Brown butter is game-changing in these chocolate chip cookies
FARGO — Due to last week’s blizzard and no travel advisory, I had to switch gears and produce a recipe using only ingredients I already had on hand. There’s no better time than a blizzard to play with chocolate chip cookies, and thankfully I had everything I needed to make what I like to call the World’s Second-Best Chocolate Chip Cookie.
My all-time favorite chocolate chip cookies are Clipper Chippers (featured on Feb. 11, 2014), which are the gourmet heavyweight of chocolate chip cookies. They’re also expensive and time-consuming to make, requiring three different kinds of nuts, two liqueurs and dough that needs 24 hours of refrigeration before baking.
For these reasons, I set out last year to find a recipe for a chocolate chip cookie that could rival the Clipper Chipper, using simple pantry ingredients that are affordable and easy to find in most supermarkets. Last summer, I stumbled upon a gem from Bon Appetit magazine called Brown Butter and Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies and, after a few modifications, my quest was complete.
Unlike a typical chocolate chip cookie in which the butter and sugar are creamed together with a mixer, this recipe begins by browning the butter — a simple process of melting it over medium heat until it turns a lovely, golden brown, which takes about five to eight minutes. The brown butter gives the cookies a rich and nutty flavor, and also helps the cookies spread as they bake, creating wonderfully crisp edges.
Toffee bits are another key flavor component in the cookies, and you can use packaged toffee bits with milk chocolate or chop up two candy bars like Heath or Skor.
Instead of chocolate chips, the original recipe calls for high-quality chocolate wafers (also called pistoles, fèves or disks) and Bon Appetit recommends using a variety that is 72% cacao. According to the magazine, “using chocolate wafers instead of chips is a cookie game-changer,” because they “tend to melt more evenly and smoothly” than chips.
Chocolate wafers are different from the melting chocolate disks available in most supermarkets; in fact, I couldn’t find the wafers anywhere in Fargo-Moorhead. I eventually ordered some online but was discouraged by their high price, which ranged from $12 to $20 for about 12 ounces of chocolate. For this cookie quest, I really wanted affordable, easy to find ingredients, but I ordered the wafers anyway because I had to see for myself if they were, indeed, a game-changer.
I’ve made these cookies for a variety of crowds — old, young, family, friends, strangers — using the expensive chocolate wafers, as well as a high-quality chocolate chip, like Guittard or Ghirardelli, that are easy to find in most grocery stores for about $4 to $5 per package. On two occasions, I’ve had friends and family sample both versions of cookies to see if there was any argument to be made for using the wafers. While each cookie was deemed delicious, both groups voted unanimously in favor of the cookies made with chips versus wafers.
You can use whatever kind of chocolate you prefer, because the real game-changer of these cookies is the brown butter. These crowd-pleasing Brown Butter and Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies are easy to make, special enough for any occasion and decadently delicious.
Chocolate Chip Cookies with Brown Butter & Toffee
Makes: about 30 cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, unsalted
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¾ teaspoon salt (skip if using salted butter)
1 cup brown sugar, packed (light or dark)
1/3 cup white sugar
2 large or extra-large eggs, room temperature
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
½ cup milk chocolate toffee bits (equal to two ¼-ounce Heath or Skor bars, chopped into bits)
1¼ cups semisweet chocolate chips
¼ cup milk chocolate chips
In a medium saucepan, cook the butter over medium to medium-low heat, stirring often, until it becomes a light golden brown, about 6 to 8 minutes. The butter will crackle and foam before browning; watch carefully, as once the butter starts to brown, it will darken quickly.
Once golden brown, remove the saucepan from the heat and pour the butter into a large mixing bowl. Let cool at room temperature for 5 minutes.
In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and salt; set aside.
Add the brown and white sugars to the mixing bowl with the browned butter. Use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or a hand-held mixer, to beat the butter and sugar together on medium speed until incorporated, about 1 minute. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat on medium-high speed until the mixture becomes light, fluffy and thick, about 1 minute. Add the flour mixture and beat on low speed just until combined.
Use a wooden spoon or spatula to mix in the toffee bits and chocolate chips until fully incorporated. Cover bowl with a tea towel and let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. The dough will thicken as it sits.
Once the dough has rested, use it immediately or refrigerate for up to 3 days. Bring dough to room temperature before baking.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Use an ice cream scoop (I use 1 ½-inch) to drop the cookie dough onto the baking sheet, spacing the cookies 2 inches apart. Do not press and flatten as the cookies will spread as they bake. Bake in the center of the oven until the cookies are golden brown and the center is just slightly soft, about 9 to 12 minutes. Let the cookies cool on the hot sheet for 10 minutes, then transfer to wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough.
To store: Store cookies in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week.
To freeze unbaked cookies: Once you’ve filled a baking sheet with the scooped cookies, place the sheet in the freezer until the cookies are hard, about 1 hour. Transfer to a plastic bag or airtight container and freeze for several months. Cookies may go straight from the freezer to the oven, allowing for a few extra minutes of baking time if necessary.
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine’s recipe for Brown Butter and Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies.
“Home with the Lost Italian” is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owned Sarello’s in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at email@example.com.