After doing the original Levain copycat cookie bake off, I had to try the dark chocolate peanut butter recipe next. For those who aren’t familiar, Levain Bakery is renowned for their huge (nearly half-pound), thick, gooey-centered cookies. Their chocolate peanut butter variety basically tastes like a giant peanut butter-studded brownie.
In order to give tasters an accurate comparison, I ordered a pack of the original cookies to be shipped over in time for the tasting. Let’s see how all the copycat recipes fared!
- 25 total tasters
- All 9 recipes were baked the day of tasting
- 2 recipes were rested overnight: Cupcake Jemma was frozen, Your Home Based Mom was refrigerated
- All tasters ranked each cookie on a scale from 0-10 for overall flavor, texture, and as a whole. They also rated how similar each cookie was to the original Levain cookie
- All recipes were measured by weight according to the King Arthur ingredient chart
- Gold Medal unbleached all-purpose flour
- HEB enriched cake flour
- Unsalted Land O Lakes butter
- Nielsen Massey vanilla extract
- Bob’s Red Mill baking powder and soda
- Diamond kosher salt
- Imperial granulated sugar and brown sugar
- Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa (dutch-processed)
- Hershey’s natural cocoa
- Sunspire peanut butter chips
Results for the Best Copycat Levain Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookie Recipe
Although the scores were quite close, we crowned a winner in one recipe that outdid the original Levain cookie according to tasters–Cake by Courtney! One factor that could have affected the Levain rating was that I neglected to warm it up in the oven prior to distributing samples. But most tasted the cookies at room temperature (and Levain still received the highest texture rating overall), so I think this had minimal impact.
As you can see below, the overall ratings for each cookie didn’t exactly correspond with how closely each cookie resembled the original. In terms of resemblance, tasters rated A Bountiful Kitchen, Cupcake Jemma and Cake by Courtney as the most similar to the original Levain. Note that tasters only had a piece of each cookie, so they’re rating more in terms of taste rather than aesthetics, which I discuss in the extended analysis section.
The below chart shows how each cookie was rated individually in terms of flavor, texture, and whether tasters would eat it again. Just more detail in case it’s of interest:
If you’re curious to see all the recipe I scraped for this test, you can view my spreadsheet.
Cocoa: I defaulted to using Hershey’s Special Dark (dutch-processed) cocoa since Si from A Bountiful Kitchen tested her cookies with 4 different cocoa powders and found Hershey’s came the closest to mimicking the Levain color. If a recipe didn’t specify what cocoa to use, I defaulted to Hershey’s Special Dark (as long as it had a higher proportion of baking powder, which is typically paired with more neutral Dutch-process cocoa). Hijabs and Aprons was the only recipe to call for natural cocoa specifically, though I wasn’t able to use the brand she recommends (so I used Hershey’s natural cocoa for brand consistency). H&A had by far the lightest color and the lightest cocoa flavor to me.
Interestingly, a trend in my chocolate cake bake off indicated that natural cocoa powder might actually lend a better chocolate flavor. In the case of Levain cookies however, I think Dutch-process is necessary for the color and generally seemed to result in better flavor.
Flour: While many of these recipes call for a mix of all-purpose and cake flour, I think you could easily sub all AP flour and still achieve a very similar result (Hijabs and Aprons achieves a fantastic result with all AP flour). The Levain founders tell us they “keep it simple” in their video, so I don’t believe they’re mixing a bunch of different flours. I’m not saying don’t follow the recipe…but if you don’t have cake flour, I wouldn’t let that keep you from trying these recipes.
Bake temp/time: Bake temp ranged from 350 (Big Man’s World, Your Home Based Mom, Cupcake Jemma) to 425 (A Bountiful Kitchen). Bake times ranged from very short (5-6 min from ABK) to as long as 18 min (CJ). In general, I preferred the texture of cookies that were baked at a higher temperature for less time–the centers tended to be more gooey and stay gooey (even when warmed up the day after). If you don’t prefer a super gooey center, baking at a lower temperature for longer is a good way to ensure the cookie is more cooked through.
