I was walking down 10th avenue in the Pearl district, just north of downtown Portland, Oregon when my nose went into high alert. The compelling aroma of melted chocolate, toasted walnuts, and vanilla pulled me down the block, through a nondescript doorway, and then down a flight of stairs to, BEHOLD, a tiny French bakery tucked into the basement of a building. The sign said, Nuvrei. There, just behind the itsy-bitsy counter was a rack of over-sized, just-baked, crackle-surfaced, bittersweet chocolate cookies. The friendly young baker said they were called Flourless Chocolate Cookies.
I bought one and my life hasn’t been the same since. For one thing, I find myself walking down 10th avenue almost every day, a route I rarely walked previously. The aroma hits me about a block away from the bakery and carries me helplessly along, until the next thing I know, I’m sinking my teeth slowly into one of those crispy-chewy, impossibly chocolaty cookies and then trying to conceal the low moaning noises that seem to be emanating from my vocal cords.
The cookies are around $3.50 each and it’s a mile and a half walk to get one, so at some point I began to think about making them myself. I poured through the dozens of chocolate cookbooks on my shelves, but not one had a flourless chocolate cookie. I thought about contacting the owner of Nuvrei and begging the recipe off him. “Oh please sir, I can’t walk a mile and a half every day for a cookie and have developed quite an addiction you see and really must have one of your cookies EVERY day, so if you would be so kind as to share the recipe with me, I will name my daughter’s first born after you.”
Then, just as I was about to do something desperate (like apply for a job in the bakery), I spotted a chocolate cookbook at Powell’s Books that I didn’t already own: Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard. I flipped to the index and there it was: Flourless Chocolate Cookies. I bought the book, hopped the streetcar home and turned on the oven.
The resulting cookies were exceedingly wonderful and exceedingly close to the flavor, texture, and look of Nuvrei’s chocolate cookies, but not EXACTLY. One difference I could easily correct: Nuvrei’s cookies are noticeably salty. I LOVE that. However, Nuvrei’s cookies are also a little thicker and that factor was a bit more difficult to remedy.
Francois Payard’s batter is comprised of only three key structural ingredients: premium unsweetened cocoa powder, powdered sugar, and egg whites. It has the texture of chocolate syrup and spreads out considerably on the baking sheet, especially at the edges. Adding lots of walnuts helps to hold the batter in place, but the edges still have a tendency to spread. In one test, I used English muffin rings to confine the spread of the cookies and that had the desired effect, except on the edges, which were then straight, ½-inch thick, and not crisp. The cookie looked more like a thin, round brownie.
I wondered what effect chilling the batter before shaping and baking the cookies would have on the shape and texture. If I ran a bakery, for efficiency sake, I would whip up large batches of batter and then bake the cookies off as needed, at least a couple of times a day. Perhaps that’s what Nuvrei does. Anyway, I tried it and BINGO. The cookies were easier to shape, held a more uniform appearance while baking and were thicker when baked. They do require a longer baking time however, as they are cold when they go into the oven. If you use this method, add at least 2 minutes to the cooking time.
Above you see the original cookie batter recipe baked immediately after mixing, baked after chilling overnight, and baked immediately after mixing in an English muffin ring.
Then I wondered what 2 additional minutes of beating would do to the batter and BINGO again. The batter was now firm enough to hold its shape when scooped onto the baking sheet. So much so that as a precautionary measure, I wet my fingers with cold water and pressed the domes down just a bit in the center. Because this method doesn’t require the extra time it takes to chill the dough, it’s the method I will use most often in the future. Combined with the use of a muffin top pan (described below), the cookies are about ½-inch thick, uniformly shaped, and crispy on the top and sides. In other words, perfecta mundo!
Here you see the cookies baked immediately after mixing for 5, rather than 3, minutes.
Bittersweet Chocolate & Toasted Walnut Cookies Perfecta Mundo!
Adapted from the recipe titled, Flourless Chocolate Cookies, in Chocolate Epiphany by Francois Payard. I highly recommend this beautiful cookbook.
