Having recently conquered Tate's-style thin and crispy chocolate chip cookies, I felt compelled by Newton's law to create an equal and opposite reaction: Levain-style thick and chonkin' chocolate chip cookies.
For those who reside neither in New York City nor on Instagram, Levain is a bakery that dishes up some of NYC's favorite chocolate chip cookies, so monstrously thick and chock-full of chocolate that you can hardly find the dough.
Copycat bakers have tried everything to get a cookie this thick, from loads of cornstarch in the dough to a grated hard-boiled egg. Most of these approaches overthink the problem of spread—which isn't a problem so much as a reflection of ingredient ratios.
Adding weird ingredients to reduce spread without adjusting the underlying formula is like trying to turn down the volume on a speaker by putting on earmuffs. It kinda works, but it's unnecessarily complicated compared with just...turning down the volume.
The easiest way to "turn down the volume" on spread in a cookie dough is to decrease the amount of sugar relative to the flour, as sugar is one of the primary factors governing spread in a cookie dough. With that change alone, most drop cookies will spread less as they bake, keeping the finished product nice and thick.
Aside from their incredible proportions, the distinguishing factor of a Levain-style chocolate chip cookie is the sheer quantity of chocolate chips involved. By weight, chocolate is the most abundant ingredient in the dough, and thus the most significant source of flavor.
That can be a real problem if you're using cheap supermarket chocolate chips, which are often made with more sugar than cocoa solids—and low-quality cocoa solids, at that—plus artificial flavors. Fortunately, most grocery stores these days stock a decent array of high-quality chips, ranging from 55% to 70% cocoa solids, styles that contain more chocolate than sugar (i.e., more flavor and less sweetness). Take a look at our guide to buying the best chocolate chips for more information on what to look for.
Once you know how to buy the right kind of chocolate chip, the real trick is to mix and match a few brands, which allows you to layer in a range of chocolate flavor profiles, from deep and earthy to tangy and bright. A blend of chocolate chips will give the cookies greater complexity of flavor, and texture as well, given the different sizes of chips and chunks on the market.
With a mixture of chips, and less sugar than flour, these cookies may have a distinctive ratio of ingredients, but the ingredients themselves are quite familiar. Aside from the chocolate, there’s butter, brown sugar, plain or toasted white sugar, and eggs, along with walnuts (a signature ingredient in those Levain cookies).
The method is classic as well. Start by creaming the butter and sugar (plus the leavening agents, vanilla, and salt) until light and fluffy. It's important to remember that "light and fluffy" isn't some catchphrase here; it describes the real, and very important, physical changes the sugar and fat should undergo during creaming.
I've written in depth on the creaming process before, so click through to brush up on the details if needed. Proper aeration is yet another determining factor in limiting spread, so it's vital to get it right in super-thick chocolate chip cookies like these.
Once the butter and sugar are well aerated, the eggs are added one by one, followed by the flour, chocolate chips, and walnuts.
The dough is then divided into big, six-ounce portions—what a friend of mine described as a "threatening amount" of dough. Honestly, if you're not a little intimidated by these cookies, you're really missing out on their emotional impact. That's what cemented the originals at Levain in legend.
After dividing, round each portion into a smooth, even ball, then wrap in plastic and refrigerate overnight. In relatively low-sugar/high-moisture doughs, an overnight rest will ensure the flour is fully hydrated, keeping the cookies thick and chewy. It also kicks off some Maillard browning, improving the flavor of the cookies as they bake.*
* Not all cookies benefit from resting; for example, my Tate’s-style chocolate chip cookies will neither brown more nor spread less even if they're refrigerated for a week and baked cold.
Because these cookies are so impossibly large, the normal visual cues we use to judge doneness kind of fly out the window. I've found it helpful to use a digital thermometer to test the dough, which should clock in between 175 and 185°F (79 and 85°C) when the cookies are done.
Those who prefer a slightly molten, fudgy center should aim for the low end of that range; edging higher will benefit those who enjoy a more thoroughly baked cookie. Once you've got an initial round of cookies under your belt (and in your tummy), you'll have a better idea of how to dial in the next batch.
For that reason, and due to the sheer magnitude of these cookies, I highly recommend baking the dough on an as-needed basis. Due to their reduced sugar content, these cookies may be thick, but they don't retain moisture as well as other styles, so they'll also stale faster. So pace yourself, and save some dough for later.
No matter how many cookies you bake, make sure they're no warmer than 100°F (38°C) before digging in. Any hotter than that, and the molten chocolate inside will render the cookies structurally unsound, and something of a burn risk. But when merely warm, they'll be at their gooey best.
Pour a big glass of milk or put on a pot of coffee, and grab a plate, because savoring this cookie takes time. It's a marathon, not a sprint. To be frank, you probably can't finish one on your own, but until you've been bested by a cookie, you'll never know what it means to be a true baker.