Egg yolk: When trying to analyze why I liked Cake by Courtney’s cookie so much, the most unique thing that stood out was the use of an extra egg yolk. But Cupcake Jemma also uses an extra egg yolk and has a very different texture (slightly drier, likely due to the longer bake time). A Bountiful Kitchen ends up with a very similar gooey texture to CBC using just a whole egg. Basically, I don’t think the extra egg yolk makes a huge difference in these cookies. It really seems to boil down a balance between the ratios of fat, flour, cocoa, egg and bake time/temp.
I’ll dive into analysis of each cookie below, but if you’d like to watch me taste and review the cookies live, here’s a video:
Your Home Based Mom: a crisp-edged, cakey cookie with a sweetness that lacks full-bodied chocolate flavor
This recipe first caught my eye for its use of bread flour and it wasn’t until later that I realized it also uses no leaveners whatsoever! This recipe is fairly similar to our benchmark recipe (Modern Honey) but has slightly less sugar, calls for a several hour to overnight rest and adds vanilla. This cookie had uniquely crispy edges and exteriors–but while the inside looked invitingly dark and peanut-butter studded, the flavor was strangely bland compared to the others and the center was soft but not as gooey-tender as others.
Let’s talk about the leavening situation: about half of the tested recipes used a higher proportion of baking powder combined with baking soda while the others used only baking soda. I don’t think I’ve ever made a cookie without any leaveners before, so this recipe was an oddity to me. This cookie still achieved great lift even without leaveners thanks to the butter/sugar creaming, which allows air to be trapped in the dough. Leavening aside, baking soda can serve as a flavor enhancer, which is perhaps why many found the flavor of this cookie lacking.
- Still incredible, but not as great as the last few
- Texture seems drier than others but good flavor
- Tastes like a grocery store version of the Levain cookie. Still tasty but muted; chocolate and PB could be more intense
- This flavor nails the texture, but it’s weirdly bland. Maybe the chocolate to flour ratio is off.
- This cookie tastes floury? It was too sweet and I think this is what is meant by “stodgy.”
- Extremely plain dough, almost like a sugar cookie in disguise. Where is the chocolate? Texture was on the dry side.
- Not super sweet, not super salty, and a strange brittle texture.
Domestic Rebel: a gooey-centered, flatter, sweeter version of Modern Honey that tastes fairly similar to the original Levain
This recipe is nearly identical to Modern Honey except that it uses all granulated sugar instead of a mix of brown and white, adds vanilla, and doubles the amount of peanut butter chips. Even with an identical bake time and temperature and a 15 minute chill, this cookie spread significantly more compared to Modern Honey. Even though this cookie doesn’t really resemble the original Levain looks-wise given the flatter appearance, the flavor is pretty comparable. If we’re nitpicking, the flavor is a slightly flatter, one-note sweetness compared to Modern Honey (i.e. I prefer the flavor of brown + white sugar over all-white sugar).
- It’s identical but better than the actual Levain cookie: great mix of chocolate to peanut butter and it’s less baked and gooey, which we all know is better
- Reese’s in cookie form
- Tastes like a brownie with pb chips more than anything else.
- More peanut buttery and sweeter than the Levain, texture felt similar, perhaps a bit smoother. Chocolate flavor was a bit overwhelmed by the peanut butter
- Slightly gritty texture, very mild chocolate flavor versus more assertive peanut butter
- Way flatter than the levain with a wet fudge texture, too much peanut butter. I want more texture and loft.
