Chocolate Chip Cookie Series #3: Levain Bakery
Hello everyone! I am finally back! I had to take a few weeks off from baking and blogging to study for my oncology exam for my nursing job. Glad to say that I passed, but I am super excited to get back to baking!! Thank you for your patience :).
Now, back to the good stuff.
As a hard-core dessert lover, any trip that I go on includes some sort of special trip to a well-known bakery in the area. One of my favorite place to visit is New York City, which is home to some of the best of the best restaurants and bakeries in the country. New York City has every type of cuisine you could possibly ever want plus many of the restaurants and bakeries have been around for decades and have lasted the test of time (so you know they are amazing!). Several bakeries come to my mind when I think of the favorites in NYC, but today I am going to focus on the very famous and well-loved Levain Bakery.
I first learned of Levain Bakery while watching an episode of Throwdown With Bobby Flay where he was competing against the chefs of Levain Bakery for the best chocolate chip cookie. If you haven’t seen the episode, I won’t spoil the winner for you, but I bet you might be able to guess who the winner was ;). From then on, I have had a serious curiosity and desire to try these cookies. If they are good enough for Bobby, then they must be pretty darn good! Of course, time went on and since I don’t live in the Big Apple, I forgot about the cookies and went on living life.
The thought of these cookies escaped my mind for quite some time, but then one night I was watching Best Thing I Ever Ate – Chocolate Edition on The Food Network and I saw the cookies again! I found myself drooling as I watched Rocco Dispirito digging into one of the Levain Bakery’s double chocolate chip cookies. I knew at that moment, I could no longer keep living without trying these cookies.
History Of Levain Bakery
Levain Bakery was established in 1994 by Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes. There are four locations: West 74th Street (founding location), Harlem, The Hamptons, and Amsterdam Avenue. They are most known for their giant chocolate chip walnut cookies. They also offer double chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and chocolate chip peanut butter cookies along with scones, muffins, brioches, sticky buns, sweet and savory breads, tarts, and pizzas!
Weekes and McDonald were training for the Ironman and needed a quick, calorie dense snack to keep their bodies fueled to keep training. They set out to create a cookie that was delicious, but could also fill them up quickly with lots of calories to keep them fueled. What they created was a masterpiece and the rest was history!
Many people are curious as to where the Levain Bakery name comes from. When Connie and Pam were first starting out in the baking business, they were baking artisan breads for several restaurants in the New York City area. After some time, they were becoming so popular that they needed a name for their breads. They came up with Levain, which is “French term for a natural leavening agent traditionally consisting of flour, water and wild yeasts.” In America, we know this as the typical sourdough starter.
What Is So Special About These Cookies?
So if you haven’t heard of Levain Bakery or haven’t been to NYC to try these cookies, you may be wondering what’s all the hype?
#1: These cookies are not your average chocolate chip cookie… They are HUGE weighing in at 6 OUNCES EACH! These cookies offer the best of both worlds – crispy on the outsides and soft and gooey on the inside. The official description on the Levain Bakery website states, “Crispy outside with a satisfyingly thick and gooey center. Every bite is packed with semi-sweet chocolate chips and chunks of walnuts. The New York Times says these “may possibly be the largest, most divine chocolate chip cookies in Manhattan.”
#2: These cookies are famous. They are ranked second best cookie in NYC and have stamps of approval from many very well- known celebrities including Oprah Winfrey, Taylor Swift, and Neil Patrick Harris. If you visit one of their locations, you will ALWAYS be in line with 20-30 eagerly waiting New Yorkers and travelers waiting outside the door for their Levain goodies. They even have a cookie cam that you can check out online to see how long the wait is!
#3: These cookies are made with a lot of love and care. Weekes and McDonald wanted to create a bakery environment that was conducive to families. This family atmosphere created a bakery that felt like a home away from home.