This is the one cookie recipe you need for occasions when you want to really WOW your friends, family, or coworkers. It is sensational with a capitol S. However, sensational comes at a price and that price is your willingness to locate and then pay a shocking sum for premium cocoa powder. Yes, it makes a difference. A BIG difference. This is not the time to grab the Hershey’s.
For those of you who are prone to guilt, note that there is no flour or butter in these cookies. It’s interesting how much more vibrant the chocolate flavor is without these ingredients.
INGREDIENT NOTE With so few ingredients, this recipe is the perfect vehicle to test the deliciousness of premium cocoa powders. There was a marked flavor difference, for instance between my tests using Green & Black’s cocoa powder and E. Guittard cocoa powder. They were both wonderful in these cookies, as evidenced by how quickly the cookies disappeared. But, for me, there is something extra appealing about E. Guittard cocoa. For the moment, it’s my favorite.
EQUIPMENT NOTE I had difficulty getting a consistent shape and depth with these cookies until I remembered a pan I had seen at Sur La Table called a muffin top pan. With six, 4-inch shallow indents, this pan turned out to be just the ticket. The batter stays within the confines of the indents and bakes into perfectly round, ½–inch thick cookies. If you want irregular, thinner cookies, simply use a regular baking sheet.
TECHNIQUE NOTE On another front, I noticed quite a bit of wailing on the web from folks who experienced difficulty with these cookies irretrievably sticking to the pan or the parchment paper. For me, the following methods all resulted in cookies that could be easily removed from the pan or paper: cooking spray-coated silicon parchment paper liner, cooking spray-coated nonstick foil liner, cooking spray-coated nonstick muffin top pan, and shortening-coated nonstick muffin top pan. In all cases, it is best to remove the cookies from the pan or the paper or foil while the cookies are still slightly warm (not too warm or they will break). Use a flexible spatula if necessary to loosen any stubborn spots.
3 cups powdered sugar, sifted (13 ounces)
½ cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened, alkalized (Dutch-process) cocoa powder (2? ounces) (I tested with Green & Black’s organic alkalized cocoa powder and E. Guittard alkalized cocoa powder)
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
2 cups walnuts, toasted for 10 minutes in a 350º oven, cooled, and then coarsely chopped (untoasted walnuts also work just fine)
4 large egg whites, cool room temperature
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1.In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and salt. Mix to combine.
2.With the mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and then the vanilla. Mix on medium speed for 3-5 minutes, until the mixture is somewhat thickened. (If you mix too briefly, the batter will be thin and runny. However, with a full 5 minutes of beating, the batter thickens to the degree that it holds its shape for several minutes when scooped onto the baking sheet.)
3.Remove the work bowl, and scrape the batter from the paddle attachment. Stir in the chopped walnuts, and mix thoroughly. If you want to wait until later to bake the cookies, put the batter into a smaller bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.
4.Using a 2-ounce ice cream scoop, scoop level amounts of batter into each of the six indents of a cooking spray-coated nonstick Chicago Metallic Muffin Top sheet (to ensure the cookies don’t stick, you can cut rounds of nonstick foil with tabs to line the indents) or onto a cooking spray-coated, parchment paper-lined baking sheet, five cookies per sheet, about 3 inches apart.
5.Wet your fingers with cold water and press down lightly on the center of each cookie, just to flatten the dome a bit.
6.Put cookies into a 350º oven and immediately lower the temperature to 320º.
7.Bake for 16-18 minutes for cookies in a muffin top pan or 14-16 minutes for cookies on a sheet pan. Turn the pan halfway through the baking time to ensure even baking. The cookies are done when small cracks appear on the surface.
8.Remove the muffin top or cookie sheet from the oven.
9.If using the muffin top pan, put it on a wire rack to cool. When still slightly warm, lift the cookies from the pan with a flexible spatula.
10.If using parchment paper, pull the parchment paper with the cookies onto a wire rack to cool. Immediately slide a thin spatula under each cookie to loosen it from the paper. When cool, remove the cookies from the parchment paper.
11.Store cookies, layered between rounds of wax paper, in an airtight metal cookie tin for up to 2 days.
Makes twelve to fourteen, 4-inch cookies.
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- A Gift of Drinking Chocolate
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