Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

We have some friends coming into town over the next couple of months, and everybody knows that the coming of company usually sends people into a fit of cleaning. For me, it's more opportunistic than stemming from feelings of inadequacy. My productivity is nothing if not fueled by common sense: "Oh look! It finally makes sense to wipe down the baseboards in the kitchen and deep-clean the fridge."

This weekend we had every intention of scrabbling through our attached shed to find cans of paint and our rollers and a drop cloth. We meant to paint over a stain on the kitchen ceiling, and the puckered scar of some plumbing work in the guest room.

Yes, this weekend was supposed to be about painting. I can't tell you the number of weekends that have been supposed to be about painting. I think that the plumbing work (from whence came both spots) happened over a year ago, and yet here we are: mere days away from a friend's visit and no closer to painting a coat of "Misty Skies" over the guest room wall or "Ceiling White" over a part of the kitchen ceiling that hasn't been white in twelve months. We also intended to fold several baskets of clean laundry that had been lurking around our bedroom with guilt-trippy faces as we pursued a hectic course through the past few weeks, ignoring them and plucking clean clothing from them on an as-needed basis. 

Judge ye not: if you're quick to the draw in painting your house or folding your clean laundry, you can keep it to yourself. We're all happy for you.

Sunday afternoon we came home from a church picnic and tumbled directly into bed for a nap, and that was the end of any intention of painting anything besides my fingernails for the rest of the weekend. Though we procrastinated, I'm sure Chris will arrive in town for his scheduled visit to a clean house, folded and put-away laundry, and (with any luck) some painted-over spots. Though I can't promise the paint will have had time to dry. I might be rinsing a paintbrush as he pulls into our parking lot. I hope he doesn't mind the smell of fresh paint.

What I did accomplish this weekend (aside from a nap) was to stock our freezer with a batch of my very favorite chocolate chip cookies. This feels like a more pressing issue than hoping Chris won't notice that there is still a grossly obvious seam of plaster framing the man-sized square of drywall that was removed and then replaced in the guest bedroom last spring. A guest ought to be more excited about oven-fresh cookies than serene, dusk-colored walls anyway, right? I think so.

In this cookie recipe, we sprinkle the flaky salt. We chunk the chocolate. We brown the butter. And the beauty of this recipe is that it needs melted butter so there's no "waiting around for things to cool enough to whip into fluffiness" the way some recipes ask you to do. Nope. This, my friends, is the cookie I have loved for many years. I've added things and experimented with taking things away. I have bored strangers to tears, going on about the superiority of pools of chocolate vs. chips, and in the end the version I now present to you is this cookie in its best form.

In this recipe, I call for actual bars of chocolate, chopped into large chunks. You could also use high-quality wafers or fevres, like Valrhona or Guittard brand if you happen to have them on hand. For my part, I'm usually haunting the chocolate bar aisle for some Endangered Species 85% dark chocolate to throw into the bowl. Many times chocolate bars are cheaper than baking chocolate bars, because #branding. The reason I ask you to buy chocolate bars or fevres rather than chocolate chips or chocolate chunks (though they'd be okay) is that pure chocolate bars melt in a way that chocolate chips never could, with all their stabilizers. Also, you have control over the size of the chunks and I am in it for nickel-sized pools of glossy, melted dark chocolate for the flakes of Maldon to fall into, like fossils in amber. Really, the bigger the chunks, the better.

When paired with the nutty browned butter, bitter dark chocolate, and flakes of salt, the only thing that improves these cookies (to my mind) is to add chopped, toasted pecans. But I don't call for them in this recipe, knowing that many people are allergic or just do not want their chocolate chip cookies tampered with. This is my work-horse cookie recipe. If you are too lazy to brown the butter, it is good with the butter simply melted. If you want to swap in a little whole wheat flour for some of the AP, I'm not going to stop you. You can de-salt the tops if you're grumpy about the flaky salt business (like my brother). And if you absolutely had to mix in some dried tart cherries, I won't come for your head. It's kind of a mood.

These cookies are quick. They're dramatic. They're crisp on the edges and chewy in the center. You can freeze the balls of dough and bake them for out of town guests who will hopefully be so enamored with your very sexy tray of chocolate chip cookies that they won't look up at the ceiling and notice the water stain. They are my own homely, kitchen version of biomimicry. Like those butterflies with giant, eye-shaped spots on their wings to terrify would-be predators, I offer cookies to charm my guests' attention away from whatever task I decided not to accomplish after all. Usually it works.

These cookies are, in a word: delightful. Please make them instead of folding your laundry too. Then we can be twins.

Rachel's Brown Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies

makes 18-20 large cookies

2 cups plus 2 tablespoons all purpose flour (250 g.)

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

12 tablespoons butter browned, and slightly cooled (170 g.)

1 cup dark brown sugar, gently packed (220 grams)

1/2 cup natural cane sugar (100 grams)

1 egg

1 egg yolk

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

250-275 grams dark chocolate fevres, discs, or large chunks from chopped bars

Flaky salt for sprinkling on top

Olive oil* (please see note below)

  1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

  2. In a low saucepan melt the butter and brown it over medium-low heat till a caramel, noisette color. Remove from the heat and cool slightly.

  3. In a large bowl, mix together the browned butter with brown sugar and cane sugar. Add in egg, yolk, and vanilla and mix well.

  4. In a smaller bowl, mix together flour, baking soda, and kosher salt. Add this to the butter mixture and mix well.

  5. Drop in all of the large chunks of dark chocolate and mix gently until combined. Scoop into balls about the size of a ping-pong ball and arrange with generous space between on a sheet tray. I like to limit myself to 5 or 6 to a tray. It keeps the cookies from spreading together, or touching the edges of the pan. Sprinkle with a few flakes of salt. (at this stage you can freeze the cookie dough balls, or continue on till step #6. If freezing, allow them to freeze on a tray before storing in a ziplock bag. To bake from frozen, I like to arrange them on a tray as the oven heats up so they thaw a little bit.)

  6. Place trays in the oven and bake for 15-18 minutes or until golden brown on top, but still soft.

  7. Allow the cookies to cool on the tray. Because we have aimed for pools of chocolate, these cookies are happiest if allowed to cool completely before removing them from the tray. If this isn’t possible in your kitchen, allow them to cool for at least 10 minutes before gently moving to a parchment-covered cooling rack.

 *baker’s note: after browning the butter, weigh or measure it again. It should still be around 170 grams’ worth. If it measures significantly less due to evaporation (this sometimes happens with lower quality butter due to higher water content, I’m guessing?) I like to top it off with some olive oil to come back to 170 grams - olive oil and dark chocolate are a classic flavor pairing and play very well with the brown butter if you find yourself shy of the mark!

1 comment

  1. I did finally do all my chores on Saturday instead of letting them also spill to Sunday, delusionally thinking Sunday would be a creative day in a freshly cleaned house with lots of reading maybe some crafts, etc. Instead since I had zero energy, all I did was hop from book to book, lounge on the couch and dump all my largish fabric stash on my just picked up (ish) floor. . . where it's still sitting.

    I want those cookies! It will be a minute before I can try them. And then I will have to gather enough wherewithal and energy to make them.