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Levain on a Jet Plane

by on May 15, 2008 · 48 comments

The cookies finally made it!  They came via USPS express mail and not Fed-Ex, so they were out in the mailbox at the front of the neighborhood. They must be tired from all that traveling — NYC via Charlotte to Austin.

There are four cookies — two chocolate cookies, an oatmeal cookie and a chocolate chip. The chocolate and oatmeal are going straight into the freezer.  As for the chocolate chip….

Levain Cookies wrapped

….here’s a close-up.

Levain Cookie Close-Up

And here’s the cross section.

Levain cookie cross-section

To jog your memory, here’s a cross section of the copy cat cookies.

Copy

Assessment: The Levain cookies are better than the copy cats despite the fact that they are 2 days old. This blows my theory that people who don’t like the cookies have been getting older cookies because even the old cookies are good. I went ahead and microwaved a section and that made the cookies taste even better. 

The fact that they are still good on Day 2 plus the flavor and brown color makes me think they don’t have baking powder at all, thought I’m still not sure about that. 

They’re really heavy and dense and there’s more of a contrast between the shell and the center than there is in the copy cats. 

I don’t taste anything out of the ordinary, thought the walnuts add a lot of flavor.  And even though there’s no vanilla, the cookies aren’t lacking. At this point, I think the copy cat is similar, but it’s not quite the same.  Back to the old drawing board.

 At least it’s nice to know there are other people working on this important project and that we have a pretty close copy cat (thanks, Lisa).  And thanks to Dawn for sending me these! 

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Published on May 15, 2008

{ 48 comments… read them below or add one }

Lisa Ernst May 15, 2008 at 4:06 pm

At last — your review! I was really wondering whether you would like them and if the copy cats came close. The photo of the Levian does look quite similar to your most recent copy cat, but different from the one Katrina contributed, which seemed stuffed full of chocolate chips. Maybe that varies from batch to batch. Thanks for all the blogging fun with these cookies over the last few months. Now to schedule my trip to New York….

Erin Mylroie May 15, 2008 at 4:31 pm

Anna:
Do you think it’s possible that they use citric acid to give them a little longevity?

Jane May 15, 2008 at 4:42 pm

I really can’t take much more of these Levian cookies and keep holding out. I think I know where part of my economic stimulus payment is going!

VeggieGirl May 15, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Those cookies look so tantalizing – heavy and dense is the best kind of cookie! :0)

Anna May 15, 2008 at 4:56 pm

Lisa, you are right. This cookie wasn’t really packed with chocolate chips. It did have a lot of walnuts. Hope your NYC trip plans are coming along nicely ;).

Erin, that’s an interesting idea. I was thinking more along the lines of cream of tartar since cream of tartar is 1) an acid and 2) a leavening and on the show the ladies said “leavenings”. I’ve never heard citric acid referred to as a leavening, but maybe it does act as a leavening since it’s an acid and it would react with the baking soda. Hmmmmm.

Jane, that’s a good idea. Put part of your stimulous check towards cookies. Stimulate the economy and your pancreas.

VG, these are definitely dense.

Clumbsy Cookie May 15, 2008 at 5:00 pm

Oh I thought I was going to bed before seeing it (6 hours ahead I think)! After beeing looking at my computer screen with a stupid face for a while now I came to the conclusion that if I was given the choice beteween that cookie or your last copycat I would choose yours. The cookie looks wonderfully dense (I like that), but the yellowness from your is more appealing to me. Or maybe that’s just the light, but the original must have less eggs or something… They also look rawish in the middle, but i’m not saying that in a bad way. Now I need some sleep i’ll check back tomorrow and i’ll defenetly check those cookies in december when i go to ny! Can’t wait! Rita

Janice May 15, 2008 at 6:52 pm

Anna,
Have you tried fooling around with Deryl Bear’s recipe?

http://www.floras-hideout.com/recipes/recipes.php?page=recipes&data=b/Bear_Chocolate_Chip_Cookies

It produces a similar (at least similar looking) cookie.*
*As the recipe is written it makes my fav. ever CCC.
Janice

Anna May 15, 2008 at 6:59 pm

Janice, thanks! I have never tried that one. It has a lot less flour, so it seems like it might spread a bit more. Then again, maybe Deryl measures flour by scooping and sweeping. I will play around with it and see what happens.

Deryl’s recipe cooks at 400 which would make the cookies brown quickly and have a harder outside, but the Levain girls said they baked at 350 for 20 minutes.