Cupcake Jemma: the closest Levain replica with a slightly drier texture
Similar to Cupcake Jemma’s chocolate chip walnut Levain recipe, this recipe calls for self-raising flour (you can make your own), caster sugar (I subbed regular sugar), and an extra egg yolk. I modified this recipe to use peanut butter chips instead of the dark chocolate chips called for in the original recipe. The recipe calls for freezing the dough balls for 90 minutes up to overnight (I did overnight) before baking for 18 minutes at 350. Aesthetically and texturally, this cookie was nearly an identical replica of the original Levain cookie! Taste-wise, I found this cookie slightly drier (though not dry, just less gooey compared to others), though it had good chocolate flavor, salt level and the same slight graininess that Levain has. (I suspect using regular sugar instead of the finer caster sugar may have caused the graininess.) My personal preference is for a gooier cookie–if I made these again, I might try baking a higher heat for less time.
- Round softball style. Not as doughy as some but still a soft texture. Nice chocolate flavor under the PB. Salt is balanced well.
- Texture is a happy soft but still a good bite balance. The cocoa really comes through first but I’m missing a little peanut butter
- Dry, close flavor to the Levain
- This cookie accurately replicated the original’s flavor, but a slightly gritty texture undermines the overall effect.
- Didn’t taste particularly chocolatey or peanut buttery. A little gritty, but not in an entirely bad way, just in a “I’m eating straight sugar” kind of way.
- I wish there was a stronger chocolate flavor
Hijabs and Aprons: a puffy, craggy cookie with a gooey center and lighter chocolate flavor
Leena’s recipe was one of my favorites from the original Levain cookie bake off. Once again, she has a fuss-free recipe with a slightly lower ratio of butter and more salt compared to others that results in a perfectly puffy and craggy cookie with a melty center. This was the only recipe that specified natural cocoa (I used Hershey’s natural) which caused a lighter color compared to others. To me, the chocolate flavor was harder to distinguish, especially in contrast to the peanut butter chips. I noticed slightly more fruity/burnt notes, but this speaks more to the quality of the Hershey’s cocoa than to the recipe. If you try this recipe, I’d try using the brand Leena recommends or another high-quality natural cocoa like Callebaut.
BUT if you’re curious to try these with Dutch-process cocoa for a darker color and more robust flavor, I am too! Cook’s Illustrated notes that natural cocoa powder is more acidic than Dutch-process which means natural cocoa will have a stronger reaction with the baking soda. All things being equal, this results in more lift and a perceived drier texture vs. a fudgier texture with Dutch-process cocoa. Since this recipe uses both baking powder and baking soda, Dutch-process should also work and may perhaps yield an even fudgier texture.
- Probably my favorite one so far. It’s perfect flavor mix, great texture – a mixture of cake-y, inside was like brownie batter in all the best ways.
- Looks over baked but was shockingly gooey and melted in my mouth, had notes of coffee
- This one is pretty heavy on the peanut butter and perhaps too light on the chocolate. This would benefit from bitter coffee-like notes, but the texture is much closer to the Levain, not too dense
- Coffee/toffee notes overpowered the chocolate and peanut butter. Doesn’t resemble the original Levain very much.
- Chunkier cookie with a nice craggy appearance. Soft texture without being overly doughy. The peanut butter dominated the chocolate flavor.
- Maybe it’s the color tricking me but I am barely getting chocolate on this one. Super mild.
Big Man’s World: a thinner, crispy-edged, chewy, deeply chocolatey cookie with a more traditional cookie texture
This recipe was the only one to use a combination of butter and oil as well as additional water to help moisten the batter. Arman offers an option to use all brown sugar if you want a gooier center (but says white sugar leads to a thicker cookie, so I used white). I loved the deeply chocolatey flavor and slight chew to this cookie, but this cookie definitely lacked the signature thickness of a Levain cookie. I followed the directions to make 6 cookies for the Levain-style cookie option, but next time I might try doubling the amount of dough per cookie and tweaking the bake time to get the signature thick and gooey Levain look. But of course, if you want the flavor of a delicious chocolate and peanut butter cookie without the over-the-top decadence, this is the perfect cookie for you!
- Ok not at all like the Levain but chocolate heaven and chewy texture and I am here for it.
- I almost like the edges and crispness of them more than the original! Missing peanut butter in your face factor but still very tasty
- This cookie nails the chocolate flavor of the original. It adds a slightly crispy edge that the original lacks, which is good.
