Unlike most teenagers, who spend much of their time dyeing their hair odd colors, piercing body parts and ditching high school to smoke illicit substances, I whiled away the majority of those years with my nose buried in my mom’s collection of Bon Appetite magazines. (That is, when I wasn’t dyeing my hair, piercing body parts, or ditching school to smoke illicit substances.) My fixation with food magazines continued into college, and everything changed when I received a subscription, from my mom, to Cook’s Illustrated. Cook’s quickly became my bible, and their rigorous testing seemed the answer to every shady recipe, unexplained step or odd ingredient I’d ever encountered. They laid everything out plainly, detailing the rationale behind each iota of leavening or extra egg yolk. (And trust me, they are really into their extra egg yolks.)
For years after obtaining my useless degree in Art History, I dreamed of working as a recipe tester for Cook’s. (Ok, I still do.) And I’ve certainly wished for Cook’s salary and taste testers over the last few weeks of developing this cookie recipe.
When the notion of a triple chocolate chile cookie first popped into my head, I didn’t quite realize what an adventure I was embarking upon. I wanted a cookie with the chew of a classic chocolate chip but the flavor of deep, dark chocolate highlighted by cinnamon and chile.
I based my first trial on Elizabeth Falkner’s Chocolate³ Espresso Cookies from Demolition Desserts. With a hefty dose of cocoa powder, a relatively small amount of egg, and chopped chocolate stirred in at the end, the dough utilized the creaming method (in which butter and sugar are creamed together). I’ve been spoiled, however, by Cook’s Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies which employ the batter method (in which the butter is melted and whisked with the sugar and eggs), and I’ve now been rendered too lazy to either drag out the mixer for a batch of cookies or wait for the butter to soften and then mix them using my supreme upper body strength. All of that is to say that I tried melting the butter for this first batch of cookies, doubled the egg, and subbed cayenne and cinnamon powders for the espresso.
While tasty enough to start me down the path of triple-chocolate-cookie-no-return (and bribe the upstairs construction workers to take a break for an hour so I could hear myself think), the cookies were, shall we say, aesthetically challenged, as well as overly delicate. I liked how easy the recipe was to make, though, requiring neither melting chocolate nor mixer-mixing, and I really ought to have given the recipe another try, actually following it this time.
But I didn’t.
For the next trial, I turned to Martha’s mag of Holiday Cookies. The triple chocolate cookie in there used milk chocolate, both melted into the batter and stirred in in chunks. I had only dark chocolate, so I tweaked the cookie to the best of my abilities, and again the cookies were tasty but overly delicate.
Trial 3 used Martha’s Brownie Cookies from her book, a wet, gooey dough made similarly to brownie batter, where gobs of chocolate are melted with butter, then eggs, sugar, vanilla and flour are mixed in. These cookies were more truffle-like, and there was something about the flavor that I found unappealing.
I finally consulted Cook’s, and was surprised to read that the elusive triple chocolate cookie was their most difficult achievement. They swore up and down that the creaming method was the only way to get a chewy cookie.
I was all set to give their recipe a go, but, as a testament to the fluidity of recipe-writing, when I looked on-line, those clever bakers have since come out with two more, completely different, chocolate cookie recipes. One, which I made when I baked at Petite Patisserie, used a method I’ve never seen before for cookies, in which whole eggs are whipped with sugar until they reach the ‘ribbon’ stage and have tripled in bulk, much like making a genoise. While swoon-worthy, these cookies have a light, ‘mousse-like’ texture and I wanted something with a bit more heft.
Cook’s newest recipe bizarrely uses egg white only and a combination of sugar and dark corn syrup to sweeten the cookies. While I loved that for once Cook’s was asking for egg white only (they seem to adore adding extra yolks into everything from cookies to cakes to pies), I already have a motley collection of liquid sweeteners taking up space in my cupboard – brown rice, molasses, light corn syrup, malted barley, Lyle’s Golden Syrup, agave, maple and honey – and was not about to add another.