Creating the Recipe
Levain Bakery’s chocolate chip cookies are known and loved by millions across the world. In the beginning, only New Yorkers and vacationers could enjoy these scrumptious cookies, but now they are being sent all over the world for all to enjoy! Weekes and McDonald have done an amazing job of keeping their cookie recipe a secret. If you look online, you will find many “Copycat” recipes of the famous Levain Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie. Unfortunately no one knows the EXACT ingredients, but from all of my test batches and trying other bloggers recipes, I think I’ve gotten pretty close
to the original recipe.
Weekes and McDonald posted a Youtube video in 2008 of them baking a batch of their famous chocolate chip cookies. I have watched this video probably a million times (including slow-motion!) to try to decipher any little hidden thing they might be doing that sets their recipe apart. They dump in the dry ingredients all together so the type or combination of the flour they use is hard to determine and the amount of each ingredient is never listed, but I think I’ve gotten as close as possible to their recipe as possible!
Here is what I have determined from the video:
- Connie and Pam use cold butter cut into cuts
- It looks like they use slightly more brown sugar than white sugar
- They do not use vanilla extract
- Eggs are added in together and are not pre-beaten before added to dough
- The dry ingredients are added in at the same time and are not gradually added in
- The walnuts are not chopped, but left in halves
- The coloring of the chocolate chips makes me believe they are semisweet. Pam also states they use semisweet in the video.
- They add the walnut halves in first and then add in the chocolate chips
- They mix the walnuts and chocolate chips first in the industrial mixer then mix the dough by hand to evenly incorporate the chips and nuts into the dough
- The dough is not shaped into even little balls with an ice cream scooper, but is loosely packed and placed in the cookie sheet
1 cup unsalted butter, COLD cut into cuts
2/3 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 1/2 cup bread flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
2 cups walnuts
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Use oven thermometer to verify temperature.
Place cold butter cubes with white and brown sugar into stand mixer bowl. Use your paddle attachment to mix on medium speed for about 1 minute.
Add the eggs in together and beat on medium speed until completely incorporated.
In a separate bowl, add all purpose flour, baking powder and soda, and salt and stir together. Add all dry ingredients into the wet all at the same time. Mix thoroughly on low speed.
Add walnuts into dough and beat on low speed. This will break down the walnuts slightly.
Then mix in chocolate chips.
Pour batter onto a clean surface and mix the dough by hand to evenly incorporate nuts and chocolate chips.
Form dough into large loosely formed balls by hand. Do not use ice cream scooper or spoon. If you want to make your cookies exactly like Levain Bakery, then I suggest using a digital scale to weigh the dough out to 6 oz.
Refrigerate dough for ~30-45 minutes prior to baking to help prevent spreading.
Place four large loosely formed dough balls onto one cookie sheet. This recipe makes 8 large cookies. Bake dough at 375 degrees for 16-18 minutes. Check your batch frequently because you will want to pull the cookies out when they are still soft and gooey on the inside. Make sure not to over bake. The cookies will be done when they are liht golden on top and bottom.
Let cookies cool for 15 minutes on baking sheet. These cookies are best served warm and fresh out of the oven. This recipe makes ~8 large cookies.
These cookies can be left on the counter in a sealed container for several days. If placed in the fridge, they are good for 1-2 weeks. These cookies freeze extremely well and can last several months. I highly recommend allowing them to thaw for at least 15-20 minutes prior to eating or nuke them in the microwave for 15 seconds and enjoy!
To be honest, I have never experienced a freshly baked Levain Bakery chocolate chip walnut cookies in New York City. Yes, it’s the sad truth. BUT I have ordered the cookies online and had them over night delivered to me! Next time I am in New York though I am definitely going to be waiting in line to try the real deal!
THE COPYCAT RECIPE: I have to say, this recipe seems to be as close to the original as it could possibly be! I tried many, MANY different recipes that I found online and also played around with my own recipe many more times and I finally came up with a recipe that seems to very closely resemble the famous Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie! The image below on the left is the original Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookie I ordered. The image below to the right is my copycat version. Looks pretty darn close to me!
