Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

It’s not overstating a fact to call the chocolate chip cookie iconic and there’s a reason they’re the first to go from any conference room buffet leaving only decoy oatmeal raisin and lackluster plain sugar to be last picks. Chocolate chip cookies are flipping delicious – sweet, a bit salty, and if the baker isn’t stingy with the chocolate pieces they can be downright decadent (hello fellow Levain devotees.)

I started my baking career with the classic yellow-bag Toll House recipe only daring to add an extra half teaspoon of vanilla or quarter cup of chips for fear of risking cookie meltdown. Today, I’m proud to say that while that version remains the bedrock of my kitchen memories I’ve found the courage to branch out a bit and explore.

There can never be enough chocolate chip cookies which means the search for the perfect recipe is ongoing. First with a Tara O’Brady’s recipe that toyed with both the brown sugar:white sugar ratio and included melted butter.* Now with this challenger from the very talented Joy Wilson, better known as Joy The Baker, we’re trying browned butter and now a third sugar ratio. All in the name of science, of course.

*Since I never plan quite far enough ahead; room temperature butter is always my downfall, so this was a major development.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (yield: about 3 dozen cookies)

Ingredients:
1 cup (2 sticks) room temperature unsalted butter, divided
1 cup light brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon molasses
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg
1 large egg yolk
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups roughly chopped bittersweet chocolate chips
flaked sea salt, to sprinkle on top

Instructions:
Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place half the butter (1 stick) in a medium heavy-bottomed skillet; stainless steel or light colored will help you track the progress of the butter more easily. Melt the butter over medium-low heat, swirling the pan occasionally. The butter will foam as it cooks, and start to crackle and pop. Once the crackling stops, keep a close watch, continuing to swirl the pan often. The butter will start to smell nutty, and brown bits will form in the bottom, about 5-7 minutes. Once the bits are the color of wildflower honey remove from the heat and immediately pour it into a small bowl, bits and all. This will stop the butter from cooking and burning. Set aside to cool for 20 minutes.

Beat the remaining 1 stick room temperature butter and brown sugar together with an electric mixer for 3 to 5 minutes, until the mixture is very smooth. Next, beat in the vanilla extract and molasses.

Pour the cooled brown butter into the bowl, along with the granulated sugar. Beat for 2 minutes, until smooth; the mixture will lighten to the color of pale sand and become fluffy. Add the egg and egg yolk, and beat for one more minute.

Sift the flour, salt, and baking soda into the butter mixture, beating on low speed just until everything is incorporated. Use a spatula to fold in the chocolate chips by hand and finish incorporating all of the dry ingredients.

Turn the dough out onto a piece of parchment paper, waxed paper, or plastic wrap. Flatten it slightly into a thick disk, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. About 15 minutes before you’re ready to begin baking, place racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat your oven to 350°F.

Break the dough up into equal pieces – about 2 tablespoons worth - and roll into balls between your hands. Place the balls of dough on the prepared baking sheets leaving 2-inches of space between them so they have room to spread as they bake.

Sprinkle the top of the cookies with flaked sea salt – according to your taste**.

Bake the cookies in the pre-heated oven for 12 to 15 minutes, rotating the sheet pan halfway through, until they’re golden brown. Remove from the oven, and allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet (5 minutes or so) before moving them.

Serve warm; or cool completely, and store airtight at room temperature for several days. For longer storage, wrap well and freeze.

**Note on Sea Salt: I made these cookies both with and without the sprinkling of sea salt on top and found that without it they were a little under-seasoned. If you don’t plan to use it then I’d add a bit salt more to the dough itself to keep the cookies from tasting flat.

Lightly adapted and rewritten from Joy the Baker’s The Best Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
For a cookie recipe, yes. I used one large mixing bowl, medium stainless steel skillet, an electric hand mixer, two rimmed baking sheets, mesh sieve (optional), measuring cups and spoons, a rubber spatula, metal spatula, small cutting board and a chef’s knife.

