$20 & Under: How to Become Blue-Furred and Googly-Eyed
Oct 21 2020

$20 & Under: How to Become Blue-Furred and Googly-Eyed

By: Kim Ranjbar

"I'd give you a cookie, but I ate it."

-Cookie Monster

I refuse to bake chocolate chip cookies.

It's not because I don't love baking or hate chocolate chip cookies (perish the thought). It's the simple fact that I turn into a demon-possessed, chocolate chip cookie-hoarding monster who will eat them in such quantities as to make myself sick.

When I do make a batch of chocolate chip cookies, you can stake your life on the fact that I will sit down and gobble at least eight—or probably 10. All right, a dozen! Yes, a dozen chocolate chip cookies. Sometimes I do it all at once, like a wood-chipper plowing through branches, bits flying everywhere that will later be found on my pants or in my hair. Other times, I will grab a few here and a few there, duping myself into believing that "I really haven't had that many," and, by bedtime, nearly half the batch is gone. Do I have a problem? Most definitely. But in all honesty, don't we all, when it comes to this extraordinary treat?

There are plenty of reasons chocolate chip cookies have the ability to turn practically anyone into a wild-eyed gorger. For many, this particular delicacy can deliver a giant warm-and-fuzzy, a nostalgic whammy comparable to suddenly hearing a song you loved in high school or getting an out-of-the-blue whiff of your beloved grandfather's aftershave. It's the ultimate comfort food, taking you back to a time when you were not only young and invincible, but also safe and loved.

Those sentimental triggers are only the beginning. Consider the ingredients: sugar, fat, flour, salt, and chocolate. Has there ever been a more perfectly diabolical combination? Almost every single ingredient has been proven to be addictive, and together, they're literally an endorphin bomb.

Finally, think about how it actually feels to bite into a chocolate chip cookie. Do your like them crispy and buttery, with pops of salt and chocolate; soft and gooey, like barely-baked batter; or somewhere in between? The contrast of textures, the way the cookie feels in your mouth, is almost as alluring as the rest of its many qualities. How anyone can "only eat just one" is beyond me.

An excellent way to avoid scarfing far too many chocolate chip cookies is to go out and buy them from one of the many stellar cookie-making masters around town. Hopefully, if you don't have a lot of financial leeway, like myself, this will prevent you from going overboard. If you're loaded, you may still be limited by what's available, and if not, the spectacle of purchasing dozens of cookies only to stuff them, relentlessly, into your maw might shame you into practicing a modicum of self-control.

In Mid-City on Orleans Avenue, Mayhew Bakery is pouring out everything from baguettes and biscuits to cinnamon rolls and pizza, but their chocolate chip cookies are definitely worth more than a mention. Other than using "really good chocolate," Pastry Chef Jessica Ragan-Williams believes that the key to great cookies lies mostly in how you mix the ingredients. At Mayhew, they cream the European butter with sugar until it's light in color and incredibly fluffy. Then, once you add the flour (in their case, King Arthur), you shouldn't mix too much. These are all techniques that ensure a cookie that's light and crispy. "We also use Ronald Reginald's Mexican Vanilla," says Ragan-Williams. "We love that it's a local company, and I just think Mexican vanilla is the best."

Over on Broad Street in Central City, Laurel Street Bakery's owner and operator Hillary Guttman takes a different approach. All from scratch, the bakery's cookies are made with standard ingredients: all-purpose flour, unsalted butter, brown and granulated sugar, pure vanilla extract, and Hershey's Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips. Guttman prides herself on using ingredients that can be found at any grocery store to produce a cookie similar to one you'd make at home. "One of the things I hear the most about our baked goods is that they taste very familiar, not too sweet, just like they are homemade with nothing fake, overly sweet, or odd," says Guttman. "I try to stick to this approach with everything we make. Simple, direct, high-quality ingredients, made from scratch and un-messed with."

With Love Baking Co

In addition to "honing her craft" at Uptown's Levee Baking Co., self-taught pastry cook Catherine Killeen has also struck out on her own with an online bakery, dubbed With Love Baking Co. Among the chocolate espresso cakes and salted maple pies on offer, Killeen also bakes a small selection of cookies, including her own Salted Brown Butter Chocolate Chip. The brown butter provides a different, nuttier dimension to the flavor, along with the combination of semi-sweet and bittersweet chocolates. To give it an extra boost, Killeen tops her cookies with a sprinkling of Maldon Sea Salt, an extra that only makes her cookies that much chocolate-ier.

Cochon Butcher and La Boulangerie

I heard rumors that the chocolate chip cookies at Cochon Butcher were "to die for," and I was not disappointed, not that I could ever be disappointed in any dessert item coming out of the Link Restaurant Group. Executive Chef Maggie Scales knows her way around sweets, and those chocolate chip cookies, found both at Cochon Butcher and La Boulangerie, are no exception. Knowing everyone has their own preferences for what exactly makes the perfect cookie, Scales finally settled over a decade ago on her favorite recipe, which features Belgian Callebaut Chocolate Chips. Though she's tried many others, she finds that Callebaut has the best flavor. "Someone at the bakery told me that our cookies look like the cookie emoji," says Scales. "The exact thing you think of when thinking of a cookie."

Apparently, Callebaut Chocolate is a popular choice among pastry chefs. Thomas McGovern, owner and operator of the recently launched tM breads & pastries, also believes their chocolate is the best option. After working as a pastry chef at the Ritz Carlton for 10 years, McGovern decided it was time to break out on his own on Baronne Street in the Central Business District. In addition to coffee, tea, sandwiches, and salads, early visitors can expect to choose from a bounty of pastries, from cakes and croissants to brownies and, of course, heavenly chocolate chip cookies.

Sweet Handkraft

At Sweet Handkraft in Metairie, owners and bakers Thuy Le and Loc Nguyen also enjoy using Callebaut chocolate in their chocolate chip cookies. Mainly known for their delicious, unique macarons and ice cream flavors, the dynamic duo also makes cookies that are not to be missed. "We bake them throughout the day, so they're always fresh," says Nguyen. "Our cookies are ooey-gooey, as opposed to crispy." If their ginormous chocolate chip cookies aren't enough, try having two with house-made vanilla ice cream sandwiched in between.

In case you haven't heard, Chef Frank Brigtsen has been touting a mini-bake sale held by Elizabeth Venable, a pastry chef who formerly worked at the Ritz Carlton and Sheraton but was furloughed due to the coronavirus. For a couple of weekends, she's been slinging quick breads, baguettes, and, naturally, chocolate chip cookies in the Dante Village parking lot, and causing all kinds of good-tasting commotion. With a combination of dark chocolate and semi-sweet Ghirardelli chips, this particular cookie is worth your time and effort to seek out.

Pop City

Finally, Rhonda Findley, owner of Pop City and Luna Libre, recently announced on Instagram the creation of the Creole Chocolate Chip Cookie. Made with Steens Cane Syrup, milk chocolate Tollhouse Morsels, and pecans, this "granny-style" cookie is only three or four bites of bliss. This is a brand-new recipe that Findley worked on for six months and is now offering at Pop City on Decatur Street. "The low-protein flour gives it a different structure, allows for it to be thin and a bit soft. It's melty and chocolaty," says Findley. "I ate a dozen last night."






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