- Thinner than the rest of the cookies with a crisper exterior but a still fairly gooey center. Very good if you like your cookies a bit crunchy and still had a nice mix of chocolate and pb
- Crunchy yet gooey. The best cookie of the bunch. Decadent yet not too rich. Complex yet simple. Stop everything you’re doing and only make this cookie from now on.
- This cookie was pretty flat and less fudgy compared to the the bottom was very crunchy, I felt like this cookie was just ok.
Modern Honey: a flavorful cookie with a gooey center and smoother texture that is flatter than the original but nails the flavor
I used Modern Honey as the “benchmark” recipe for this bake off since most of the recipes I looked at appeared to be a variation on this recipe. Melissa uses a mix of brown and white sugar, a mix of cake and all-purpose for a tender crumb, cold butter to prevent spread, a high oven temp to prevent spread and get crispy edges, and just a smidge of cornstarch to thicken the cookies. This cookie nails a fudgy, gooey center that’s reminiscent of a brownie studded with melty peanut butter pockets. Flavor-wise, I felt this was quite close to the original Levain, though texturally it’s quite a bit flatter. Again, if you’re looking for the flavor of Levain but you don’t love the SUPER thick cookie style, this is a great option!
- Smoother and fudgier than the real Levain. More pronounced peanut flavor. Very satisfying brownie-adjacent cookie. We actually may have liked this better than the real deal
- Perfectly under baked and gooey with a hint of coffee that gives it something extra special, wish there was a bit more peanut butter
- Very close but more fudgy than the first. The only deduction for me is that it’s sweeter, which distracts from the chocolate
- A bit more dense than the Levain cookie–very delicious, but trending towards brownie territory
- Great texture! I wish it were chocolatier but the peanut butter comes through!
- Fudgy texture offset by too much peanut butter and a slightly burned/bitter flavor
A Bountiful Kitchen: craggy, super thick, gooey-centered cookies that are extremely rich and chock-full of peanut butter chips
Si details nearly every step of the process of developing these cookies–from testing the cocoa powder to testing a different ratios of sugar, butter and peanut butter chips. Happily, this recipe does not require a rest. These cookies are baked at the highest relative temperature (425 non-convection) for the shortest time (5-6 minutes) to set the outside and preserve a perfectly underbaked interior.
As a gooey cookie lover, these were one of my favorites texture-wise. I loved the deeply chocolatey, brownie-like flavor interwoven with melty peanut butter chips–to me, it’s a slightly superior chocolate flavor to the original Levain (though very similar). The appearance is somewhat different from the original–it achieves the same height, but spreads more from the peak. Honestly with a flavor this good, who cares what they look like? These were my second favorite cookie overall!
- Texture was a delicate fudgy/brownie feel. Good balance between the PB and chocolate. Heaven in my mouth.
- Thicker, craggy cookie with a nice chocolate flavor. The texture was excellent but I’d prefer a touch more of a bite.
- This cookie most accurately resembled the original Levain. The chocolate and peanut butter flavors were strong, with a cookie dough-esque texture. This was the only cookie I went back to finish.
- Soft, smooth texture with a very good balance between peanut butter and chocolate. Original has a slightly roasted/dark chocolate flavor that I didn’t taste in this cookie.
- Very sweet and very buttery. Texture was good, but it was hard to get through because of how sweet it was
- Too much peanut butter. Looks very close to the real deal but like I didn’t love it. Too dense
Original Levain: uber-thick, fudgy and dense, with a roasty chocolate flavor and a tiny graininess to the texture
Unfortunately I unwrapped these in such a rush that I missed the instructions to warm these up in the oven for 5-10 minutes prior to serving. But these still managed to get top marks from most tasters with a slight bite to the outside before reaching a soft, dense and fudgy center with a slightly roasty chocolate flavor. There was a satisfying, very subtle graininess to the chew that Cupcake Jemma managed to imitate almost exactly. The peanut butter flavor from these was also deeper and more robust, which leads me to agree with Si’s recommendation of using a peanut butter chip like Reeses to get closer to the original flavor (we used Sunspire chips).