The Verdict:
How could these cookies possibly be anything other than AMAZING? Normally I resist trends like sprinkling sea salt on everything or constantly browning butter, but in this case these little additions to the process offer so much flavor and depth that it would be miserly to keep them from you. I baked a batch when a friend was visiting from out of town and after a bite or two I started to wonder whether we shouldn’t have just skipped the whole dinner business and gone straight to dessert. Well done, Ms. Wilson.

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Browned Butter Chocolate Chip Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

New York Black + White Cookies

New York Black and White Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

New York Black and White Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

New York can lay claim to a number of iconic foods, thin crust pizza, cheesecake, bagels, and the black + white cookie. They’re found in most bodegas, grocery stores, and delis – anywhere with a bakery case, and like many things in New York, the black + white cookie requires some explanation to be fully understood and appreciated.

First, the texture is soft and fluffy like cake, not crisp or crunchy, and that’s on purpose. In my research travels I learned that this unique quality probably springs from thrifty bakers making use of leftover cake batter and turning it into an alternate product to reduce waste.

Second, there’s lots of debate over the frosting consistency, but typically it’s firm and smooth, not quite fondant and certainly thicker than icing. The type of dense, almost fudgy frosting that holds its shape once it has set and stays put even after a bite. When I see swirls or frosting that looks smoosh-able I avoid.

Third, black + whites are always frosted on the flat side. That’s right once baked, the cookies are turned bottom side up leaving the slightly curved dome underneath like the hull of a boat.

I rediscovered these cookies after a long hiatus when we moved to the city a few years ago – Upstate when I was a kid we called them “half-moon cookies” but here in the city they go by the more straightforward “black + white” – and it’s been true love ever since (both city and cookie.)

New York Black and White Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

New York Black and White Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

Three-Bite NYC Black + White Cookies (yield: 2 dozen cookies)

Cookie Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 1/4 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 large egg, at room temperature
1/3 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Vanilla Icing Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 teaspoons water
1/8 teaspoon salt

Chocolate Icing Ingredients:
1 1/2 cups confectioner's sugar, sifted
6 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted
1/2 teaspoon instant espresso powder
4 teaspoons light corn syrup
3 tablespoons water
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt

Instructions:
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

In a small bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

In a medium mixing bowl, beat the room temperature butter and sugar until creamy with a hand mixer. Add in the vanilla extract and egg and mix until well combined. Scrape down the bowl.

Add a third of the flour mixture at a time alternating with the buttermilk. Mix on low speed until just combined. The batter will be thick, fluffy, and pale yellow.

Use a cookie scoop or pastry bag to portion the cookies spacing them 1 inch apart on the prepared baking sheets.

Note on Portion: The cookies spread a bit and puff up. A 1 tablespoon portion of batter will yield a cookie about 1.5 inches in diameter.

Bake the cookies at 350 degrees F. for 6 to 8 minutes, or until the tops spring back when pressed gently and the cookies are a light golden brown around the edges. Cool completely before icing.

While the cookies are cooling, prepare the vanilla icing by whisking the confectioner’s sugar, corn syrup, water, vanilla, and salt together until very smooth. Do the same in a separate bowl for the chocolate icing, whisking together the confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, corn syrup, water, vanilla extract, salt.

The icing should be thin enough that it is easily spreadable, but not runny. If it seems dry, add water 1/2 teaspoon at a time; if it’s too thin, add confectioner’s sugar 1 tablespoon at a time.

Flip the cooled cookies so their flat sides are up. Use an offset spatula or piping bag to spread vanilla icing on half of the cookies, allow the icing set for a few minutes, then spread chocolate icing on the other half.

Store the cookies in an airtight container between sheets of parchment paper at room temperature for up to two days.

Re-written and lightly adapted from Yossy Arefi’s Mini Black & White Cookies via Food52.

