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Have You Met My Friend, Chocolate Chip Cookie?

It’s here! It’s finally here! What, you ask? The one year anniversary (or birthday?) of Cookie Talk. Yes, folks, I’ve survived one year of blogging. I’ve learned so much, particularly about photography, and it’s been great hearing all the comments and suggestions. Blogs are such a wonderful way to share and connect with others. So thank you for sticking with me!

And what to do for the 1st Anniversary? Cookies, of course. Not just one cookie, but three cookies. To be fair, I’ve done one before, it was one of my very first posts, the Best Chocolate Chip Cookie Ever, which is a copycat of the Levain Bakery from Lisa Michele. I’ve been making this cookie for about two years, feeling as though no other chocolate chip cookie could ever take it’s place. But all over the food world I see two other popular recipes: The New York Times recipe from Jacques Torres, and the Neiman Marcus “$250,000” cookie, or however much the rumor goes.

I was curious, and thus, came the challenge. I’d make all three chocolate chip cookies and the hubby and I, as well as a few of our more-than-willing friends and co-workers (“Hey, want to taste some cookies?” is a great way to win some friends), would do a blind taste test. It’s a rough job blogging. Really, tasting all these cookies was such hard work! Fine, don’t believe me.

The blind tasting for hubby and I was actually challenging, but probably not in a way that will garner any sympathy. We knew what went into each cookie and what each one looked like. But we tried to make it as objective as possible and even went so far as to blindfold one while the other took notes. But it was still pretty easy to guess which cookie we were tasting.

I learned a lot from this experiment, and was a bit surprised as well. I’m also working on my own chocolate chip cookie recipe, combining our favorites from each. But that’s a post for another day. Making the perfect cookie doesn’t happen overnight.

And the winner is (drum roll)…… The New York Times Jacques Torres, with Levain as a very close second. In fact, my initial favorite was Levain, barely, because I just couldn’t accept that my favorite cookie was being replaced. The more I ate the NYT cookie (yes, I’ve had several, which is not good for the waist line. See the sacrifices I make?) the more I liked it and the more I realized the Levain wasn’t as special as I thought it was. It was like learning you and your best friend have grown apart and now you have a new best friend who is much cooler and more compatible. It hurts a little. Until you have another cookie.

Now, I must point out that I have never had a true Levain cookie, or a Jacques Torres cookie, or a Neiman Marcus cookie. The Levain is a copycat recipe, which could completely change the results. So it isn’t a completely true competition, but hey, we’re doing the best we can. Someday I hope to go to New York and have Jacques Torres and Levain all in the same day. Probably with a tummy ache on the side.

Now, let’s talk about the differences in these cookies. All three are basic chocolate chip cookies: flour, sugar, baking soda and powder, butter, chocolate.  But they are all very different cookies, as you can see in the picture above. I used the same scoop, 3 TB, for each cookie and they baked very differently. The first is the Torres cookie, the second Levain, and the third Neiman Marcus.

Let’s talk first about the least favorite: The Neiman Marcus. Really, this cookie had no business attempting to compete against the other two. It’s not even in the same category. Two people did say it was their favorite, but most didn’t even like it all that much. The only redeeming factor was the chocolate-y-ness of it (and also that was by far the fastest to make), which came from the insane amount of instant coffee. It almost tasted like a Coffee Chocolate Chip cookie. But it was kind of dry, almost crunchy, and really not that special. It had the least amount of butter, only 1 egg, and was mostly brown sugar, which should have been a good thing. But it just didn’t measure up. Sorry, Neiman Marcus, your cookie isn’t even worth $2.50.

Next, the runner up, the Levain Copycat. After I made this recipe for the umpteenth time, I noticed Lisa Michele had updated her recipe to include less flour and more brown sugar, which is exactly what we thought it needed after tasting the NYT recipe. I had always used less flour than she suggested, and I always add vanilla. I feel it is necessary in a chocolate chip cookie. This is a great overall cookie. It is cakey and well balanced between dough and chocolate. If you were forced to eat this cookie for the rest of your life, you’d still be darned happy. It does dry out quite a bit the next day, which is one of the reasons it was forced into second place, but a few seconds in the microwave can help fix that.

