If you’ve traveled to, or live in New York City, you have probably heard of Levain Bakery and their famous chocolate chip cookies. On my last trip back east, I made a stop at the popular bakery on West 74th Street to see for myself if this was indeed the best chocolate chip cookie in the world!
Levain Bakery is rumored to have the best chocolate chip cookies in the world. Yes, in the world. Hmmmmmmm. This is a highly debatable subject. What determines if a recipe is the best recipe in the world? It’s all a matter of personal opinion and preference. Follow along and I’ll give you my observations and the results of my taste testing and baking research.
Last September, I took a trip with my oldest daughter Corrine to NYC. She was there for Fashion week and I was there for support, choosing restaurants and overall sightseeing. Levain Bakery was high on my list of places to visit this trip. We purchased each of the four types of cookies they sell. My favorite was the Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie. I Instagrammed a photo (below) of the cookie while we were in NYC and received almost 100 of comments from readers professing their love for Levain cookies, recipe requests and even comments stating a copycat recipe would be an answer to prayers! In the interest of answering prayers and helping everyone who doesn’t live close to NYC (or even those who just want a make a batch of Levain style cookies) I’m going to share my version of the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie recipe (and also the no-nut version, read end of post). But first, I’ll give you the story of how this recipe came to be…
Cut to the chase:
I know some of you probably just want the cookie recipe. If you are one of those people, skip to the bottom of this page and I’ll spare you my three thousand word essay on the who/what/why of recreating the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie. If you want the back story, here it is…
Levain Bakery was opened in 1994 by two women, Pam McDonald and Connie Weekes, who trained for triathlete/Ironman competitions together. They were often hungry after training and wanted a treat that would fill them up. During the training process they talked about creating the best chocolate chip cookie in the world. Over 20 years later, they are still baking cookies (and muffins, breads, pizza, sticky buns) and wowing New Yorkers and tourists every day. They have 3 locations, with one more on the way Spring of 2017. There is almost always a line out the door, and their locations even sport a line cam giving you a look at the length of the line. Not that a long line seems to deter anyone from buying Levain’s cookies! We visited the West 74th street location and waited in line for less than 20 minutes.
Why is the Levain Chocolate Chip Cookie so popular?
Size: Huge. 6 oz (almost half a pound) of cookie. Everything is is big and flamboyant in NYC, and Levain cookies are no exception. The cookies are enormous. If you are forking out $4 per cookie (current price), you want a cookie you can sink your teeth into. I’ve purchased big cookies in the past, only to be disappointed that the flavor didn’t match up to the size of the cookie. The Levain cookies deliver in both the size and deliciousness categories!
Texture: Perfect combination of crisp outside and incredibly gooey center. The cookie is baked at a high temperature, and mounded high, allowing the outside of the cookie to crisp up perfectly while the middle barely gets baked and creates puddles of chocolate in the cookie dough.
Hype: New Yorkers love to wait in line! No really. Anything with a long line in NYC= (usually) an experience you don’t want to miss. This isn’t a tourist-only line. New Yorkers faithfully stand in the Levain line, patiently waiting for their cookie fix.
Why recreate the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie?
Reason 1. They are delicious- See all of the above reasons. A big melty hunk of a cookie.
Reason 2. Cost- At $4 per cookie, if I lived in NYC and could run down the street to buy a cookie whenever I had a craving, it would be an easy choice. Four dollars a cookie is a reasonable price, given the size of the cookie. I mean, it’s a meal for $4. So one cookie or two or three are affordable. But when you consider you can make 8 at home for about a dollar per cookie, the make at home option starts to look very attractive.
Reason 3. Location- If you don’t live in NYC, (and who does?) I mean, only about 8 million people, but most of them don’t read this blog, which brings us to the out-of-towner option, having the cookies shipped. See reason 4.
Reason 4. Affordability of shipping: The mail order option, in my opinion, is not very affordable for most people. And who wants to wait 2 days when they have a chocolate chip cookie craving? Levain cookies are sold four to a package in the smallest package available. The least expensive shipping option (to Utah, 2 day air) will set you back approx $64 or about $16 per cookie. For two day old cookies. Gulp.
The next option is $81.50 for next day air, which is about $27 per cookie. Fairly fresh, but still a day old.
