milk chocolate-almond cookies
I think cookies – especially simple drop cookies, back-of-the-package classics – are the comestible that triggers the most memories for me. I'm sure it's the same for most, baker or non-baker. It's the universal pastry. Every culture, every holiday, every family has a cookie. I fondly remember the tender ma’amoul we would purchase at the local Armenian bakeries when I was a kid just as much as I do putting out my own creations on a Santa-shaped plate every Christmas Eve. The cookie was the first thing I learned to make, the first thing I could call my own. I bonded with my mother over the Toll House recipe; she nearly always had to stir in the chips as my little arm cramped from fatigue. I gave holiday gifts of oatmeal-cranberry-white chocolate; they were puffy and cakey but, at the time, they were my signature. Not a special occasion went by without some sort of celebratory biscuit.
What always seemed odd to me, though, was the prevalence of “cookie dough” in food culture. The pleasure of cookie dough for me was its ability to transform from molded clay into chewy saucers, and I would marvel at the magic in front of the oven door with flashlight in hand. Sure, I would take a taste of the tacky leftovers at the bottom of the mixing bowl to understand them, to see if they tasted just so; but more than a morsel never passed my lips. If anything, I would fight off the anticipation of the seemingly long 8-10 minutes by munching through the leftover chocolate chips. It wasn’t the fear of raw egg that spoiled that childhood (or really, any-age) joy for me; I just didn’t get it.
My friends always favored cookie dough ice cream: vanilla ice cream laced with what I saw as malformed and grainy blobs of grey, egg-less things. The chunky frozen confection undermined my understanding of the beauty of cookies. Wasn’t it the fundamental application of heat to a specific proportion of ingredients that created greatness from simplicity. If it wasn’t already apparent, you see I was a pretty wacked-up child…
I realize I’m the crazy one. I’m the one with the hang-up. Cookie Dough Ice Cream is one of America’s top scoops, adored by young and old. Even my ice cream bible offers a recipe for it. Bloggers have made cookie dough chic with cookie dough cupcakes, cookie dough-topped brownies, and cookie dough truffles. I gawk at them; their construction is typically quite unique. I respect them. I get the candy-like appeal, but the feeling just isn’t mutual.
That’s why, you will see, I was taken aback when I made these cookies. Despite my illustrated reverence for them, it has been maybe a year and a half since I have made a simple drop cookie. Feeling experimental, I replaced the ground and chopped hazelnuts in Joanne Chang’s (and Pastry Chef Nicole's) Milk Chocolate Hazelnut Cookies with almonds. Yes, I get that the original cookie is a play on Gianduja. While I enjoy the strong aroma and coffee-like notes of hazelnuts and appreciate Nutella, the almond is the nut that always calls to me. Frangipane tarts, Swedish almond cake, Danish kringles, almond macaroons: these are some of my favorite pastries to make and eat. The use of almond two ways in these cookies is heavenly.
But here’s the kicker: before the oven had even had the chance to properly preheat, I had eaten a whole cookie worth of dough after its overnight rest in the fridge (and these babies are big, about 2 ¼ ounces per dough ball)! The period of hydration made the dough so uniform, so caramely and subtly salty with the pleasant grit of the incorporated ground nuts. This was bound to be a good cookie.
Slender, but relatively hefty, the now-titled, “Milk Chocolate Almond Cookies” once baked had chewy centers thanks to the addition of ground almonds to the flour mixture and crunchy, flavorful rims from the caramelization in the oven. Each bite featured a ribbon of smooth milk chocolate and the crunch of chopped almonds, their centers golden brown from proper toasting. The complex and perfumed almond flavor came from the nut being used as much more than a mix-in. Since its presence comes to the fore, the nut you use will define this cookie. I made small changes to the recipe, and they are reflected below, but I strongly encourage you to check out the original recipe that inspired it in the Flour Cookbook.
Cookie dough that's brimming with different flavors and textures? That's a raw diet I could follow.
Milk Chocolate-Almond Cookies
adapted from Flour: Spectacular Recipes from Boston's Flour Bakery + Cafe by Joanne Chang
Makes about 20 cookies
1 1/2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon (185 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup (140 grams) granulated sugar
2/3 cup (150 grams) light brown sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) blanched whole almonds
1 1/2 cups (210 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces (340 grams) milk chocolate, chopped into large, thin shards
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Spread almonds out on a baking sheet. Toast for 8-10 minutes or until the nuts are fragrant and their centers are medium brown. Set aside to cool.
In a food processor, pulse 1/2 cup (70 grams) of the cooled almonds until ground to a fine powder. (Stop grinding once they are powdery; if you continue, they will become a paste.) Set aside. Roughly chop the remaining 1 cup (140 grams) almonds and set aside.
Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a handheld mixer or a wooden spoon), cream together the butter, granulated sugar, and brown sugar on medium speed for about 5 minutes, or until the mixture is light and fluffy. (This step will take about 10 minutes if using a handheld mixer or a spoon.) Stop the mixture a few times and use a spatula to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl and the paddle. Beat in eggs and vanilla on medium speed for 2 to 3 minutes, or until thoroughly incorporated.
In a medium bowl, stir together the ground and chopped hazelnuts, the flour, baking soda, salt, and chocolate. On low speed (or with the wooden spoon), slowly blend the flour mixture into the butter-sugar mixture and then mix just until mixture is totally incorporated and the dough is evenly mixed.
Scrape the dough into an airtight container and let it rest in the refrigerator overnight (at least) before baking. When you are ready to bake, position a rack in the center of the oven and heat to 350 degrees F.
Use a 1/4 cup ice cream scoop to drop dough balls onto a baking sheet, spacing them about 2 inches apart. Flatten each ball slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake for 14-18 minutes, or until the cookies are golden brown on the edges and pale and slightly soft in the center. Let cool on the baking sheet on a wire rack for 5-8 minutes, then transfer to the rack to cool completely.
The cookies can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 days. The unbaked dough can be stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week (the best part about this is that you can bake yourself a fresh cookie whenever the mood strikes).