Janice May 15, 2008 at 8:17 pm

Anna,
I think the chill time offsets the high temp, and the way he shapes them keeps down the spread.
This has been my T&T recipe since Sunset first published it in 1988 or so.
Janice

Therese B. May 15, 2008 at 8:30 pm

Hi Anna:

BIG..BIG…SIGH! I was in a NYC trip contest (a finalist), and I didn’t get to the final round. I was going to visit the Levain bakery.
DARN….SO CLOSE!!!!

I think it is ironic that you ordered these cookies! Keep trying on the recipe!!

Also…I found another cookie website(a mom & daughter team), that was in our local Wednesday food section. Here is the name…jennieandverascookies.com They are based out of Barrington, Illinois. There cookies have some interesting combos/names and flavors..interesting to see if THOSE could be duplicated…hmmmm??

Also, I am involved with a radio station here…WVBO.COM They are auctioning off a Fender guitar with the autographs of The Beach Boys, Tommy James, Three Dog Night..ALL proceeds will be donated to our local Juvenile Diabetes Fund. I hope it is okay to mention this here. I don’t know what the etiquette is for this??? Hope it’s alright?!

Thank you for the thoughts on the latest Levain
cookie!!

Katrina May 15, 2008 at 9:20 pm

I’m glad you like the Levain cookie, Anna, and even two day old ones! That is interesting that the cookie I bought was chock full of chips and yours doesn’t look like it has nearly as many. I loved mine with so much chocolate in it. I did buy two of the CCC and the second one didn’t have AS many as the first.
My only “issue” with your latest copy cat (the one in the picture) was that when I made them, they were great that day, but I thought they were really dry the next day. This Levain stays moist, gooey, doughy, whatever. Maybe it was just me and the batch I made.
I’m not good enough at this to figure out what the secret “magic fairy dust” is, but can’t wait to try all the experiments!
SO happy you’ve finally tasted the cookie and get to savor the other three. Let me know what you think of that oatmeal one.
Gonna have to give that one a try that Janice gave the link to!

eva May 16, 2008 at 7:33 am

Hmmm, I think based on the cross-section of the day-old Levain that they might melt some or all of their butter either during assembly OR cranking up the oven temp so it essentially melts the butter quickly and caramelizes the tops. There’s something deliciously dense and brownie-ish about the Levain texture profile (hence my thoughts about the melted butter). It’s time to pull in Harold McGee! :)

Anna May 16, 2008 at 7:42 am

Eva, I was thinking the same thing. However, on the episode of Throwdown, they showed them dumping cubed butter into the bowl. As for the cooking at a high temperature, they mentioned 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. So I don’t know….

stacey May 16, 2008 at 8:33 am

wow, 20 minutes. so how did they scoop them out on to the baking pans? doesn’t look like a nice ice cream scoop, but maybe a spoon was used?

I think you may be right on the cream of tartar. I was going to suggest crisco as it looks more pie-ish than cookieish, but I guess it had cubed butter. Wonder what kind it was.

Anna May 16, 2008 at 8:38 am

Stacey, I might test with cream of tartar this morning.

When they put the dough on the pans, they just shaped it into big mounds. Nothing fancy.

PaniniKathy May 16, 2008 at 9:31 am

Good to know the mail order option is viable – I don’t think I can wait till my December trip to NYC to try these!

Anna May 16, 2008 at 9:35 am

I just baked a batch using bread flour and cream of tartar. I’m not sure the cream of tartar does anything. I not sure the cream of tartar does anything, but the bread flour seems to make a difference. The cookies, even without being chilled, were much lumpier. I’m waiting for them to cool completely before cutting open.

judi0044 May 16, 2008 at 9:51 am

Waiting to see when you cut the latest ones open. I agree with Clumbsy Cookie in that the copy cat looked more well-done. Maybe it’s just the lighting.

Lisa Ernst May 16, 2008 at 10:09 am

Is it possible the Levain cookie doesn’t contain eggs? I don’t remember the Flay episode when they were making the cookies, but I’m not an egg eater, so I often omit eggs when I make cookies. They tend to be more dense and gooey inside if I don’t bake too long.

Anna May 16, 2008 at 10:54 am

Lisa, I vaguely remember them adding eggs.

Anyway. Guess what. I just made a new batch with bread flour and baking soda ONLY — no powder or cream of tartar and the cookies not only rose just as high as the ones with powder, but maybe a little higher. They’re cooling now.
I also used European butter and did not toast the walnuts.