And finally, the star of the Cookie World, the New York Times recipe courtesy of Jacques Torres. This cookie is a real show stopper. It is everything you want in a chocolate chip cookie and then some. And I didn’t even use the chocolate “discs” as the recipe suggests, which I can only imagine would make it even more delightful. This cookie had a lower brown sugar to granulated sugar ratio than the Neiman Marcus, but for some reason the brown sugar really stood out in the Jacques Torres cookie.  I don’t know why it stood out more in this cookie. I’m baffled. I’m also completely baffled at how it baked. I fully expected a bigger rise on this cookie due to the cold butter and the extra baking powder. But it didn’t. It spread and wasn’t cakey at all like the Levain. Have I mentioned I’m baffled? This goes against my basic knowledge of baking. Anyone care to help me out here? It must have something to do with the ratio of butter to flour to leavening agents. Or maybe it is because it is made with bread flour and cake flour? Help. Where is Alton Brown when I need him? I need to watch his Chocolate Chip Cookie episode again!

And back to the cookie. It’s crunchy on the outside. Gooey on the inside. A rich chocolate flavor with a caramel tasting dough. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, how about sprinkling some sea salt on top to take you right over the edge into Chocolate Chip Cookie Heaven? Yup, that’s a winning cookie.

Let’s take another look at the cookies:

New York Times/Jacques Torres

Levain Copycat

Neiman Marcus

This was a fun experiment. It’s interesting to see how slightly different measurements can create a completely different cookie.  So what’s your favorite chocolate chip cookie and why?

Tips and Pointers: For each recipe I used Guittard chocolate chips, light brown sugar, unsalted butter, fine sea salt, King Arthur Flour, and a 3 TB scoop. I also could not bake and eat all these cookies at the same time, nor do I have enough friends to share all this dough. I recommend scooping each dough out, freezing the dough balls, and then baking when you are ready. If you freeze the dough and then try to scoop, you are likely to hurt your shoulder. Trust me, I learned the hard way. This also ensures that you can always have fresh baked cookies on a moments notice…which might not be a good thing.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies

Neiman Marcus

  • 1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp instant espresso powder (doesn’t sound like much, but it is!)
  • 1 1/2 cups chocolate chip cookies

1) Preheat oven to 300F. Cream the butter with the sugars using an electric mixer on medium speed until fluffy.

2) Beat in the egg and vanilla for another 30 seconds, or until combined.

3) In a mixing bowl, sift together the dry ingredients and beat into the butter mixture at low speed for about 15 seconds. Stir in espresso and chocolate chips.

4) Using your desired cookie scoop, drop onto a parchment lined cookie sheet (or silpat) about three inches apart. Gently press down to flatten. Bake about 20 minutes, or until brown. I think 20 minutes is too long and only baked for about 16 minutes.

Levain Copycat

  • 2 sticks ‘cold and cubed’ unsalted butter
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon good vanilla
  • 2 eggs
  • 3 1/4 to 3 1/2 cups AP flour – Spoon and Sweep method. I usually stick with 3 1/4 cup.
  • 3/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 3/4-1 teaspoon baking powder (just under 1 teaspoon)
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 2 cups good quality semisweet chocolate chips or chunks
1)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2)  In bowl of electric mixer fitted with paddle, cream together butter and sugars and vanilla until well blended and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes.  Add eggs, one at a time.. and beat until well incorporated.
3)  Add flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder and mix until just combined. Gently fold in chocolate chunks, or add to the mixer at the very end on very low speed.
4)  Using a scoop, place each on sheet pan lined with parchment paper or silpat and bake in the preheated oven until very lightly browned, taking care not to over bake, about 14 – 16 minutes depending on your preference.

New York Times adapted from Jacques Torres

  • 2 cups minus 2 TB cake flour
  • 1 2/3 cup bread flour
  • 1 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp coarse salt
  • 2 1/2 sticks unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
  • 1 cup plus 2 TB granulated sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2 2/3 cups chocolate chips or discs
1)  Whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside.
2)  Cream together sugars and butter until very light, about 5 minutes. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing completely and scraping bowl after each addition. Reduce speed to low and very slowly add dry ingredients, mixing just until combined. Add chocolate very carefully.
3) Scoop cookies onto baking sheet and chill for 24 to 36 hours. Wrap tightly.
4)  Preheat oven to 350F. Bake cookies 14 to 18 minutes depending on the size, until golden but still gooey.
5) Eat immediately and have another.
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