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Reverse-engineering Levain Bakery’s Famous Cookies [RECIPE]

Posted in Knerds on February 22, 2012 by

A couple of years ago, some of my Upper West Side colleagues at Knewton began bringing me cookies from a place called Levain Bakery. They’re very good.  I’m an avid baker, so I was pretty curious about them. And I love cookies! So I recently thought I’d try to make some Levain-style cookies at home.

But it turns out that they don’t publish their recipes, and it’s like some kind of state secret. It turns out, further, that the Internet is REPLETE with recipes from people who have tried to clone Levain cookies. Seriously, just google it.

And I do love a challenge. So here is my attempt to reverse-engineer their cookies. Specifically, their dark chocolate peanut butter chip.  (I’m crazy for all peanut butter chocolate combinations.) The same principles should work to re-engineer their other cookies.

The recipe came out very well. I’d say it was extremely similar to and slightly better than the Levain cookie. (My cookies had the advantage of not traveling and being fresher than I typically get my Levain cookies. Plus, I used awesome ingredients that are hard for a professional bakery to use in large scale.)  They were wonderfully dense and doughy inside — chewy but not too chewy — with a nice delicate crunch from the exterior. The height of each cookie was 1.5 – 2 inches.

I used a blend of all-purpose flour and bread flour to increase the doughiness and rising power of the cookies without making them too chewy. You have to use a high ratio of flour to wet ingredients. I used mostly brown sugar for extra toffee notes. Very cold butter improves the texture of the final cookie. I felt like I used slightly too much cocoa powder (I used 3/4 cup) so I reduced it to 5/8ths for this recipe. Ripping the cookies in half and inverting the halves to conjoin the smooth ends — and leave the ragged, textured ends exposed — and then freezing the formed cookies, seems to drastically improve the texture.


Sift dry ingredients together.

  • 1.5 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 cup bread flour
  • 5/8 cup high quality cocoa powder
  • 5/8 teaspoon baking soda
  • 5/8 teaspoon salt

Beat cold butter until pasty. Add sugars and beat until incorporated. Add vanilla and eggs. Don’t overbeat at any step here; stop when ingredients are incorporated. Extra blending doesn’t improve flavor; it just warms the butter.

  • 1 3/4 sticks high quality unsalted butter, cold, cut into small pieces. I used Kate’s.
  • 1 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk

Add chips and fold in until evenly distributed.

  • 1 cup peanut butter chips
  • 1 cup small chunks of Scharffenberger or Valrhona semisweet chocolate (don’t use the dust or the very small pieces). Or use lame chocolate chips if you must.

Roll the dough into a cylinder about 2 inches in diameter. Cut into twelve 1.5 inch or so segments.

Rip each segment in half and conjoin the smooth ends, leaving the ragged ends exposed. The whole point is to increase the raggedness of the surface area to maximize crunch in the final product. This step really does improve the cookie.

Place all the uncooked cookies on parchment paper and cover loosely with plastic wrap.

Freeze for 1-2 hours.

Cook in center of oven for 17-18 minutes at 375. Adjust oven racks as needed to make sure the bottoms don’t burn.

Cookies are done when they are mostly firm on top (as opposed to doughy. They will still be delicate.) There should still be some darker spots here and there of not-quite-done cookie dough in most of the cookies.

Place on rack immediately.