So at the moment, the recipe is something like this (small batch)

Big Fat Copy Cat Cookies

2 ounces unsalted European Style butter, room temperature
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
3 tablespoons DARK brown sugar
1 3/4 tablespoons beaten egg
3/4 cups BREAD flour (3 1/4 oz)
1/8 plus 1/16 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup coarsely chopped, UNTOASTED walnuts

In a mixing bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars just until creamy. Don’t overbeat. Add the egg and beat just until incorporated.

Stir together flour, salt and baking soda. When thoroughly mixed, add to batter and stir just until blended. Stir in chocolate chips and nuts

Shape dough into large mounds. Bake on ungreased cookie sheet for 20 minutes. Cool on sheet.

Note: I went back and weighed the mounds and they were about 6 oz each — smaller than Levain’s, but close enough!

Nancy May 16, 2008 at 11:18 am

Not sure if you’ve seen this episode yet, but look for the Throwdown with Bobby Flay espisode regarding Chocolate Chip Cookies. It might help with the cracking of the recipe because the ladies go through the whole recipe.

Anna May 16, 2008 at 11:48 am

The tester batch (above) was very good. At this point, having had cookies for lunch, I’m maxed out and all the cookies are starting to taste the same. So I’m going to stop now and let someone else try.

But here are some thoughts.

The European style butter may or may not matter, but I used it in the previous batch with good results.

Dark brown sugar added a lot of flavor and made up for the lack of vanilla.

Bread flour made for crunchy shells with soft centers. For the tester batch, I weighed out 3 1/4 oz which is about 3/4 cup (see above).

Leavening. I do not think there’s any baking powder in the recipe. If there were baking powder, the cookies wouldn’t be so dark. All the versions made with baking powder were crumblier and lighter in color. The baking soda only version rose just fine and (didn’t spread much).

Fourth. This is iffy, but I left the walnuts un-toasted thinking that maybe they’d release their oils into the dough and give more flavor and softness. I don’t know what happened, but I liked the results and the nuts were still pretty crunch even without being toasted.

So I’m stopping with the recipe above (for now). I need to let the cookie age a bit.

Amy May 16, 2008 at 11:48 am

I haven’t been following this story closely, so it was only when I read today’s update that I realized what GINORMOUS cookies you are talking about! A 7 ounce ball of cookie dough!

stacey May 16, 2008 at 12:12 pm

All right, I was going to record this show before, but then I got busy, but now after all of this, I checked it out and it’s re-airing on May 20th.
http://www.foodnetwork.com/food/show_bt/episode/0,2857,FOOD_26696_55331,00.html
People, set your recorders. Or, at least I will.
I wonder if these people have ever been on Martha Stewart? Must check…

Fat Fudge May 16, 2008 at 12:54 pm

I am a long time luker and thought I would add some info. concerning the Levain cookie. I first heard about them on “Unwrapped” and when they showed them baking the cookies. As the woman put the cookies in the oven, she said that the secret was that they used a bread oven and baked them at 500 degrees. I also saw that she put the cookie dough on a rimmmed baking sheet that was UPSIDE DOWN.

Joe May 16, 2008 at 1:04 pm

Amy – I was thinking the same thing… hee hee! That is roughly 800-1000 calories per cookie!

Anna May 16, 2008 at 1:09 pm

Amy, I’m surprised you don’t know the Levain ladies from the Triathlon circuit. Is there a triathlon circuit ;)

Stacey, if they haven’t been on MS yet, I’m sure they will soon.

FF, thanks for the tip! I guess the upside down cookie sheet prevents spreading since it keeps the surface of the cookie sheet from getting too hot. As for the 500 degree oven, the cookies are so dark that I suspected that too. But they did say 350 on the show. Maybe they said that since most of us don’t have bread ovens.

Julie O'Hara May 16, 2008 at 2:15 pm

Anna, I love reading your thoughts and experiments–and everyone’s suggestions. I’m totally not tired of this topic, but understand you’re maxed out for today. Maybe another batch tomorrow:)

Also, I thought cake flour was supposed to produce a higher, less spread cookie…I read that in Cookwise. Now I want to try bread flour too. It sounds like that test batch came out really well.

Lisa Ernst May 16, 2008 at 2:23 pm

Anna, I do hope you will post a photo of your latest experiment, after you’ve taken a breather. Do you consider this recipe the closest yet to Levain?

Karen May 16, 2008 at 3:21 pm

Anna, I love how you keep saying you’re going to stop and then you make one more batch. And then another batch…
I think you’ve threatened to stop 4-5 times by now, but I’m glad you keep trying.
Too funny!

