Monday, December 21, 2009

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Time can be one of your best friends when cooking. A few hours of a hands-off simmer can turn a pot of vegetables and water into a deeply flavorful soup. And an overnight slow rise can turn out loaves of home-cooked bread that can hold their own against your local artisan boulangerie. And it turns out that the same holds true for sweets. Last year, The New York Times ran an article profiling what they deemed the definitive chocolate chip cookie recipe, which the blogosphere resoundingly endorsed. The recipe seems pretty standard, with the usual players of creamed butter, brown and white sugars, flour, leavening, vanilla and chocolate. But then it instructs you to set your batter back in the refrigerator. For a full day. Or even two. The resulting cookies sport a caramel-like sophistication, handily beating out their less-mature brethren in taste tests.

Now, I'm all for richly complex baked goods. But sometimes time isn't on your side. Sometimes you want to whip up a batch of chocolate chip cookies to share with your friends who are about to board a plane (and to console yourself after their departure). But yet you still crave toffee-like layers of flavor, a step above the standard wan Tollhouse variety. At times like these, there's brown butter.

Brown butter, or beurre noisette if you're feeling French, is simply butter that's been heated until the milk solids separate out and darken. The French name translates to "hazelnut butter," which aptly describes the toasty, nutty flavor that this process imparts. It's your quickest shortcut to the deep, complex flavors that usually take hours to develop. Yes, there's a small bit of fuss. You've got to swirl the pan a bit as the butter melts, to ensure even heating, and make sure to use a light colored pot so that you can see the butter darkening, and don't miss the brief window before it becomes bitterly burnt. But isn't that easier than twiddling your thumbs for several days, while delicious cookie dough calls to you from the refrigerator with its siren song?

Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Cook's Illustrated's Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
yields 16-24 cookies, depending on the size

1 3/4 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter
1/2 cup sugar
3/4 packed brown sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/4 cups chocolate chips

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees.

Sift together flour and baking soda, set aside.

Place 10 tablespoons butter in a heavy-bottomed saucepan or skillet. Heat over medium-high until the butter melts. Continue to cook until the butter is a deep golden brown, swirling the pan constantly (~1-3 minutes). Pour thebrown butter into a large bowl, and immediately add the remaining 4 tablespoons of reserved butter. Let sit, swirling occasionally, until the remaining butter has melted.

When all the butter has melted, add the sugars, salt and vanilla to the bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the egg and egg yolk. Whisk until the mixture is smooth, ~30 seconds, and then let sit for 3 minutes. Repeat the whisking and resting two more times. The sugars will begin to dissolve, and the mixture will become thicker, shiny and lighter in color.

Stir in the flour mixture until just combined, and fold in the chocolate chips. Scoop balls of dough onto a prepared cookie sheet, using 2-3 tablespoons of dough (depending on how large you like your cookies). Bake, one sheet at a time, until the edges are beginning to get golden, but the centers are still puffy and soft (8-14 minutes, depending on cookie size and oven temperature).
Cool on a rack.


  1. I love Cook's Illustrated! I particularily love a steel cut oatmeal recipe of theirs that calls for browned butter- until I tried it, I never knew what I was missing! I've altered that recipe to be a bit healthier, but still toast the steely oats in a couple T.'s of browned butter. When all these holiday treats ate gone, I'll have to try these ultimate chocolate chips, too!

  2. Ten tablespoons of butter? Be still my heart! Literally! Interesting about leaving in the frigo, though.

  3. Woah, that last photo is calling out to me. Bookmarked!