September 13, 2019

Levain Bakery style cookies

Somehow we went from June to September!  Summer break flashed by all too quickly despite our best efforts to slow it down.
Copycat Levain Bakery style cookies I make at home
It was a busy summer!  We savored the break, took a couple of trips, and got a lot of things done in between.  The big guy started high school!!  I spent the summer trying to come to terms with this huge milestone and all that goes with it.  Now, my nerves are settling down and we're adjusting to fall routines and life with a busy high schooler.  I'm thinking about warm comfort foods - like big, warm, melty chocolate chip cookies!

If you live around New York City or ask New Yorkers about places for great chocolate chip cookies, you're likely to hear about Levain Bakery.  Known for their big cookies (and I do mean, big, as they weigh in at 6 ounces a piece), typically served up still warm from the oven, they have a serious cult following.  To me, the Levain cookies are all about texture.  The huge cookies are crisp on the outside and so soft, gooey, and melty in the center.  This divine texture - served up in a big way - is what makes me crave them.  And as big as they are, these cookies go down easy and are quite easily habit-forming.
Actual Levain Bakery cookies. A box of these were recently gifted to us (what a treat!) so we finally had the chance to taste all four varieties made by the bakery.
Levain only makes 4 kinds of cookies (shown above): chocolate chip walnut, dark chocolate chocolate chip, dark chocolate peanut butter chip, and oatmeal raisin.  

I had my first Levain cookies in 2017 (photos of their chocolate chip walnut cookie from that day below) when we stopped by one of their NYC locations (miraculously, no line at the time) and bought the chocolate chip walnut and chocolate chocolate chip cookies.  Recently, we received a box of each as a gift and got to try them all.
I have to say that my favorite is the chocolate chip walnut and it's my favorite one to mimic at home!  I've also made the chocolate peanut butter chip because I couldn't get it out of my head after someone mentioned it was their favorite of the lineup; I made a version before I even had the chance to try the real thing! 

So I'd like to share the two copycat versions of these cookies I make at home.  They are great for when you're in the mood for some seriously hearty, delicious cookies to warm up your fall and winter days ahead.  You can find different renditions of these cookies but I'm happy with the following two recipes I landed on, which are now firmly in my cookie-baking repertoire.   

Levain Bakery style Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies
I stumbled upon the recipe for this Levain Bakery style chocolate chip cookie in a surprising place - Giada De Laurentiis' latest book, Giada's Italy.  The cookie has no relations to Italian food but as a fan of the Levain cookie herself, Giada offered up her copy of it.  I was struck by how simple the recipe was and gave it a try (with a couple of tweaks) and the rest is history.  

I use a little more chocolate than Giada's recipe and, more importantly, I added chopped walnuts (which her recipe did not include).  The Levain original has walnuts (there is no nut-free option in the basic chocolate chip) and I find that the nuts are critical.  Not only is it delicious (if you're a fan of nuts in baked goods, like I am), adding both flavor and texture, but the walnuts also give the cookie structure so that they bake up with the height/thickness you're looking for.  When I first tried the recipe, I made cookies with and without walnuts.  The ones without walnuts spread more and baked up flatter than the ones with walnuts.  I also prefer the added taste, especially toasting the walnuts to really boost their flavor.
I realize now looking at comparison photos of the real deal and my copycat versions at home that they look quite different.  I tend to make mine slightly smaller (around 4.5 to 5 ounces vs. 6 ounces for the real deal).  I also like to splurge and use really great chocolate - generally, Valhrona chocolate feves - in my homemade version.  I love the look and taste of the wide pools of chocolate it creates.  Levain uses seemingly basic chocolate chips (also no vanilla extract and doesn't seem to toast their walnuts) - a testament to their amazing technique, which requires no frills. 
This chocolate chip cookie quickly became one of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes and I've made it several times for my family and will continue to do so regularly.  I highly recommend it! 