New York Black and White Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

New York Black and White Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes, for a frosted cookie they’re relatively low-maintenance. I used a medium mixing bowl, small mixing bowl, electric hand mixer, two rimmed baking sheets, measuring cups and spoons as well as a rubber spatula, cookie scoop, offset spatula, and wire whisk.

The Verdict:
I made these for a friend and was delighted to learn that they’re her favorite cookie and were served at her wedding. They received G’s stamp of approval, which is high praise. This particular recipe is my ideal, made from simple, easily sourced ingredients. Deep, dark bittersweet chocolate married to sweet vanilla frosting on top of a cloud-like cake. Sublime and an excellent recipe to keep for the days when a black + white might not be a trip to the corner away.

New York Black and White Cookie  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

New York Black and White Cookie | Image: Laura Messersmith

Winter Woodland Gingerbread Cookies

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies | Image: Laura Messersmith

When I was growing up my siblings and I would spend most of the afternoon on Christmas Eve rolling dough and making cutout cookies. My sister and I traded off who used the rolling pin to prepare a new patch of dough while my brother plotted his next move – would it be the evergreen tree, the star, maybe the random chicken shaped cutter (an old-fashioned tin one with a red painted handle) that we insisted on using despite it’s non existent connection to the holiday at hand? My mother mainly left us to our own devices, occasionally taking a pass through the room to check on our progress.

We continued that tradition every year up until a year or so ago when we began spending holidays with our respective in-laws, and now I’m continuing in my own way. Much to my father’s chagrin we were dedicated to plain sugar cookies when I was a kid, but I’ve since realized the error in judgment and have turned my attention to these spicy, gingery cookies chewy with molasses and dark brown sugar.

The cookies are wonderful plain - complex with plenty of cinnamon, ginger and cloves – but a light layer of icing makes them festive and transforms some of my brown bears and foxes into their arctic cousins. Plus, who can resist snowy vanilla frosting or a sparkle of coarse sugar at Christmas?

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies (yield*: 50-60 medium cookies)

Ingredients:
6 cups all purpose flour, plus more for work surface
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons ground ginger
4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1 cup packed dark-brown sugar
2 large eggs at room temperature
1 cup unsulfured molasses
Vanilla Icing (recipe below)
Decorative sugar (I used Sugar in the Raw Organic Cane)

Instructions:
Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, spices and salt in a large bowl and set aside.

In a separate large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer) beat butter and brown sugar together with an electric hand mixer until fluffy. Add in one egg at a time and then the molasses until well combined. (A light coating of non-stick spray inside the liquid measuring cup will make pouring the molasses much easier.)

Slowly add in the flour mixture, mixing on low until just combined. The dough should still have streaks of flour and look a little dusty. Finish mixing by hand making sure to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. The texture will be quite sticky and almost fluffy.

Divide dough into thirds pat each portion into a flat disk about 1 inch thick and wrap each in plastic. Refrigerate until cold and firm, about one hour or up to two days.

When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees F and line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.

Roll the dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 1/4-inch thick. Even after chilling, the dough will remain semi-soft and pliable, and the cookies will puff up and spread slightly when baked, so cutters with minimal fine detail are best.

Cut into shapes of your choice and place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Gather the scraps and re-roll until all the dough is used.

Refrigerate the cut cookies again for about 15 minutes. Bake cookies until crisp but not dark, 12 to 14 minutes. Place the baking sheets on wire racks and cool.

Allow the cookie sheets to return to room temperature before placing the next batch of cut cookies.

When the cookies are cool, decorate with icing and sprinkles. Once the icing is set, store cookies between layers of parchment or waxed paper in an airtight container for up to a week.

*Yield Notes: 50 medium/large cookies (moose, reindeer, fawns, bears, foxes), 22 small cookies (hedgehogs, squirrels)

Rewritten and slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen’s Spicy Gingerbread Cookies a version of Martha Stewart’s Gingerbread Snowflakes

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies | Image: Laura Messersmith

Vanilla Icing (yield: about 2 1/2 cups icing)

Ingredients:
6 cups confectioner’s sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 teaspoons light corn syrup
1/2 teaspoon table salt
1/2 cup, plus 1 tablespoon skim milk
Food coloring (optional)

Instructions:
In a large mixing bowl, sift the confectioner’s sugar through a fine mesh sieve to remove any lumps. Next add the vanilla extract, corn syrup, salt, and food coloring, if using.