Anna May 16, 2008 at 5:01 pm

I’ve been researching this on and off today (busy day) and found something that said a bread oven was also called a “falling heat” oven and that cooking in a regular oven usually requires a lower heat. So I think the reason 20 minutes at 350 is reasonable. That is, unless you want to make your own falling heat oven by starting at a high heat and reducing (which is what I was doing the first time).

I’ve had the most consistent results with 350.

Emiline May 16, 2008 at 5:29 pm

May 20th. May 20th. Ok, I’ve got to watch this episode. I’ve been following all of this Levain stuff, but I can’t really contribute much since I haven’t tried their cookies, or even seen the Throwdown episode.

By looking at their cookies, it seems like they’re maybe starting out at a high temp, then reducing it down. Or vice versa. I really don’t think they’re telling the truth about 350 for 20 minutes. There’s something going on with the temp thing. I bet they’re baked at a high temp for a short time, so that’s why they’re raw looking in the center.

I don’t know about leavening. I think you’re right about baking soda.

Emiline May 16, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Oh, great title btw!

Katrina May 16, 2008 at 5:31 pm

Will we see your pictures of today’s cookies? I made the Bear CCC’s today, a good cookie, but not at all like Levains.

I knew you would be able to figure this out after tasting the cookies. I will most likely try bread flour next. I didn’t realize I was out of semi sweet chips today, so today’s cookies have a combo of dark, 60% bittersweet and some milk chocolate. Apparently yesterday was National Chocolate Chip Day. Who knew!

Katrina May 16, 2008 at 7:53 pm

I meant to tell you that I love the title, too! Every time I come to this site to read up on the latest, I get that song stuck in my head.

Melissa May 16, 2008 at 7:59 pm

I altered the recipe, used bread flour and increased the baking soda to 1/8 plus 1/16, cut the baking time down to about 19 minutes. They were fantastic. Crunchy on the outside, not too brown and chewy on the outside. Perfect!

Anna May 16, 2008 at 8:09 pm

My mom’s been visiting today and I haven’t had much computer time.

I’ll post some pictures tomorrow. The newest version (san baking powder) look just like Levain’s — not quite identical in brownness and lumps, but very close. In fact, after sitting for a few hours I couldn’t tell the difference between mine and the Levain cookie that I’d set out.

Melissa, thanks for trying the new version.

Sue May 16, 2008 at 8:41 pm

Wow! It sounds like you’ve got it!! What a lot of hard work and expertise you’ve put into this. Congratulations!

Carrie May 17, 2008 at 9:18 am

Oh Lordie!

Those both look so mouth watering. Come make me some cookies?! Please? Or better yet, come make some WITH me. I would love to have a bakign partner that was older than a high school graduate :)

Carrie

Tiamat May 17, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Fat Fudge –

When the Levain girls were on “Roker on the Road” & Al Roker was in the kitchen with them helping to make a full sized batch … They used their big bread oven … They said it was either 500 or 800 degrees (some weird amount that they said home bakers wouldn’t be able to do) …

AND

They put the raw dough on regular industrial cookie sheets (with the rims) …

BUT

They had inverted cookie sheets already in the oven … which the put the other cookie sheets on top of … That creates what in essence is like the AirBake brand of insulated cookie sheet …

Anna –

The Levain girls specifically said in both “Throwdown” and “Roker on the Road” that they use “all-purpose” flour … The walnuts definitely did NOT look toasted …

The problem is that they were super secretive about the leavening agent … as they were adding stuff to the mixer and just said “leavening” & the camera just did not show a close-up of the little bowl with it so one was unable to see what the texture of the leavening agent is … This whole thing makes me think they do use baking powder …

For the “Throwdown” show … They were on location at some clothing store or something … So, they had to have a small portable convection oven … That’s where the whole 350 @ 20 minutes came from …

It’s been a long time since Food Network aired that particular ep of “Roker on the Road” … It’s annoying as they’d rather air the same eps of Guy Fieri & Rachel Ray’s shows like a bazillion times …

If you watch the episode of “Good Eats” called “Three Chips for Sister Marsha” … there are a lot of good tips in it … Alton Brown tells/shows you the difference in the cookies made with bread vs all-purpose vs cake flours … He uses the bread flour in his “chewy” cookie …

When I’ve made the cookies, I use AirBake cookie sheets … But, do NOT use parchment paper (much to Michelle’s chagrin) … They do get a little crunchy on the outside, but they don’t get hard or stay that way even after sitting out on the counter … Though, I also leave them on the cookie sheet until they are completely cooled (instead of pulling them off after like 2-5 minutes) …

The rough / shaggy exterior comes from them just making balls with their bare hands & not chilling the dough … using a scoop will give you smoother edges …

Anna May 17, 2008 at 4:49 pm

Tiamat, that is very interesting. Thanks especially for the clarification on the cookie sheet. That makes sense. I never had a problem with burning in the first place because like you, I use AirBakes. However, people who don’t use AirBakes might want to set their cookie sheets on an inverted rimmed cookie sheet OR just stack two cookie sheets together. I’ve read that is another way to make your own insulated sheet.