Last, but not least, next day (early) delivery is $108.50 or $34.94 PER COOKIE. Did you just pass out? I’ve eaten a lot of cookies in my lifetime. Probably more than my share. I don’t ever recall eating cookie that was worth $35 per cookie.
The shipping is what increases the price of the cookies. If you have a friend visiting NYC, having them hand deliver cookies is a sweet option. Unless they leave the cookies on the plane. Oops. See Reason 6.
Reason 5. Everyone asks for the recipe. Many of you have been to Levain, and NEED this recipe. After eating one of the Levain cookies, I knew it was my duty to create a make at home version of the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie.
Reason 6. I want to help you keep your integrity intact. These cookies are a HOT item. Don’t leave them unattended, or else. True story. My friend Maria was visiting her kids in New York last year. We were texting back and forth and talking about some of the fun restaurants and treats they were enjoying in the city, including Levain cookies. At one point, I asked her to pick up a cookie for me if she was close to the bakery again before returning home… for research purposes. Maria was kind enough to buy a few cookies, had them packaged up and carried them back on the plane to SLC in a cute little Levain Bakery bag. After she left the plane, she realized she had left the cookies onboard. Maria tried unsucessfully to re-board the plane. Her husband saw a man leave the plane with the cookies in hand. He approached the man and said “I believe that is my wife’s bag of cookies she left on the plane.” (awkward, right?) The man looked startled, but acted like they were his cookies, although he had no story to share or no retort for the insistence by Maria’s husband that they were Maria’s cookies. Picture me, reading this text from Maria, about what happened to the cookies, and saying over and over again, “OH MY GOSH” Grant thought maybe someone had passed away. No, just a cookie casualty… Maybe this gentleman did purchase the cookies, but it sounds like a possible cookie heist to me. Don’t take something that doesn’t belong to you. Just bake a batch at home instead.
Observations, baking tips and how I came up with this copycat Levain Bakery recipe…
In order to make a cookie that tastes, looks and has the same texture of the Levain cookie, I started by watching an episode of Bobby Flay’s Throwdown, where the Levain Bakery owners and Bobby Flay bake up a batch of cookies and judges pick their favorite cookie. Pam and Connie (Levain founders) show up to the throw down with their dough already made, so it was difficult to do much observing of the actual cookie making process in the video clip. I did take a look at the texture of the dough, which seems to be fairly sticky, leading me to believe there is not an excessive amount of flour in the dough. They also state a few times during the segment, they like to “keep it simple”. Bobby Flay’s cookies include Muscavado sugar and gourmet chocolate. In the end, the Levain cookies won the throw down.
The second video “Levain Bakery Pam and Connie Make Cookies” shows Pam and Connie making the cookies. They don’t show specifics, such as amounts, but I carefully watched and re watched the video several times and gathered the following:
-They use cold butter in 1 lb blocks
-The walnuts are not chopped, and don’t appear to be toasted.
-It looks like the amount of brown sugar is a bit more than the white sugar added, and the brown sugar appears to be light brown sugar, but difficult to tell the proportions of white to brown sugar, since brown sugar is usually measured in packed down amount, and the amount in the bowl does not looked packed.
-No vanilla. They also mention in the Bobby Flay video they don’t add vanilla because they think it is not needed. At first I thought WHAT? No vanilla in a cookie? But they are right. It really doesn’t add much flavor.
-Eggs, appear to be 2 per recipe, from what I can see, the butter and egg ratio per (at home) recipe would be 1/2 lb butter to 2 eggs.
-Chocolate chips. Semi sweet. About 2 cups per recipe. They add the walnuts first and pulse the dough, then add the chocolate chips last. They add the walnuts and chocolate chips after the dry ingredients have been pulsed into the wet ingredients.
-Dry ingredients. They add the dry ingredients in one big bowl, so it is difficult to tell what is in the dry ingredient portion of the recipe. I tried all purpose flour, cake flour, bread flour, a combination of bread and AP flour, a combo of cake flour and AP flour, and the AP flour by itself. I also tried baking soda, baking powder and a combination of both. Many people believe Levain Bakery includes cornstarch in their cookie, but I believe it is just plain old baking powder, which is made with a bit of cornstarch (remember the “keep it simple” quote? The cookies also seem to be on the less salty side, which is less to my liking. I’m a firm believer in salt to balance out and enhance the flavors in desserts. I think they probably use about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of salt per recipe. I always use a coarse sea salt for best taste results. I am not sure if they use salted or unsalted butter, but I always use unsalted.