Levain Bakery style Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies

Now, on to the dark chocolate cookies.  Admittedly, the cookies might not look like the most attractive things but this will be a surefire hit with any chocolate-peanut butter lover.  Picture a thick, moist (preferably, still warm), slightly fudgy chocolate cookie...with pops of peanut butter thrown in.  If that entices you, it's time to start baking!
In my search for a copycat recipe for the chocolate peanut butter chip cookies, I learned that when baking with peanut butter chips, one *must* use Reese's peanut butter chips so that's precisely what I use and I was happy with the solid peanut butter taste they provide. 
Not only do you want plenty of peanut butter flavor in a chocolate-peanut butter cookie, the peanut butter chips also give the cookies structure and help them to bake up nice and thick.  I go with a scant 2 cups in the recipe listed below but I've seen recipes that call for even more.  You'll surely need a full bag of peanut butter chips for the recipe and I'd grab an extra to be safe. 
The family and I generally prefer classic chocolate chip cookies so we're a bit biased on that side but both these recipes were winners.  Frankly, the chocolate chip walnut cookies have become a favorite and I've made them a few times.  To pretend I'm practicing some restraint, I usually make half a recipe, yielding 5-6 large (not quite mammoth proportion) cookies.  That really just means that I quickly find myself plotting the next batch.

When in New York City, I highly suggest a visit to Levain Bakery to try their highly lauded cookies.  But even if you haven't had them, these wonderfully large cookies are a textural delight that I highly recommend you try at home.  
Here's to cookies and messy fingers sticky with melted chocolate (or peanut butter)!  Also to fall baking and staying cozy!


Levain Bakery Style Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies
Adapted from Giada's Italy by Giada De Laurentiis

- For 8 to 12 large cookies (Levain Bakery cookies are huge, at 6 ounces per cookie; I tend to make mine a bit smaller, around 4.5 oz. each)

3 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, chilled
2 teaspoons vanilla extract 
2 cups chopped dark chocolate, or chocolate chips
1 cup walnuts, toasted and very coarsely chopped 

In a large bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together.  set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter for about 1 minute on medium speed to soften slightly.  Add the brown sugar and granulated sugar and mix until incorporated.  Add eggs and vanilla, mixing on medium-low speed until mixture separates.  Turn machine off, add the dry ingredients, and mix until the dough just comes together.  Fold chocolate chips and walnuts into the dough with a rubber spatula. 

Place large cookie mounds on parchment-lined baking sheets (Levain cookies weigh in at 6 ounces each; I tend to make mine a bit smaller, about 4.5 ounces each).  Freeze the cookie dough mounds for 1 hour so they firm up and won't spread as much when baking.  [Make ahead: you can freeze the cookie dough at this point for baking another day.]

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  

Take cookie dough straight from the freezer and bake for 18-20 minutes, or until golden brown along the edges and the tops are starting to brown (the center should be slightly under-baked so that it's moist and chewy in the interior).  Allow cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the baking sheet, then transfer cookies to a wire rack to cool further.  They are delicious slightly warm!

Levain Bakery Style Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Chip Cookies
Adapted from Modern Honey

-  For 8 to 12 large cookies (Levain Bakery cookies are huge, at 6 ounces per cookie; I tend to make mine a bit smaller, around 4.5 oz. each)

1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
1 teaspoon cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, cold and cut into cubes
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs, chilled
Approximately 2 cups peanut butter chips (use Reese's brand; one bag is 10 oz. or 1 2/3 cup, which should suffice if you don't want to open an extra bag)

Whisk cake flour, all-purpose flour, cocoa, cornstarch, baking soda, and salt together in a bowl.  Set aside.  

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter and sugars together on medium speed for about 4 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each.  Add the dry ingredients, then mix until dough just comes together.  Fold in the peanut butter chips with a rubber spatula.  

Place large cookie mounds on parchment-lined baking sheets (Levain cookies weigh in at 6 ounces each; I tend to make mine a bit smaller, about 4.5 ounces each).  Chill the cookie dough for 10 minutes before baking (if there's time, I like to make ahead and freeze the dough for at least an hour). 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Bake for 10-12 minutes, until tops are set and the center is slightly under-baked (it's difficult to know visually when cookies are done; sometimes I reduce the oven temp to 375 for the last couple of minutes and watch them closely).  Let cookies cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes, then remove the cookies to cool on wire racks.  They are delicious slightly warm!  



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