I know about Alton Brown’s bread flour “chewy” cookie, which is why I used bread flour here. The bread flour gave the cookies a sturdier and slightly thicker shell, so I plan on sticking with it. All purpose worked too, but the bread flour cookie was more like Levain’s and definitely “shaggier”. And the cookies do not require chilling. Anyone should be able to make this cookie without chilling the dough.

Leavening is still a mystery, but I had better results without baking powder. The cookie were less gritty and browned better. Katrina mentioned they might be using an actual “levain” as a leavener. I don’t know anything about levains — especially ones that can be hidden in a tiny bowl of flour ;).

You know what I forgot to mention? That the oatmeal cookies weren’t great. I have no desire to clone them. The chocolate peanut butter chip cookies have already been clone and are pretty on target (see old post here) but the oatmeal were just “eh”.

http://www.cookiemadness.net/?p=1547

Clumbsy Cookie May 20, 2008 at 11:04 am

Anna! I’ve made this today but doble your mini batch so I would have 4 cookies. I made each one with a different type of levening and now I have 4 differnt cookies to choose from. I’me off to the gym, the cookies just came out of the over and they’re resting. Very exited to taste them, I’ll let you know.

Angel May 21, 2008 at 9:24 pm

I am glad you finally got to try the real Levain cookies and and that you enjoyed them.

Carolina Diago June 14, 2008 at 4:38 pm

I just baked the Levian Copy Cat Cookies am waiting for them to bake… I also made another batch which I will call the everything cookie. I added golden raisins, raisins and white chips… lets see how they taste!

Anna June 14, 2008 at 4:57 pm

Hi Carolina,

I hope your Everything Cookies taste good! Also, I think the Levain copy cats taste better after they are fully cooled.

carolina July 23, 2008 at 7:57 pm

Hi Ana,
the levain cookies I made did not taste very good and did not look like the one I have seen in pictures! I guess I will have to wait to go to NY to try them lol. Anyway this did inspire a cookie that I would love for you to try… I call it Caro’s Everything Cookie. I used the oatmeal cookie mix because I don’t have much time to be baking. I wanted make a healthy cookie I could make quickly and I could have as a snack at home… I workout alot and these are a great treat after a long workout. I did go to whole food to buy everything organic except the chocolate chunks which they don’t sell at the supermarket. You don’t have to do them organic… it’s much easier to just but everything at your local supermarket. Anyway let me know what you think. I think they are amazing!!!

Caro’s Everything Cookies

1 pack Oatmeal Cookie Mix (I have used betty krocker or any organic cookie mix from whole foods)
1 pack Semi Sweet Chocolate Chunks (not chips)
½ cup old fashion oats
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup golden raisins
½ cup coconut flakes toasted or the sweetend that come in a bag
½ cup walnuts toasted
1 bar light butter
1 egg

you can add more or less yummies it depends on how chuncky you want the cookies but the amount above is good.
I like making big cookies so I put 4 per baking sheet. I let them cool then wrap them individually in plastic wrap. I put them in a sealed container and whenever I want one I just put it in the microwave for 10 to 15 seconds… DELICIOUS!

carolina July 23, 2008 at 8:01 pm

I meant to say that I bought the chocolate chunks at the supermarket because they dont have them at whole foods…

Robin January 30, 2010 at 1:53 pm

I made ones that came very close. First of all, they definitely do not use baking powder. I had the best results with Rapid Rise Instant Dry Yeast. I used 1 teaspooon. The yeast makes the cookies very raw-like in the middle and they take longer to cook, but the finished product was A LOT like the Levain cookies (you could also easily conceal this in the dry ingredients). I used half bread and half pastry flour, and baked them at 400 (use an insulated cookie sheet) for 15 minutes. This is the closest I’ve come so far. The next day the cookies with the yeast had more of the Levain texture. They were still soft in the middle and crunchy on the outside. When you use baking powder the cookies get very cakelike and grainy, and the next day they are way too soft. I am convinced that Levain uses yeast.

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