-Mixing: The mixer used in the video is a large commercial grade machine. They mix the butter and sugars together first, with the mixer on low. The mixer speed is always on low, it seems. When making other chocolate chip cookies, I usually add my chocolate chips and nuts with the flour to get them coated with flour (which is supposed to help them from sinking into the bottom of the dough) but Levain just adds the walnuts and chocolate chips after mixing in the dry ingredients. They pulse the mixture several times to prevent the flour and other dry ingredients from spilling over the bowl.
-Refrigeration of dough: They don’t talk about refrigerating the dough, but there are reports of the dough being refrigerated or frozen before baking. Refrigeration of dough usually enhances the texture of the cookies, but I don’t feel it is necessary in this cookie. I have baked this recipe right out of the bowl and also refrigerated the dough before baking. You can see what will be best in your oven by baking a cookie right after mixing up. If the cookie flattens too much, refrigerate the remaining dough for 30 minutes before baking.
-Shaping: Pam and Connie talk about “no baseballs” when shaping the dough. I usually create “baseballs” by using a cookie scoop. The Levain cookie is a more rustic looking treat. They use their hands to shape the dough. I prefer to use a food handler’s glove and measure the dough out and weigh it on my trusty kitchen scale.
-Baking time and temp: I found the best temperature in my oven is 400 degrees. If I am baking on a regular setting, I bake at 400 for 11-12 minutes. If using convection, I bake for 8-9 minutes. To achieve the gooey consistency of the Levain Bakery cookie, you must take the cookie out of the oven before the center is baked.
-Cooling-an important step: The Levain cookie needs to sit on the cookie sheet for at least 15 minutes before eating. Leave the cookie on the warm cookie sheet so it can finish baking and set up. I believe the cookies are best when left to sit for about an hour after baking.
I loved this cookie at the bakery and at home. It’s definitely a cookie lover’s dream. Not to be confused with the New York Times Chocolate Chip Cookie, which is a chocolate lover’s dream, this cookie is a mini-mountain of chocolate chip cookie dough. I’m still partial to my all time favorite, ABK’s Tried and True Chocolate Chip Cookie. If you know someone who loves to eat the dough more than a baked cookie, I am guessing they will fall in love with the ABK version of the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookie. One recipe makes 8 GINORMOUS cookies. I look forward to reading your reviews…
**Update May 2017** NO-NUT VERSION**
After receiving lots of feedback on this recipe several of you have said in emails, messages through Instagram and comments on Instagram posts that your cookies are going flat. I was puzzled by this! As you can see, the cookies are HUGE balls of dough before baking. I am guessing to dough balls sit about 3 inches high. How could they flatten out after baking for such a relatively short time? When I drilled down the problem, I found the readers who were having issues with the cookies going flat were NOT adding walnuts to the recipe. I stated in the recipe notes originally – “If you are going to omit the nuts, you may want to try adding more chocolate chips and 1/4 cup of additional flour.” I should have been more specific. I didn’t want to add much more flour than the originally called for 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 cups total, because once you add too much flour it changes the texture and flavor of the end product. Apparently 1/4 cup of additional flour was not enough. I talked through this with my friend Melinda a few days ago. She mentioned something about replacing the volume of nuts in the cookies with something else. Then it hit me. To have success with this recipe the volume of the nuts had to be replaced exactly if the cookies were going to hold their shape. I experimented with adding the additional 1/4 cup of flour- 3 cups total flour (1 cup cake flour, 2 cups AP flour) and 4 cups total semi sweet chocolate chips. HOORAY! The no-nut perfect version of the Levain Bakery Chocolate Chip Cookie Copycat was born. The adjustments are in the recipe notes. I highly recommend refrigeration of dough if you do not have a convection oven. Refrigerate for 45 minutes after shaping the dough, then bake as directed. This will also help the cookies hold their shape.
