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Chocolate Chip Cookies with Peanut Brittle
An old favorite with a new (and delicious) twist!
In France, the word cookies refers to “Chocolate Chip Cookies,” as if they are the only cookies that exist. Of course, French cooking has sablés, rochers cocos (coconut mounds), macarons, and other petits gâteaux and biscuits (pronounced biz-kwee), but way back when, when I was combing Paris looking for spring-loaded ice cream scoops in various sizes for scooping cookie dough, I thought it was odd that I couldn’t find any. One of the salesmen at E. Dehillerin enlightened me: “Monsieur, in France, we don’t scoop cookie dough.”
That hadn’t dawned on me, but it was true. At least at the time.
Nowadays, there are lines out the door at cookie shops like Scoop Me a Cookie (whose cookies are enormous, and whose lines are, too), Jean Hwang’s delicious Cookie Love, Moko’s famous cookies at Mokonuts, and a place that had really awful-looking cookies near Les Halles that’s now closed. Even the venerable French baker, Eric Kayser, makes a more-than-respectable chocolate chip cookie. But it’s hard to beat a homemade chocolate chip cookie.
I have several chocolate chip cookies in my repertoire, including those with buckwheat, figs, and salted butter, but when I got Deb Perelman’s latest book, Smitten Kitchen Keepers (available on her website, Amazon, Bookshop, and at your local independent bookstore), I’d bookmarked a bunch of pages—and made her toasted ricotta gnocchi with pistachio pesto (below)—but was intrigued by her chocolate chip cookies with salted walnut brittle. How could I not be?
If you follow Deb, you know her recipes are well-tested and explained in just enough detail to talk you through them, but not enough to intimidate. And while I’m a little biased because I’ve known her for a while, I gotta say, Smitten Kitchen Keepers is her best book yet.
Like most chocolate chip cookies, these use brown sugar as a base. An FAQ from Americans is: Where can I find brown sugar in France? But I’m not sure why. We’re fortunate to be able to find it in any natural food store and even supermarkets, sometimes sold as sucre vergeoise, and we used to get muscovado sugar until Brexit ended food shopping (including picking up cottage cheese, crumpets, pikelets, and cheddar) at the now-closed Marks & Spencer stores.
Unlike other chocolate chip cookies, this recipe calls for making a nut brittle, which gets broken into bits and folded into the cookie dough before baking. Deb calls for walnuts, but I’m a fan of peanut brittle so swapped out unsalted toasted peanuts for the walnuts in the recipe. If you can only get salted peanuts, those would work; just omit salting the peanut brittle with the 1/4 teaspoon of flaky sea salt.
When you make the brittle, you’ll want to work kind of fast because once you add the nuts, things’ll tighten up quickly—you want to stir, coat, and spread ASAP. Try to get them as flat as you can when spreading them on the sheet pan. They may look like an irregular jumble, but I wouldn’t lose any sleep if they don’t look perfect.
While I didn’t do it, adding the nuts while they’re still warm will give you a bit more leeway, but my kitchen was freezing cold; due to heat restrictions this winter, our apartment temperature is maxed to a brisk 19ºC/66ºF. But thanks to my working quickly, and blocking out any distractions (i.e.; a partner hovering when he smelled the caramel and peanuts cooking), mine came out just fine.
I talk you through making the brittle in the recipe, but honestly, the hardest part is not snacking on it before (and after!) adding it to the dough. Once baked up, the cookies have a wonderful chewy quality with little bits and bites of nutty brittle and melty chocolate chunks. I love these cookies and agree: They’re keepers.
Chocolate Chip-Peanut Brittle Cookies
Makes 23 cookies
I swapped out lightly roasted unsalted peanuts for the walnuts in the original recipe. Deb says you can use another type of nut so if you have another preference, go for it. I was concerned there wasn’t enough caramel when I was stirring to coat the peanuts, but it ended up being just the right amount.
I also used chocolate chunks in these cookies, which melt better than commercial chocolate chips (although some brands nowadays are sold in chunks and get more melty when baked) but feel free to use either.
