Monday, August 8, 2011

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've never understood the popularity of candles, soaps, and fragrances that smell like foods. Vanilla bean or citrus is one thing, but yesterday I was at Bath and Body Works and was quite shocked at the "Gourmet" (their name, not mine) line of scents that they have. There was Mint Chocolate (quite delicious, actually, but who wants their hands to smell like a peppermint patty?), Apple Crumble (oddly tart and sweet smelling, nothing at all like a true apple crumble), and various scents of pumpkin (why so many?). A quick perusal of their website also reveals such atrocities as S'mores, a whole assortment of Donut "flavors," Honey Pretzel, and PB&J. Why do people want to walk their bedrooms, kitchens, or bathrooms to smell like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches? (Perhaps the better question is what exactly a peanut butter and jelly sandwich actually smells like.)

Certainly there is a market to be made producing scents associated with familiar, nostalgic smells like the toasty smell of warm s'mores or a hot apple pie. But I just don't get, and I don't think I'll ever support this rather strange trend. That is, until someone can successfully replicate the scent of browned butter.
Yes, browned butter. It is marvelous stuff. The smell is nearly intoxicating, a blend of perfectly roasted nuts and melted butter, but to simply leave it at that would be to do browned butter a great disservice. I daresay browned butter is something akin to liquid gold, but don't take my word for it. Just make these cookies.

When I first made my 20 Before 20 list a few months ago I wanted to put things on it that would both challenge and inspire me. Chocolate chip cookies may seem to accomplish neither of these two goals, but this recipe... oh, this recipe does just that.

On the one hand, I was quite challenged to wait an entire day before eating one. The recipe, though, is almost simple as it gets, although not surprisingly a bit unorthodox since it comes from Cook's Illustrated. These are the chocolate chip cookies I imagine a wise grandmother would make, and I felt rather old-fashioned as I stood there with my wooden spoon and glass mixing bowl, not an electronic gadget in sight. Yes, these are the best kind of cookies: the sort that are simple to pull together when you decide it's just the afternoon for a warm chocolate chip cookie.
A word about pairings: if you're old-fashioned you'll enjoy these with a glass of cold milk. The more sophisticated of you will reach for a glass of red wine. Me? I can think of nothing better than a mug of hot coffee. 

As for inspiration, I admit it's a bit far-fetched to feel inspired by chocolate chip cookies, which are as ubiquitous and pedestrian a cookie as they come. But not these. The browned butter renders them chewy and contributes to the toffee and caramel flavors that come through in each bite. The chocolate adds a pleasant bittersweetness; the cookie's substantial size renders them crispy at the edges but gloriously chewy in the center, just what I seek in a cookie. Suffice it to say that after enjoying these cookies I became wholly inspired, both by the interplay of its various components and by the magical powers of browned butter. It didn't take long for me to decide that everything would be made better by this culinary gift, from oatmeal cookies to pecan pie. 

And until someone finally devises a Browned Butter candle to stick in the middle of the kitchen to give the illusion of it sitting in a pan on the stove, I'm perfectly fine with making it myself and reaping the rewards of putting it in any and everything.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Cook's Illustrated

Avoid using a nonstick skillet to brown the butter, as the dark coating makes it hard to judge when the butter has browned. It's important to follow the directions carefully for stirring and resting the batter: waiting allows the sugar to fully dissolve and therefore caramelize more fully when the cookies bake. If you like, add 3/4 cup of chopped toasted pecans or walnuts along with the chocolate chips. Baking the trays 1 at a time may seem fussy, but it ensures that they cook evenly. These are best straight out of the oven (what cookies aren't?), but to recreate the effect of fresh-baked cookies you can warm a few in a 300-degree oven for about 5 minutes before enjoying.

Yield: about 16 cookies

1 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
14 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk
1 1/4 cups semisweet chocolate chips

Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line 2 large (18- by 12-inch) baking sheets with parchment paper. In a medium bowl, whisk flour and baking soda; set aside.

Heat 10 tablespoons butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat until melted, about 2 minutes. Continue cooking, swirling pan and stirring constantly with a wooden spoon or whisk, until butter is dark golden brown and has nutty aroma, about 2 to 3 more minutes. The butter will make a hissing, sizzling sound as it browns. Be careful not to cook it too much, as it can quickly turn from gloriously browned to hopelessly burnt. Remove skillet from heat and transfer browned butter to a large heatproof bowl. Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter to the hot melted butter and stir until completely melted.

Add both sugars, salt, and vanilla to butter and whisk until fully incorporated. Add egg and yolk and whisk until mixture is completely smooth and no lumps remain. Let mixture stand 3 minutes, then whisk for 30 seconds. Repeat process of resting and whisking 2 more times until mixture is thick, smooth, and shiny. Using a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, stir in the flour mixture until just combined, about 1 minute. Stir in the chocolate chips and nuts (if using), giving the dough a final stir to make sure no flour pockets remain.

Score the dough evenly into 4 quarters, then score each quarter into 4 quarters, for a total of 16 portions of dough. Shape dough into rough balls and place on baking sheets, 8 portions to a sheet, each portion placed about 2 inches apart.

Bake cookies 1 tray at a time until cookies are golden brown and puffy and edges have begun to set but centers are still soft, about 14 minutes, rotating the baking sheet from front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool.

Cookies will keep, stored in an airtight container at room temperature, for up to 3 days. Rewarm cookies in a low oven for a few minutes for a fresh-baked taste.


  1. owning the red wine idea for this - it was a perfect pairing! - these are hands down THE BEST chocolate chip cookies I've ever had. (and I'm thinking I'll put these on my 50 before 50 list so I can master them before I'm a grandmother)

  2. wow, who'd have thought browned butter for cookies. i think they make food scented candles for people who don't know how to bake, so they can pretend.

  3. OMG. These look delicious. I wish you lived with me. I was craving something sweet for dessert the other night and all we had was almonds. So boring.

  4. Mmmmm...I'm pretty sure brown butter anything is delicious. I'm a huge Cook's Illustrated fan, and my favorite chocolate chip cookie is from them (although that might change after I try these). :)

    Hahah and I almost laughed at loud reading about the Bath and Body Works stuff. Kind of ironic, our hands our smelling more like pb&j's while our pb&j's are smelling more and more plastic-y and artificial ... strange. Great post!

  5. I only recently discovered browned butter when I made some brownies with it and the scent is intoxicating! Love the idea of using it in cookies -- I can't wait to try it.

  6. nothing pedestrian about these indeed - loove the smell of browned butter!