Pour in 1/4 cup of the skim milk and mix on low speed with an electric hand mixer. Consistency will be very thick. Add remaining milk 1-2 teaspoons at a time until the icing reaches your desired consistency. Thicker if you plan to spread with a knife or spatula, a bit thinner if you plan to pipe.

When the cookies are cool, ice with a piping bag or small offset spatula. Sprinkle with decorative sugars.

Adapted from Bon Appetit’s icing as described in New England Molasses Gingerbread Cookies.

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies | Image: Laura Messersmith

Decoration Ideas
I did a combination of all over sugar, piping, full icing, and full icing + sugar for the truly hummingbird inclined. This had the dual effect of giving me the appearance of both arctic animals and creatures from more temperate climates. The icing recipe described above was enough to do about half with full icing, if you want every cookie to be fully covered I'd double it.

If you’d like to achieve the un-iced, all-over sugar effect place an even layer of white granulated sugar or sanding sugar in a plate. Lightly press the top of the un-baked cookie into the sugar and then chill and bake as usual.

Some hints on piping the outline, which I learned from watching cookie artist Patti Page on an episode of Barefoot Contessa. (some of her work) Rather than touching the tip of the piping bag to the cookie, instead hover the piping bag just above the surface letting the strand of icing fall onto the cookie and moving the piping bag along slowly (maintaining even pressure), so that the strand of icing drags behind just slightly. To adjust your position, turn a corner, or catch the details, tap the point down. Think connect the dots except you’re creating both the dot and the line between with the icing. You can watch her demonstrate here.

This is also useful if you’re looking for sharp icing edges. Pipe the outline first let it set a bit, then fill in the middle with an offset spatula or more piped icing. More coloring book than connect the dots.

Edited to Add: If you're looking for the specific cookie cutters I used the Drommar set from Ikea (via Amazon) and these two additional fawn and reindeer cutters by R&M (also via Amazon.)

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Potentially, with strict organization. The tricky part is during the baking/cooling stage. Do this in batches over the course of a day if you have to. For equipment I used two large mixing bowls, an electric hand mixer, rubber spatula, mixing spoon, liquid and dry measuring cups to mix the dough. You’ll also cookie cutters (or use biscuit cutters, the rim of a glass, any shape that appeals) need two rimmed baking sheets, wire cooling racks (or an elevated trivet), parchment paper, and plastic wrap.

For the icing I washed and reuse one of the large bowls, the electric hand mixer, measuring cups. Add in a sieve and an offset spatula, or piping bag set. Toothpicks will help with fine detail work.

The Verdict:
This is everything I could hope for in a gingerbread cookie and has more than earned its place in my Christmas cookie line-up. Spiciness that holds it's own against even the heaviest layer of icing, texture that miraculously balances the tricky tipping point between chewy and crisp. They filled the apartment with Christmas-y warmth only holiday baking and crazy whimsical cookie cutouts can. Yes, I probably spent more time than is healthy decorating, but that's half the fun, right? Definitely make these and watch them fly off the platter, that is if anyone can stand to eat something so adorable.

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

Woodland Gingerbread Cookies | Image: Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt  | Image:  Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

In the world of herbs and flavorings mint gets the short end of the stick; relegated to chewing gum, left in the cut-glass dish long after the strawberry candies with the soft centers have been sifted out, candy canes gone chewily humidified with neglect while the chocolate orange gets all the glory.

