As you all may or may not know, my second cookbook is all about converting recipes from ones that were once gloriously filled with gluten to their equally resplendent gluten-free form, so I thought I would begin by giving you a glimpse of this process. Granted, I do not have a printed recipe that I am working with, I am merely going on two of my four senses: sight, and smell; the process is still the same, just with a few degrees of separation. Since the Levain monster cookies are veritable gluten grenades to a person such as myself, I had to delegate the tasting process to my trusty traveling companion, my boyfriend, Joseph.
When we both walked down into the Levain Bakery, it was like waltzing into a pulsing gluten dust cloud. Flour was billowing everywhere, covering every surface with a faint veil of powder that does everything but agree with my body in a happy manner. I almost put my t-shirt up over my nose, but I didn't want to come across as one of those people that walk down the street with a surgical mask on, so I kept my breathing shallow and slow. Joe's eyes nearly popped out of his head when he ordered one or their famous chocolate chip walnut cookies, and when we walked back out into the bright New York air, he held up the brown bag, and oil stains were already beginning to bleed through. I was instantly envious.
"I'm so sorry you can't share this with me," he grinned, bigger than Christmas.
"Yeah, sure you are," I sarcastically grinned. "I'm excited for you!---but remember, you gotta be my guinea pig, so let's see what that bad boy looks like on the inside."
When the cookie was cleaved in half with a pushing of both of his thumbs, it was like looking at a geode, a thing of wonder. Aside from the enormous size, the flesh of this cookie was smooth as a buttermilk biscuit but far denser. If only I could taste it! It was a cake-like confection, riddled with walnuts the size of giant nuggets of fools gold and chunks of chocolate like confetti. My eyes were two black holes, absorbing everything as I poured over every line of that cookie.
"I'm going in," he announced, nearly having to unhinge his jaw to wrap his teeth around it.
"It's like a cake cookie. But thicker. Mmm. It's so fucking good." The smell of butter and toasted walnuts tapped, a gentle rap, on my nose and as I let it in, the chocolate--milk but with a higher cocoa content, ran in after. Why is it that the uninvited guests are always the most interesting? I couldn't pin point the the chocolate exactly and I instantly became annoyed. It was a sublime cookie and I hadn't even tasted it. I began to salivate in the back of my throat, so I took a deep breath and swallowed. The light brown sugar swirled in wearing a vanilla skirt, and the challenge was born. I decided then and there that I would make this cookie into it's gluten-free form upon my return home, but would I be able to even get close based on just sight and smell? Doubt crept in, but like a syrupy port wine, I poured it out.
I thought about asking for the recipe, but I didn't have the guts. I mean, there was no way in hell they were going to give it to me anyway---it's what they are known for! Plus, I wanted to see how close I could get to making it as ideal as the cookie Joe had just inhaled.
Part of this is the masochism that I generally enjoy when I'm struggling with a recipe, but the remaining part is purely intellectual. There is nothing I enjoy more than a Pepsi challenge; solving a mystery, testing my limits in the hope of making myself better. After all, in the gluten-free world, there are still countless standards to be set and the only way I can do that is if I keep challenging myself.
This being said, I'm not entirely sure how close I actually got to mastering the Levain cookie, but based on the senses I was able to exercise on that perfectly temperate day in New York over a month ago, and according to Joe, “they are unbelievably close.”
I instantly accused him of being blatantly biased, but he assured me that the cookies are "incredible;" I'll let you draw your own conclusion. Just getting really, really close is good enough for me. And until that day comes when the owners are ready to part with the actual recipe, only then will any of us be able to decipher the Levain cookie code.
Before we get to the final recipe, I wanted to point out the benefits of recipe testing because not all of our "failures" are throw-aways.
The wonderful byproduct of this process are the unexpected discoveries that emerge when we least expect it and in the case of the Levain cookie code cracking, there were several surprises that emerged. The first was the recipe that I've included here. But before we get to that, I'd like to explain my approach so you can see how my mind works and how I narrowed my focus.
Based on the visual and aromatic clues that I was going on, I decided to begin with a little baking fusion by combining a cookie recipe with that of a biscuit. The first four tests were not about getting the appearance right, it was all about the flavor. The result of the fourth trial was when the surprise made itself known. It wasn't a failure at all--it was actually the most perfect gluten-free chocolate chip cookie I had ever tasted and to date, I have tested over 120 trials of different chocolate chip cookie recipes. I have two that I have been satisfied with and one is on my blog and the other is in my book, but this one is completely new and lays the foundation for the Levain cookie; elements of the cookie here will be used in the final, so don't be surprised.
I am certain it is because of the amount of time I allowed the dough to rest. I had intended to only let it rest for 12 hours, but I ended up going out of town for a day and when I returned, the cookies had been in there for a whopping 37 hours. I immediately turned my oven on and baked the cookies, hoping I hadn't ruined the dough. It was quite the opposite.
By allowing the dough to rest (which is done in traditional baking as much as it is in gluten-free baking) all the ingredients ended up working at the full height of their powers. The sugars retained the moisture, the flours became engorged with the liquids, and the baking powder and soda became submissive in the cold; only to express themselves with a refined calm rather than with the bubbling tumult.
When you bite into the interior, it is soft, with that slightly chewy mouth feel, and the outer most edge has that trademark crunch; it holds up just perfectly in milk, in the hands of my son, Leo, and the biggest cookie monster of all, Joe. It is my 124th chocolate chip cookie trial and it's a keeper.
2 cups 55% semi-sweet chocolate chips, like Guittard
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine all the dry ingredients, including the sugars and mix on low. With the mixer still running, add the cold, diced butter. Mix on the lowest setting for 5 minutes and the ingredients look like damp cornmeal.
Add the egg, egg yolks, milk and vanilla. Mix on high until the dough coats the sides of the bowl.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the chocolate chips. Mix just until combined.
Transfer to a glass bowl, cover with cellophane. Place in refrigerator and chill for 36 hours. Use a piece of masking tape to note the time you put the dough in the fridge and stick it to the door.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Using a retractable ice cream scoop, spoon out the dough. Stagger the dough on a sheet pan lined with a silpat, with at least 2 inches in between.
Bake for exactly 14 minutes; set and golden. If you prefer a crunchier over all cookie, bake for up to 20 minutes but not any longer lest they burn.
Makes 1 ½ dozen cookies.
When you say freshly ground oats, will a food processor be sufficient?
Karen Morgan says:
Yes, I used a food processor here. I pulsed several times and then let it rip until the oats were a fine powder. No need to pass them through a sieve as the larger pieces of quick oats break down beautifully when they are baked.