor balance between salty and sweet” and interestingly, a few commented on the “buttery” flavor. While one taster noted that the “walnut to chocolate chip ratio is perfect” (this has a 1:1 ratio), a few thought there were actually too many nuts/chips to get a good feel for the cookie flavor. A couple also noted that they wish the outside was crispier and that the flavor didn’t wow them (though people universally liked the gooey texture).
I’ve already made these again and to be honest, I think this recipe may replace Modern Honey as my default recipe going forward just because of its pure simplicity–no cake flour or chilling required! (Though I personally would increase the salt to 1 to 1.5 teapoons, closer to Bravetart.)
Bravetart: a well-salted cookie that has a firm crust and gooey, flavorful interior
Like Hijabs and Aprons, Bravetart uses a relatively low ratio of butter to flour (4 oz per 10 oz flour or 1 stick to 2.25 cups). This recipe calls for “assorted chocolate” for more dimension, so I used a combination of milk and semi-sweet. It also calls for a pinch of grated nutmeg, which no other cookie called for. Aside from the small differences noted under H&A’s section, Bravetart also uses more salt, adds vanilla, requires chilling, and has a longer bake time (22 min) at a lower temp (350°F).
“THE PERFECT COOKIE!!” exclaimed one taster. Tasters widely thought this cookie was far superior to the control, with many praising the fact that it was “less sweet” than the control with a perfect “salty/sweet ratio” (and none of the “weird vanilla taste” from the control.) Tasters also praised the crisp outer texture and fantastic caramelization. “The outer texture is almost spot on to the control, good crunch,” said one.
To me, Bravetart and Hijabs and Aprons are both fantastic cookies and most differentiated by their texture and salt balance. If you like a more structured cookie and more crunch, I would use Bravetart’s chilling/baking technique, but if you like a doughier cookie, I would make H&A. If you like a more aggressively salty/sweet cookie, I would go with Bravetart’s amount of salt (my preference); if not, stick with H&A.
Tips on Making the Best Levain Copycat Cookies
If you haven’t picked up on this already, many of these recipes are quite similar and you can easily modify these cookies to fit your palette.
For first timers making these cookies, it really boils down to: FOLLOW THE RECIPE! I did not follow the exact bake times during the first mini bake off and learned my lesson from sad, overbaked cookies. Here are a few things to watch out for:
- Weigh out the cookie balls: You can’t scale down the cookie balls to less than 6 oz and expect the same results as in the pictures. They MUST be oversized balls of dough to get that gooey center. Trust.
- Follow the bake times: Most of these bake times will get you to a perfectly near-raw, gooey center straight out of the oven (which firms up after cooling on the baking sheet). You’ll typically see pockets of undercooked goo underneath a spottily browned crust, but don’t panic! This will set up. If you like a little more structure, bake for an extra 2-4 minutes (but check the bottoms to ensure they aren’t burning!).
- Don’t be afraid to thoroughly mix: With Cupcake Jemma and Delish’s egg-last mixing technique, make sure to mix well to incorporate all the floury bits. The first time I made these, I was fearful of overmixing and ended up with even drier/floury cookies. Make sure the dough sticks together well before forming the dough balls.
- Salt! This kind of goes against my “follow the recipe” instructions, but I encourage you to use at least 1/2 tsp of salt per batch of cookies. I don’t think 1/4 tsp of salt (ahem, Delish and Cupcake Jemma) is nearly enough.
Best low effort, high payoff (my new go-to): Hijabs and Aprons
Looks most similar to Levain: Delish
Tastes most similar to Levain: Bravetart/Hijabs and Aprons?? (TBD until we can re-try a fresh original cookie!)
Best doughy-style cookies: Hijabs and Aprons, Kroll’s Korner, A Bountiful Kitchen
Best flavor: Bravetart, Modern Honey, A Bountiful Kitchen
And just as quick cheatsheet:
- Recipes that don’t require chilling: Hijabs and Aprons, Modern Honey, A Bountiful Kitchen, Krolls Korner
- Recipes that require chilling: Bravetart, Cupcake Jemma, Delish, Joshua Weissman
- Recipes that don’t require cake flour: Bravetart, Hijabs and Aprons
- Recipe with no nuts: Krolls Korner, A Bountiful Kitchen (with modifications)
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