It’s a crime because mint is so lovely – think about it: a Thin Mint would just be a dry cookie coated in waxy chocolate without that mentholated breeze. Perhaps I'm biased because it’s one of my favorite flavors, but I was pleased to see one of my favorite bloggers, Ashley Rodriguez of Not Without Salt, give it some love in the form of the White Chocolate Peppermint Cookie. Rather than make the humble starlight mint an ironic punchline she’s treated them with respect surrounding their red and white striped freshness with a cast of players that lets their virtues shine. Cool and energizing with a foundation of smooth sweetness and a top note of vanilla scented salt. Perfect for a festive holiday occasion and a lovely send-off for any stray candy cane.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt (yield 18 to 24 cookies)

Ingredients:
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter at room temperature
3/4 cup plus, 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar (aka Sugar in the Raw)
1 egg at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup white chocolate chips
1/4 cup roughly crushed peppermint candies (or candy canes)
2 tablespoons vanilla sea salt (store bought or homemade, recipe below)

Instructions:
In a medium mixing bowl or in the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and all three sugars together on medium speed, until smooth and light in texture, about 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add the egg and vanilla to the bowl and mix well to combine. Again, stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl with a spatula as needed.

In a separate medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking soda, and salt together.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the dry ingredients. Mix until streaks of flour still run throughout and the dough just comes together. Stir the crushed peppermint candies and white chocolate chips in by hand, taking care to make sure everything is evenly distributed.

For best results, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for 24 hours. Resting the dough intensifies the caramel flavors, and the texture of the baked cookie improves.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 360 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. Scoop the dough into 1 inch portions and roll lightly between your hands into balls. Tap the top of the cookies into a shallow dish of vanilla salt and place onto the baking sheets spaced about 1 1/2 – 2 inches apart. Once the cookies are formed, chill again on the baking sheet for 5-10 minutes to allow them to firm up again.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Rotate the sheets halfway through if the cookies appear to be baking unevenly. The cookies should be lightly golden on the outside but still look quite gooey on the inside. Allow the cookies to cool for 5-10 minutes before moving to a wire rack to finish cooling.

These are best eaten the day of baking but will keep, if well sealed, for up to 2 days.

Rewritten and very slightly adapted from Ashley Rodriguez’s White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt via Food52.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

Homemade Vanilla Sea Salt (yield 3/4 cup)

Ingredients:
3/4 cup flaked sea salt
1 vanilla bean

Instructions:
Place the sea salt in a small bowl. Next, split the vanilla bean lengthwise with a small paring knife. Run the tip of the knife along the interior of each half to scrape out the small black seeds. Add the vanilla seeds to the sea salt and rub together with your fingers to combine. Transfer the vanilla salt to an air tight jar or container. Tuck the empty vanilla bean pods into a mason jar of granulated sugar to get started on your next project… Vanilla Infused Sugar! The sea salt can be used right away or saved indefinitely.

Rewritten from Joy the Baker’s DIY Vanilla Salt.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith

Small Kitchen Friendly?
Yes! I used two medium mixing bowls, a stand mixer (a hand mixer would work too), two rimmed baking sheets, a rubber spatula, measuring cups and spoons, and a 1 tablespoon cookie scoop. A small dish to roll the cookies in vanilla salt is helpful, as is a heavy rolling pin, a zip top bag (for breaking up the candy pieces), and parchment paper. If you're also making the vanilla salt, then you'll also need a small bowl, small cutting board, and a paring knife along with an airtight storage container.

The Verdict:
I made these cookies for our annual holiday party and based on the small amount left on the platter at the end of the night I’d say they were a success. I love the bracing chill of peppermint in any form - as evidenced by my hunt for the best Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream - and here it’s perfectly complimented by the caramel sweetness of the dough and the white chocolate pieces. All that sugar could get cloying if not for the finishing edge of the vanilla salt. Vanilla on it’s own isn’t necessarily sweet and with the briny sea salt it does its work as an amplifier and keeps these cookies just this side of too much.

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt   | Image:   Laura Messersmith

White Chocolate Peppermint Cookies with Vanilla Salt | Image: Laura Messersmith