Saturday, November 5, 2016

Levain Bakery copycat recipes - a mini compilation

Levain Bakery Copycat Recipes - made throughout September 2016
Remember my obsession with chocolate chip cookies and that time I tried a bunch of different ones to come up with some tips and tricks to make “the best” chocolate chip cookies? And how I tried a couple of different Levain Bakery copycat recipes in that sweep?
Copycat from Cookie Madness - didn't spread much, stayed thick, good flavor, a little cakey at the edges but had to bake it long enough to not be raw in the middle
Instead of getting it out of my system, apparently my obsession grew only now I became fixated on Levain Bakery cookies. I know, I can’t explain it either. Well, I could if you understood how much I love behemoth-sized, chewy, moist chocolate chip cookies with some heft to them. If you can’t, it’s baffling.
Copycat from The Cooking Actress - used Kerry Gold Irish butter, these spread more than the other cookies even when baked from frozen dough, crisp but light texture at the edges, good chewiness in the middle, when at room temperature, a bit too sweet, best in moderation and not as a big cookie
But since I believe in channeling my obsession into socially acceptable, legal ways, I stalked pinterest for “copycat” Levain Bakery chocolate chip cookie recipes and came up with six versions. At first I thought I would blog each one separately in a one-week spread with a new one posted every day going in the order of how I liked them, somewhat similar to my countdown of chocolate chip cookie recipes from good to great to best. Meh, this time I’m doing something different and just going with one blog post about it. It’s a long blog post but hang in there with me as it’ll be worth it.

First of all, I’m just going to link each recipe back to the original blog I got it from so you can go directly there if there’s one you want to try. The pics are of my cookies as I made them from those recipes so you can see how they turned out.
Copycat from Fran's Favs - stayed thick, good flavor
Second, when I try out recipes of the same thing, I make myself a spreadsheet (insert shrieking alarm of “nerd alert! Nerd alert!”) that list out all of the ingredients and in what proportions they are in each recipe. Because let’s face it – almost all chocolate chip cookies have the same base ingredients: butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, vanilla extract and chocolate chips. There will be variations in how much of each, perhaps the mixing method, the baking temps, the baking time and so on but it’s the same players at the party gathering round the mixing bowl. So I like to see how similar they are to each other and what their differences are.
Copycat from Parsley Sage Sweet - didn't spread much, stayed thick and domed, not crisp at the edges like The Cooking Actress version, might have a bit more buttery flavor if used European butter
I tried to find recipes that did have some variations beyond mix up ¼ teaspoon less of this or ¼ cup more than that. For instance, one recipe used European butter or plugra. Another used bread flour. Some didn’t call for vanilla extract at all (eek), a couple included cornstarch, others didn’t.
What they all had in common, and I mean all, is they had the same amount of butter. Everything else might not mirror exactly but all of the other ingredients anchored around 1 cup of butter. And with the exception of 1 recipe, they all used 2 eggs. The majority, although not every single one, also used 1 ½ cups combined of brown sugar and granulated sugar. The brown sugar to granulated sugar ratios varied between each recipe. I’ve found if you want a more caramelized flavor, increase the brown sugar relative to the granulated sugar but keep the total amount between the two the same.

Parsley Sage Sweet
I ended up making a half recipe of each copycat variation, partly because I was making so many different recipes and I didn’t know that I needed all these giant cookies, even if I did give most of them away. Plus, that’s a lot of butter to use up. I did vary whether I used milk chocolate chunks (from Trader Joe’s Pound Plus bar), milk chocolate chips, semisweet chocolate chips or semisweet chocolate chunks. No rhyme or reason other than using up what I had on hand.
Now that I’ve made six copycat recipes, first thing I’m going to tell you is I don’t really have a favorite among the six. Seriously. They’re all good. They all bake up nice, thick, chewy, moist behemoth chocolate chip cookies. It’s hard to go wrong. So you can choose any 1 or 6 recipes to try and I think you’ll like the results. Second, if you really want a Levain copycat, I still can’t tell you which one comes the closest. I haven’t had a Levain cookie in years so I can’t compare them to the real thing. At least not yet (rest assured going to Levain Bakery is on my bucket list). Did that seem anti climactic? Sorry.
Copycat recipe from Plain Chicken
Copycat from Plain Chicken - stayed thick, good flavor

However, what all this chocolate chip cookie baking did was further refine my own quest for “the best” (as considered by me) chocolate chip cookie. My previous trials already had some basic tips I use consistently when I’m on the quest for perfection: use butter, chill the cookie dough for 24 hours then freeze overnight before baking, use dark brown sugar and in higher proportion than granulated sugar, substitute part of the granulated sugar for raw cane sugar, make big-freaking-huge amounts of cookie dough per cookie to bake up big-freaking-huge cookies.
Copycat recipe from Plain Chicken

Copycat from The Naughty Fork - used Kerry Gold Irish butter, substituted 1/4 cup turbinado sugar for granulated sugar
These latest test batches also convinced me to add: use European butter for more flavor. I have never made that switch to European butter because that stuff is expensive and at the rate I go through butter, I’d be in the poor house. But I have to admit, for those special occasions – like wear-your-diamonds and break-out-the-cute-but-uncomfortable-spiky-heels special occasions – it’s time to splurge on European butter. I used Kerry Gold from Trader Joe’s which is a butter from Ireland but you can use any brand of European butter. They just have more flavor and make for a chewy cookie. I tried them for 2 of the 6 recipes and I have to admit, they brought out the caramelized flavor better and added more crisp to the edges while preserving the moistness of the middle. But they do cost almost twice as much as “regular butter” so don’t blame me if you have to take out a second mortgage simply because you followed my advice.

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