One more note- The chocolate chips weight equals 14.6 oz for 2 cups, while 2 cups of whole walnuts equal 10.16 oz for 2 cups. The walnuts take up more volume, but weigh less than the chocolate chips. When measuring out the cookies made with chocolate chips only, the dough is more dense and the dough balls are smaller. I weighed out the cookies without walnuts to about 7 oz per cookie, as opposed to 6 oz for the cookies with nuts. The recipe will still yield about 8 cookies per batch!
**Update May 23, 2017 Mini Version**
The cookies can be made in a “mini” size, about 3-3.5 oz each. Perfect size for any gathering where you don’t want to make and serve cookies that are nearly 1/2 lb each! Shape as directed, then bake at 400 degrees ( I use convection bake, but you can use regular bake as well) for about 5 minutes or just until top of cookie forms a crust.
- 1 cup butter cut into tablespoons
- ¾ cup light brown sugar
- ½ cup sugar
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup cake flour
- 1½-1¾ cup all purpose flour* see notes
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 2 cups walnut halves
- 2 cups semi sweet chocolate chips* see notes
- Pre heat oven to 400 degrees and set rack in middle of oven.
- Place butter into bowl and turn mixer on low. If using a stand mixer, use the paddle attachment.
- Add sugars and beat butter until smooth on medium speed. This should take about 1 minute. Mix until the butter pieces are completely blended with the sugar and is no longer visible in pieces.
- Add the eggs and beat on medium just until incorporated with butter and sugars, about 30 seconds.
- Turn the mixer off. Add the cake flour, all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Pulse the dry ingredients on low until the wet and dry ingredients are mixed together.
- Pour the walnuts into the batter all at once. Pulse the batter 5-6 times.
- Pour the chocolate chips into the batter and pulse again 5-6 times.
- Pour the batter out onto a clean surface. Fold the dough together a few times until all of the chocolate chips and walnuts are mixed into the batter.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces about 6 oz each. Use your hands to shape cookies. Do not use a cookie or ice cream scoop. The cookies are meant to be roughly shaped. Do not flatten the dough.
- Bake 4 cookies per pan, for 11 minutes on regular bake or 400 convection bake for 8-9 minutes.
- The cookies are done when the top is a bit golden and the bottom is also golden.
- Do not over bake. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.
- To make the cookies without walnuts, see recipe notes
-I use 1 cup Cake Flour and 1¾ cup AP flour. You may try using 1½ cups AP flour. I found the dough to be too sticky. If you have issues with the cookies flattening out, use 1¾ cups flour.
-If you do not have cake flour, try using All Purpose flour. 2½ cups should work. When purchasing Cake Flour, look for it on the upper shelves of the grocery aisles. Cake Flour is usually found near the regular (All Purpose) flour, cake mixes or with other baking items.
-I buy chocolate chips in bulk and scoop my semi sweet chips out of a jar. This recipe calls for 2 cups of chocolate chips. Most bags of chocolate chips are 11-12 oz or closer to 1½ cups of chips, which will work for one recipe, no need to open another bag of chocolate chips.
-I use food handlers gloves to shape the dough, and also weigh the dough balls on a scale. Each dough ball is approx 6 oz.
-These cookies freeze extremely well. After cooling completely, place cookies in a large ziplock bag or small sandwich size bags. Place in freezer. When ready to eat, either let thaw, or wrap in paper towel and microwave for about 15-18 seconds. The cookie will not have a crisp exterior after being frozen, but will still be moist and taste fresh.
-In the recipe it says to turn the batter out onto a clean surface and mix the chocolate chips and the walnuts together by hand. I do not do this step. I add this to the recipe because it is shown in the video. I simply fold the dough a couple of times with a spatula in the bowl to make sure all of the walnuts and chocolate chips are distributed.
-Dislike walnuts? You may add additional chocolate chips or try increasing the All Purpose flour by ¼ cup.
Add 4 cups chocolate chips in place of the original 2 cups chips and 2 cups walnuts. If you omit the walnuts, you must replace with another substance that will take up mass in the cookie. Two additional cups of chocolate chips or 2-11.5 oz packages per recipe. Bake as directed. Refrigerating dough for 30-45 minutes after shaping and before baking is recommended, especially if baking in a regular bake and not a convection bake oven.