Pop princess Tay Tay once said this about the fist-sized cookies from Levain Bakery in Manhattan: “You bite into them and you realise that this moment was destiny." She adds dramatically in an article for Glamour magazine, "You were born to eat this cookie”. We don't even think she's exaggerating. Actress Blake Lively is another rabid fan. She gushed on Instagram that these chocolatey orbs are her “true love”. Sorry, Ryan Reynolds.
What’s all the fuss about? We tried it recently at the bakery’s Upper West Side branch, where there are constant queues. It’s not your regular bite-sized morsel. It’s as if eight normal cookies group hugged to form one mountainous sphere. It looks craggy and rustic like an oversized scone, and its texture is its best feature: crusty and crisp-edged, gooey and slightly under baked in the middle because it’s so thick, and mottled with a ludicrous amount of melted chocolate chips plus walnuts. It’s super sweet, decadent and pleases lovers of both soft cookies, crunchy cookies and everything in between.
We decided to replicate Levain’s cookie in Singapore, using higher quality bittersweet dark chocolate instead of the bakery’s sugary semisweet chips. We scoured the Internet for copycat recipes, and tested several before adapting the one that we think is closest to the real thing. Our cookie boasts a gently crispy crust that gives way to a chewy interior oozing glossy dark chocolate and chunky nuts. And it’s also slightly less sweet than the original.
After five attempts, we found that following these steps yielded the best results:
- Splurge on good quality dark chocolate like Valrhona (an equal blend of Caraibe couverture with a cocoa content of 66% and Equatoriale 55% is ideal). Its smooth, bitter notes help balance the sweetness of this American dessert. In a pinch, use Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chocolate chips, though the latter is sweeter.
- Unlike traditional cookies, you loosely shape these into craggy orbs instead of compacting the dough; they’re meant to be airy and puffy.
- Bake chilled or frozen cookie dough (Singapore is humid, chilling the dough helps the cookie keep its shape) at high heat until it’s golden-brown outside, but remains slightly undercooked in the centre.
- Allow the baked cookies to cool and set for 20 minutes before ravaging them — any sooner and you risk it falling apart as you pick it up. It’s best eaten within an hour of baking.
These faux Levain Bakery cookies make delightful festive gifts. Better yet — rustle up a batch earlier, freeze the dough, then pop it into the oven on Christmas morning for a luxurious treat with a glass of cold milk.
Levain Bakery-Style Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies
Makes 8 large cookies
122g cake flour
227g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp fine sea salt
227g cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
109g fine light brown sugar
108g caster sugar
2 eggs (weighing 65g each)
230g walnuts or pecans, roughly chopped
330g bittersweet chocolate chips (use an equal blend of Valrhona Caraibe 66% and Equatoriale 55% chocolate buttons, chopped into chunks; or Ghirardelli 60% Cacao chips)*.
*Ghirardelli choc can be found at Cold Storage or FairPrice Finest supermarkets. Valrhona choc is available at Sun Lik, 33 Seah St, Tel: 6338-0980.
Preheat oven to 210ºC and place baking rack in the centre. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk cake and plain flour, baking powder, baking soda and sea salt. Set aside.
Place butter with caster and brown sugars in the bowl of an electric cake mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat at low speed for about 30 seconds. Switch to medium speed and continue beating for about another 1.5 minutes, until mixture is fluffy and sugar incorporated. Don’t over-beat.
Using a spatula, scrape sides and bottom of bowl. Add both eggs. Beat on medium speed until incorporated into the butter and mixture is fairly smooth and glossy.
Add the flour mix. Cover mixer with a cloth to prevent ingredients from flying. Mix briefly at the lowest speed until the wet and dry ingredients are just incorporated. Don’t over-mix.
Add walnuts and mix on low speed for 4 seconds.
Add chocolate chips and mix on low speed for 5 seconds.
Turn the dough out onto a clean worktop. Use hands to lightly fold the dough a few times until all the chocolate chips and walnuts are evenly distributed. The dough will be moist and sticky.
Weigh dough and divide the result by 8 to get weight per cookie.
Divide dough into 8 equal pieces. Use fingertips to lightly shape each piece into a loose, craggy orb. Do not squeeze dough to form tight 'baseballs', they should be lumpy and airy.
Place 4 cookies per tray, 2 inches apart. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes, or freeze for 10 minutes till firm. You can also freeze the shaped dough for up to two weeks.**
Bake cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, or until golden-brown. The centre should feel soft and gooey when gently prodded with your finger.
Allow cookies to cool for 20 minutes on its baking tray set on a rack, before serving. Eat within an hour of baking.
**To freeze unbaked dough: Place a tray of cookie dough balls into the freezer. As soon as they’re solid, wrap each cookie in plastic wrap and pop it into an airtight zipper bag. When ready to bake, preheat oven to 210ºC. Place frozen cookies (no need to defrost) on a tray and bake for 14 to 16 mins, or till golden-brown. Allow to cool on tray for 20 mins before eating.
Got leftovers? Wrap up baked cookies tightly and freeze immediately. When ready to eat, preheat oven to 180ºC. Place frozen baked cookies on a tray and bake for 6 to 10 mins or until thoroughly warmed up.
Here's where to buy Levain-style chocolate chip cookies in Singapore if you don't bake.