How to Improve Levain Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies


Last summer, I visited New York City. Sure, I loved walking around and staring up at the skyscrapers, peeking through shop windows, and visiting the museums, but above all else, I was obsessed with the bakery scene. As a chocolate chip cookie snob, I was particularly excited to visit Levain Bakery, known far and wide for their positively enormous cookies—around six ounces! They offer four main kinds of cookies, but I went for the classic: chocolate-chip walnut. The chocolate was deliciously melty. The edges were crunchy. The center was gloriously underdone. And yet, I was disappointed. Why? The cookies were bland.

Now, I’m not saying they were bad. However, as a salt fiend and a member of the brown butter cult, I’ve certainly had better tasting cookies. Levain’s cookies are largely known for their texture—a huge mound of dough baked with crisp edges and a slightly gooey interior. However, I think we can find a way to maintain the texture while also improving the flavor.

The most well-known copycat is by Modern Honey. It’s a fantastic recipe! It captures the spirit of Levain’s cookies and makes the intimidating product easily accessible to the home kitchen. However, there are a few changes I like making to really up the flavor value.

First, and most time-consuming, I like to brown the butter. Usually I’ll add two tablespoons of milk powder to the butter while it’s cooking to increase the amount of milk solids that will caramelize (though be warned, it will cause the butter to foam up more, so be careful not to burn it). I like to take the browning pretty far; I usually take it off the stove when it’s a nice, deep brown. Then, pour the brown butter off into a glass measuring cup or another bowl (though not plastic; it may melt) and stick it in the fridge to chill until solid again, mixing every ten minutes or so. You can also mix in a couple ice cubes at this stage, which would cool it down and reintroduce the water to the butter. Alternatively, add a few tablespoons of milk with the eggs. If you prefer, you can place the brown butter in an ice bath to cool it down more quickly. I’d rather spare the dishes.

I also like to add other flavorings to the dry ingredients. Adding around ¾ of a teaspoon of cinnamon (or to taste!) with the dry ingredients adds a subtle warmth to cookies, and it’s also a super easy addition to any chocolate chip cookie recipe.

Second, and my recommendation for nearly every baking recipe, ADD MORE SALT. It simply makes everything more flavorful! From my first bite of the real Levain cookies, it was immediately apparent that they didn’t include enough salt. Seriously, if you’ve been limited to eating store-bought cookies your whole life, making your own with extra salt will change your life. I like to add around two teaspoons of table salt to my cookies, plus sometimes adding extra flaky sea salt after baking. However, I concede that everyone is different, so add salt to your taste (but seriously, at least once, try adding a little more than you think).

My next piece of advice is simple. Ignore the instructions for how much chocolate and nuts to add. Dump in as much as you want, though make sure there’s enough dough to hold together the cookie.

Finally, and most torturous, let the cookie dough rest. I know, one day you have a cookie craving and quickly whip up a batch only to find the dreaded instructions—let refrigerate for two hours. I’ve also been in that situation. (And my instructions are even worse—I like letting my dough rest for two days!) However, I swear on my flaky sea salt, resting the dough actually works. It will make the flavors deeper and it will allow them to meld, and it will make the texture indescribably superior, and you really should try it.

And that’s my guide! Of course, I encourage everyone to experiment with these recipes, and I myself will also continue experimenting. Does it need more brown sugar? Can I replace an egg with two egg yolks? (Spoiler alert, no I couldn’t. The dough was too dry.) Regardless, I recommend using this as a starting point. Make whatever changes you feel you’d love, and eventually, we might get to our ideal Levain-style cookie recipe.