Monday, October 5, 2009

recipe: chocolate chip pecan brown-butter cookies

These cookies were inspired by a brown-butter cookie that Maria (MommyMelee) makes, my personal quest for the Ultimate chocolate chip cookie, and a random craving for pecans. They bake up thick and soft, with a crisp-crunchy edge and a nutty richness from the pecans and browned butter.

For anyone who's never done it, browning butter is magical, and something I think I want to do for all my recipes that call for melted butter from now on. Similar to how toasting nuts or searing meats brings out their full flavors, gently cooking butter before using it in a recipe deepens the taste and color of the final product. The outcome in these cookies is a decadent and craveable comfort food.

Chocolate Chip Pecan Brown-Butter Cookies
Adapted from Deb @ smittenkitchen, who adapted it from


3/4 cup (a stick and a half) unsalted butter

2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup packed dark brown sugar (light would be fine too)
1/2 cup white sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 egg
1 egg yolk

2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped


First, get your butter browning: Cut your butter in chunks into a small, shallow pan, and set it over low heat. Really low. Just above "warm", and certainly not as high as medium. The idea here is to just toast the butter -- you want it to melt & separate, and then get just hot enough so that all the milk solid bits sink to the bottom, and then cook just long enough so that those milk bits caramelize, becoming fragrant and turning a lovely warm shade of golden brown. The whole process should take maybe 5 to 10 minutes, and your butter should bubble but never go above a simmer. Stir it frequently to keep all the milk bits from sticking to the sides or bottom of the pan. When the color has deepened and the butter smells like maybe you want to stick your face in it, take the pan off the heat and set it aside.

Meanwhile, or afterwards if you don't like multitasking, preheat your oven to 325°F. Take your chopped pecans (I like them to be pretty much minced with a few slightly larger chunks 'cause I don't like too much crunchy texture in my cookies, but you can adjust to taste -- I'd say anything up to pea-sized chunks would work), spread them onto a baking sheet, and pop them in the warming oven for 5-10 minutes or until they're fragrant and have slightly deepened in color. Set them aside.

Measure out your dry ingredients (flour, baking soda, and salt) and whisk them to combine.

In a separate, larger bowl, measure out your sugars and add in the browned butter. Beat them together with an electric mixer for about 2 minutes on medium. You're looking for the mixture to increase a bit in volume and lighten a bit in color. Add the vanilla and eggs, and beat for about a minute until the mixture is creamy and well incorporated.

Put down the beater, and mix in the dry ingredients by hand (well, by spoon/spatula, unless you really want to use your hands). Then gently fold in the chocolate chips and the toasted pecans. The dough will be soft and sticky, and at this point, you could refrigerate it for up to 24 hours before baking. (David Leite, who I trust in all things, researched & recommends refrigerating cookie dough for about this long to allow everything to combine & settle into itself. Guys, I don't have 24 hours' worth of cookie foresight. If you happen to, though, let me know how the refrigeration thing works for you.) If you find the dough too sticky to work with, cover the bowl with foil/plastic wrap/a large plate and pop it in the fridge for 10-20 minutes.

Next, use a spoon to scoop up a ping-pong ball sized or slightly smaller bit of dough, and roll it gently between your palms to form a ball. Drop it on a cookie sheet (greased or covered with parchment paper if you like) and flatten it out a little so that it'll cook more evenly. Leaving about 3 inches between cookies, fill your cookie sheet and bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on the size of the cookies and whether the dough has been chilled. (You're looking for the cookies to puff up and then deflate a bit -- an undone cookie will yield easily if you gently poke the top of it, and leave a sort of darkened, bruised-looking indentation, and will feel very soft. Gently poking the top of a done cookie will offer slight, springy resistance, and won't leave an indentation. Erm, relatedly, please use caution if you're going to go reaching into ovens to poke at cookies. Honestly, erring on the side of underdone is okay. They'll continue to cook a bit once they're out of the oven anyway.)

Once they're out, let the cookies cool for a couple minutes on the baking sheet, then remove them to a wire rack to finish cooling enough to shove in your mouth serve.

If you're going to put another sheet of cookies in to bake immediately, wipe down your cookie sheet with a clean, damp cloth or paper towel first (this gets the crud off the sheet and also cools it down enough so that it won't par-bake the new round of dough before it even hits the oven).

If you'd like, you could freeze the dough for baking later -- I just roll the dough into cookie-sized balls and wrap them in plastic wrap so that none of them are touching, then stick the whole caboodle into a ziplock bag or Tupperware and shove it in the freezer. Alternately, if you have the space in your freezer, you could place the dough balls on a baking sheet and let them harden in the freezer for an hour or so, after which they shouldn't stick to each other and could be placed directly into a ziplock bag/Tupperware. They'll keep in there for at least a week. Just remember to either let them defrost in the fridge for a few hours before baking, or to adjust your baking time (maybe 12-18 minutes) if you're doing them straight from the freezer.

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