Although I didn’t do it, if you want neater cookies, you can roll them in your hands after scooping the dough into rounds just before baking. I liked the craggy look, with pockets of chunks of chocolate and caramelized peanuts.
1 cup (200g) granulated sugar (divided, 2/3 cup/135g and 1/3 cup/65g)
1 cup (115g) coarsely chopped lightly roasted peanuts
1 teaspoon flaky sea salt or kosher salt (divided, 1/4 teaspoon and 3/4 teaspoon)
8 tablespoons (115g) unsalted butter, cubed
1/2 cup (100g) packed light brown sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder, preferably aluminum-free
1 2/3 cups (220g) flour
8 ounces (230g) coarsely chopped bittersweet or semisweet chocolate or chocolate chips
To make the peanut brittle, spread 2/3 cup of the sugar in an even layer in a medium, heavy-duty skillet. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat. (Lacking both, you can very lightly grease it with oil.)
Before continuing, read these tips:
Pro caramel tips:
Once liquefied, and the sugar starts to color, it’ll happen very quickly. Before you start, make sure your peanuts (and salt) are handy and ready to go.
When you add the peanuts, depending on the ambient temperature (and type of skillet you are using), the caramel will harden relatively quickly. To mitigate that, you could add the nuts warm from the oven so when you add them, they don’t “shock” the caramel, making it cool too quickly. You could also zap ’em in a microwave to warm them up. I didn’t do either.
If the caramelized nuts cool too quickly in the pan and you’re having trouble stirring them or getting ’em out, set the pan over moderate heat and stir them with a spatula to loosen things up.
When you spread the peanut brittle on the prepared baking sheet, it’s best to use your clean hand to flatten it out as much as possible. Make sure the brittle is not too hot before you touch it, but it should cool down to a just-warm temperature relatively quickly.
While the pan you used to make the caramel may look daunting to wash, simply soak it in water for at least 30 minutes, and the caramel will soften and dissolve and wash out quickly.
Heat the sugar over medium-high heat. When it starts to liquefy in spots, the sugar and liquid will start caramelizing quickly. Stir the caramel with a heatproof spatula (Deb uses a whisk), folding any undissolved sugar into the liquefied sugar so it heats and melts evenly.
Continue cooking the caramel, stirring and watching it very carefully—it’ll cook very fast at this point—and when it’s the color of an old penny and starts to smoke, immediately remove it from the heat and stir in the peanuts, coating them with the liquid caramel. Quickly scrape the mixture onto the lined baking sheet, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon of flaky sea salt, and when it’s warm enough to handle, flatten it as best as you can with your hands. Don’t worry if it’s not perfect as you’ll be chopping it later. Once cool, firm, and crisp, chop the brittle into bite-sized pieces.
To make the cookie dough, beat the butter and remaining 1/3 cup granulated sugar, and brown sugar, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until smooth, but not fluffy. (You can also mix the dough by hand in a large bowl with a sturdy spoon or spatula.)
Add the remaining 3/4 teaspoon salt, vanilla, and the egg, mix for a few seconds, then stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Mix a bit more until the egg is completely incorporated.
In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking soda, and baking powder, then gradually add the dry ingredients to the butter and egg mixture, mixing at low speed just until the dry ingredients are incorporated. Add the chopped peanut brittle and chocolate chips or chunks, and mix just until incorporated.
To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line 1 to 2 baking sheets with parchment paper, depending on how many cookies you want to bake at once. Using a spring-loaded ice cream scoop or two soupspoons, shape the dough into 1 1/2-inch (4cm) rounds, placing them about 2 inches (5cm) apart on the baking sheet. For neater cookies, you could roll the dough rounds in your hands after shaping.
Bake the cookies, rotating the baking sheets in the oven midway during baking, until they are golden brown around the edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Mine took 11 minutes.
Storage: The cookies will keep for a few days at room temperature, and the dough (or finished cookies) can also be frozen for up to two months.
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