Flour: In my test batches, I used several different types of flours – AP flour, cake flour, then I tried bread flour. I found that using bread flour produced the right about of chewiness and crispiness that the Levain Bakery chocolate chip walnut cookie has. I also tested different amount of flours. While watching the video of Pam and Connie baking the cookies, I was able to determine that their dough was a fairly sticky dough. I did try less flour, but found that my cookies spread too much.
Sugar: When tasting a Levain Bakery cookie, you will note that it isn’t the sweetest of cookies. The cookie more focuses on the taste of the chocolate chip and walnuts and less on sweetness. I think 2/3 cup brown sugar and 1/2 cup granulated sugar are the perfect ratios. It is a little less than a typical chocolate chip cookie recipe, but this will give you the same taste as the Levain Bakery cookies.
Refrigeration and Cold Butter: The key to keeping the characteristic shape of these cookies is that quick 30-45 minutes of refrigeration and use of the cold butter. The cold butter incorporates the ingredients differently than softened butter does almost giving it a biscuit-like texture in a cookie form. You may have a few tiny little bits of butter that don’t completely disappear in the cookie and that’s okay! That helps the cookie be tender and gives a nice butter-y taste. The chilling also allows time for the gluten in the bread flour to loosen up a bit and produce a cookie that isn’t hard and overly crunchy.
Temperature: I tried all sorts of temperatures with this cookie – anywhere from 325-425! If you bake the cookies too low, you won’t get the ooey-gooey center that is characteristic of the Levain Bakery cookies. If you back them too high, your cookies with spread too much and not give you the large mount that you are going to want with these cookies. 375 seemed to do the trick for me to prevent too much spreading and give the ooey-gooey center I was wanting. Look at this ooey-gooey-ness!
MY OPINION ON LEVAIN BAKERY: First, I am putting a disclaimer. This is my personal opinion the cookies! I know many others feel differently than me and hey that’s okay! Everyone is entitled to their own cookie opinions!I have to say when I tried the Levain Bakery cookies, I was fairly disappointed. I was certainly impressed by the immense size of the cookies, and yes they did have the crispy outside and still soft inside, but the flavor was fairly flat lacking in sweetness and salt. The texture was almost similar to a biscuit, but with the taste of cookie. Overall, I was not impressed with Levain Bakery’s cookie, but that could be due to not having the real deal fresh from the bakery experience.
Pricing: Levain Bakery sells each cookie for $4 in their shops. Four cookies are sold for $27. I decided to go with the four cookie option to be sent to me. I thought $27 for four cookies was a little overpriced, but I figured since the cookies are 6 ounces and I really wanted to try them anyways that would spring for the upgrade. What I wasn’t aware of was the shipping charges… (shocked emoji face)
- UPS Second Day Air – $32.89
- UPS Next Day Air – $73.82
- UPS Next Day Air Early A.M. – $105.32
So, now that we have the numbers, let’s break down the cost for four cookies being shipped to your home.
- 1 6 oz. cookie = $6.75
- 4 6 oz. cookies = $27
- 4 6 oz. cookies + UPS Second Day Air = $59.89
- 4 6 oz. cookies + UPS Next Day Air = $100.82
- 4 6 oz. cookies + UPS Next Day Air Early A.M. = $132.32
I don’t know about you, but that’s a lot of money for four cookies! Personally, I don’t think they are worth quite that cost, but hey! That gives you even more reason to try this recipe at home! Then you can have your very own Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookies for cents on the dollar compared to the retail cost! This recipe produces 8 – 6 oz. cookies so you are even getting double for your time and effort!
I hope you enjoyed the latest cookie in the Chocolate Chip Cookie Series! Let me know what your thoughts are on my copycat recipe versus Levain Bakery’s. Do you think this recipe stacked up to the original or was it a miss? Check back next week to see the next chocolate chip cookie recipe I try. If you haven’t checked out the other chocolate chip cookies in the series, click on any of the links below. Happy Baking!