- This was the perfect cookie. Had a nice fudge-like texture but not too doughy. Had the best tasting PB chips. The fudge to PB balance in this was the best. I could clearly taste both.
- Very good balance of chocolate and peanut butter with a soft, chewy texture. No wonder it’s so popular.
- Delicious, right balance of bitter, almost like there’s a touch of coffee
- It’s very strange that this us the first and only cookie with the pb chip flavor that I don’t like. It actually wasn’t my favorite balance of flavor or texture.
- So good! I think the only way to improve upon it would be have it warm.
- Rich and chocolate. A nice dark chocolate bitterness and real peanut butter flavor not that fake peanut butter flavor
- Looked and was fully baked through which is disappointing, large amount of peanut butter chips giving it a really nice chocolate peanut butter flavor
- The texture was nice and dense but it’s a little too sweet and the chocolate tasted kind of fake somehow?
Cake by Courtney: a thick and gooey, deeply chocolatey cookie balanced by salty notes
Cake by Courtney’s recipe offered different ratios compared to most other recipes and notably includes an extra egg yolk (and no rest!). Compared to A Bountiful Kitchen, I think the chocolate flavor comes through a little more strongly in CBC because there’s less sugar and more cocoa. I think they achieve a similar texture because ABK uses a slightly higher proportion of butter for moisture that is achieved by the extra egg yolk in CBC. And even though CBC uses almost half the amount of chips as ABK, it is able to be super thick thanks to the higher amount of dry ingredients to wet.
This tasted almost aggressively salty and chocolatey when I tasted it next to the Levain cookie, but in a good way! This just barely edged out ABK’s cookie for me as I prefer a saltier cookie. I also loved the contrast of the crisp exterior and melting, gooey interior. For me, this was a perfect cookie.
- I like it better than than the original. I felt like it had more peanut flavor and a bit of salt to offset how rich the cookie is. Texture was like a brownie with the crispy outside and gooey inside
- I’d prefer less PB chips but the flavor of this cookie was the best out of all the recipes. Had a perfect salt level to balance out the sweetness.
- More salt, more peanut butter and it really works! Love the extremes of sweet and salty put together
- Chunky texture but not a softball in appearance. Fudge-like texture but not overly gooey.
- Bolder flavors but didn’t feel cohesive. This cookie confused my tastebuds—at first I thought it tasted burnt, but then realized there were stronger chocolate/PB/salt flavors. I wasn’t entirely sure what to make of it.
Tips on Making the Best Levain-Style Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies
- Use Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa (or a high-quality Dutch-process cocoa like Valrhona or Cacao Barry Extra Brute) for the darkest, richest color
- Use Reeses brand peanut butter chips: A Bountiful Kitchen recommends these for the best and closest flavor. I used Sunspire peanut butter chips, but agree that Reeses would more closely duplicate the Levain flavor.
- Don’t skimp on the chips: Your cookies can turn out significantly flatter if you lose the volume from the peanut butter chips
- Pay attention to the bake time: If you’re tempted to bake until the cookies look thoroughly cooked, resist! These cookies are best when they are a little underbaked and will firm up on the cookie sheet while cooling. Trust the recipe!
My subjective favorites? Cake by Courtney and A Bountiful Kitchen. The plus? Both of these don’t require any chilling and have a short bake time!
Most similar to Levain Bakery (looks): Cupcake Jemma
Most similar to Levain Bakery (flavor): Modern Honey, Domestic Rebel, A Bountiful Kitchen
Best super-thick style: Cake by Courtney, A Bountiful Kitchen, Hijabs and Aprons
Best flatter-style: Modern Honey, Domestic Rebel, Big Man’s World
Recipes that don’t require chilling: Cake by Courtney, A Bountiful Kitchen
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