Apparently, Sunday May 15th was National Chocolate Chip Cookie Day! (How do people come up with this stuff anyway?)
I think almost every American kid has got their own perfect memory of a chocolate chip cookie. Perfect not necessarily because it’s some chemical masterpiece of flour and fat and sugar, but because of the people you eat and cherish it with. For me, that perfect memory actually and fortunately is because of both: a beautiful sunny day in Central Park, sitting on a bench with my best and only big brother, breaking apart warm gooey chunks of a freshly baked Levain Bakery cookie.
If you don’t know what a Levain cookie is and you live in NYC, go get one now. If you don’t live in NYC, Google it, salivate, and start saving up for a trip (or have them mailed to you). Yes, it’s basically just a huge ginormous monster of a cookie, but that doesn’t simply mean more cookie for you. A Levain cookie is crunchy caramelized on the outside, chewy soft in the middle, practically underbaked dough on the inside, melty pockets of bittersweet chocolate throughout – like the best of every cookie world for those who can’t decide which is better – crispy cookie or soft cookie or raw cookie dough? This is the cookie that my brother considers the best he has ever eaten (and jokes when he comes to visit that he’s actually here just for the cookie, not for me).
My brother’s favorite flavor is the chocolate chocolate chip – he’s a bit of a chocolate maniac. Me, I can never decide between chocolate peanut butter chip or oatmeal raisin. But the chocolate chip walnut is the first and the classic. Today though, I’ve decided to spruce it up a bit with the addition of another NYC classic – the ubiquitous candied nuts from the Nuts 4 Nuts street carts.
Per Wikipedia, Levain Bakery started as a bread bakery, then the owners created their signature cookie as a caloric bomb while training for the Ironman and history took off. They keep their recipe a closely guarded secret, but inevitably bloggers around the world have tried their hand at it. Parsley Sage Sweet takes a pretty darn good stab at it, using other published recipes by the Levain bakers and watching them make the cookies on Bobby Flay’s Throwdown TV episode as research. I’ve made a couple adjustments to the instructions, but either way it makes a scrumpiously delicious cookie.
Nuts 4 Nuts also has some interesting backstory. According to their website, honey-roasted nuts have a culinary heritage tracing back from France to Argentina, and was originally brought over to NYC by Argentinian Alejandro Rad in the 1980s. From one pushcart, a whole business was formed, and the NYC streets would forever be changed. Other than the 53rd & 6th Halal Guys carts, Nuts 4 Nuts are my favorite NYC street food. Sure, you can take any simple old candied nuts recipe and make some delicious crunchy yum for yourself at home, but something about them isn’t quite the same. Maybe it’s the copper bowl for even heating that the street carts use, or maybe the recipe needs to include the smell of car exhaust and the bustle of people bumping into you for the experience to be complete.
For this particular batch, I couldn’t make up my mind so went with a bag of mixed nuts. Then I found out that the mixed nuts didn’t include coconut chunks… my disappointment must have been written plainly all over my face, because the Nuts 4 Nuts vendor kindly took pity on me and threw in a handful of coconut chunks which are hands down the BEST. So most of the cookies have a mix of candied peanuts, cashews, and almonds, but a few special ones are blessed with chopped-up crunchy chewy coconut chunks. How’s that for alliteration?
Levain Nuts 4 Nuts cookies – if I had my own bakery, I’d call this baby the “NYC-Squared”. Guys… I’m really going to miss this city 😦 ❤
Levain-style Nuts 4 Nuts Cookies
adapted from Parsley Sweet Sage
makes either 12 ~4oz cookies or 8 ~6oz cookies
egg free/dairy free/vegan options available
- 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter or vegan butter, room temperature
- ½ sticks unsalted butter or vegan butter, cold and finely diced
- 2 cups light brown sugar or 1 cup each of granulated sugar and dark brown sugar
- 2 eggs, or vegan substitution (EnerG egg replacer or flaxseed eggs both have worked fine for me)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ tsp baking soda
- 1½ to 2 cups semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips or roughly chopped baking chocolate bars – if you can, go with dark chocolate bars for the best mmm-mm goodness
- 1 cup candied nuts of choice, from a street cart or homemade
- Cream together the room temperature butter and sugar. Stir in the cold butter chunks. Add eggs and mix thoroughly – it’s fine to leave some of the chunks of butter still chunky.
- Add the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda) and mix until the dough comes together. If using coconut as your candied nut of choice, chop into smaller pieces at this point. Stir the chocolate and nuts into the dough, evenly distributing throughout.
- Divide the dough into 12 equally sized balls.
- Preheat the oven to 350 F. While the oven is preheating, pop the dough balls into the freezer to chill briefly, or you can chill in the fridge if you need to step away for a longer period of time. Prepare two baking sheets with greased foil, parchment paper, or silicone baking liners. When the oven is done preheating, space out six of the dough balls on each baking sheet (flatten slightly or not at all), and bake for 15-20 minutes depending how underdone you like the insides to be, at least until the outside looks fully baked and not doughy. 17 minutes is a sweet spot for my oven.
- Let cool for at least 10 minutes on the baking sheet, longer if you want the outside to be even crunchier. Serve warm and gooey if possible, but leftovers can be stored for several days in an airtight container at room temperature. Little tip – stale cookies can also be revived by sticking an apple slice or a slice of bread into the airtight container with the cookies overnight.
Nutritional description: as might be expected, a cookie created for the purposes of fueling Ironman runners is no simple feat for the average weekly treadmiller. Yes, I have eaten whole Levain cookies (plural) in one go before. Yes, I had a huge stomachache afterwards. Yes, for me, it was worth it 😛 when making these at home, the nice thing is you do have the luxury of making them slightly smaller (4 oz instead of 6 oz; per Parlsey Sage Sweet, any smaller than 4 nullifies the crunchy-chewy-doughy progression that makes Levain cookies special), but they’re still quite a whopper. Save eating them whole for a day of indulgence, but better yet split them with your friends and family because sharing is caring!
Nutritional information (calculated without vegan substitutions, assuming 12 ~4oz cookies): Calories 539, Total Fat 27.3g, Saturated Fat 14.6g, Cholesterol 71.5mg, Carbs 74.2g, Fiber 4.2g, Sugars 45.3g, Protein 7g, Sodium 234.1mg