Luckily, before I threw my hands up in frustration, I found yet another Martha recipe online. Despite requiring melting chocolate and using a mixer, somehow it sounded just right. The cookies in the accompanying photograph looked handsome and crackled, deep and dark with chocolate, neither too thick nor too thin. The reviews confirmed that this was a solid recipe.
But of course it wasn’t so simple. Unfortunately for us bakers, chocolate is not only one of the yummiest but also one of the most finicky ingredients that we work with. The label ‘bittersweet’ can contain anywhere from 50 to 88% cocoa solids, a range which can really mess with your baking ratios. Cookies in particular require a delicate balance of liquids (eggs, butter, sugar) to solids (flour and in this case, cocoa solids) in order to get the texture right. The chocolate that I
am so in love with I wish I could marry it and make beautiful and delicious half-chocolate babies use contains 70% cocoa solids. I always use this percentage of chocolate for baking and was not about to change that for no finicky triple chocolate cookies.
It took three more tries to get the amount of flour right when using 70% chocolate, but this recipe was the best yet, using ingredients I almost always have around the house, achieving a deep, dark chocolate flavor with the satisfying chew of a regular chocolate chip cookie, and immense depth of flavor from fruity chocolate, cocoa powder, cinnamon, chile, vanilla and brown sugar. The chewy dough envelops pockets of melty chocolate, and cocoa nibs lend texture and extra-chocolaty goodness.
While I’m sure I could continue trying recipe after recipe (and certainly would were I paid Cook’s – or Martha’s – salary) I decided to stop at trial 6, because these cookies are not only pretty, but pretty awesome-tasting, as well.
I brought some to my dance group before our big show, expecting to catch hell for sabotaging their Adonis-like figures. Instead, the cookies were duly devoured before rehearsal even began. Steve, who doesn’t even have a sweet-tooth, begged me not to bring him any more ever again, then looked stricken when I agreed.
Beware: these treats may make a cookie monster out of you, too. Though bake assured that one trial should be all it takes to get them just right.
Triple Chocolate Chile Cookies
Adapted from Martha
I make these with chocolate that contains 70% cocoa solids. If using a chocolate with 60% solids or less (or one that doesn’t say) increase the flour to 1 cup (5 ounces). My cayenne is on the elderly side (not sure how long it’s been hanging around the spice cupboard) and the amount used here lends a warmth in the aftertaste, but not a tongue-scorching heat. (In fact, an unsuspecting five-year-old ate one at a party, and purportedly begged for another.) If your cayenne seems quite piquant, you might try decreasing the amount you use in the cookies.
If you like, you can press a chocolate chunk or two and/or some extra nibs into the tops of the unbaked cookies. I couldn’t decide which I liked better, aesthetically.
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (4 1/2 ounces) all purpose flour
1/2 cup (1 1/2 ounces) unsweetened dutch-processed cocoa
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 stick (4 ounces, 1/2 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (7 ounces) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (3 3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
2 eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
8 ounces (1 1/2 cups) coarsely chopped 70% bittersweet chocolate, 4 ounces melted, the rest reserved
1/4 cup (1 ounce) cacao nibs
Position 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 350º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, cinnamon, chile, baking powder and salt. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or the old-school way, with a bowl, wooden spoon and your supreme might) cream together the butter and sugar until lightened in color, 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. (It’s not the end of the world if the mixture breaks.) Stir in the melted chocolate until combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl and the paddle as needed, then stir in the dries on low until just combined. Stir in the chopped chocolate and cacao nibs.
Remove the bowl and paddle, and use a sturdy rubber spatula to give the dough a final fold by hand
Scoop the dough into heaping-tablespoon-sized balls (I like to use the purple-handled spring-loaded ice cream scoop) and place 2 inches apart on the parchmented sheets. Bake 12 – 15 minutes, rotating top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until the centers are puffed, cracked and soft, and the edges are set. (Don’t overbake.) Let cool completely on the sheets.
The cookies are best within the first couple of days after baking, but will keep in an airtight container for up to a week.