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Chocolate-chunk cookies are season's slam dunk

Everyone loves a distinctive cookie for the season’s swaps, gift tins and party platters. The jewels in my cookie treasure trove are Cranberry-Cheesecake-Chocolate Tartlets. Follow along with my latest podcast to prepare a batch, or find the recipe on a 2011 post to my blog archives.

But what about those tried-and-true, crowd-pleasing cookies? We all need those slam-dunk sweets, preferably ones that can be dropped onto a baking sheet with all their components mixed in. Ease of preparation makes these the cookie tray workhorse, the reliable, if less eye-catching, backdrop to their more labor-intensive counterparts that challenge even enthusiastic bakers to keep rolling, cutting, filling and decorating.

Just because a cookie is simple doesn’t mean it can’t be stellar. And some of the best examples combine the most winning aspects of a few classic cookies.

While some might consider oatmeal tantamount to heresy in their chocolate-chip cookie, I say bring on the whole grain. I have no quibble with forgoing raisins for chocolate. And when it comes to the nuts-or-no-nuts dilemma, count me firmly in the former camp.

This recipe from the Los Angeles Times doesn’t aspire to the title of “best ever,” but rather the best its test kitchen could produce with a nod to the fickle nature of social media-driven cookie trends. Chocolate chunks certainly give it more gourmet traction than pedestrian chocolate chips. And if your tastes tend toward the sweet-salty side, feel free to sprinkle these with flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel.

Beats those sugar sprinkles.

Thick and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies

14 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped

1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 1/2 cups unsalted butter, at room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 1/2 cups packed dark-brown sugar

1/4 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs, at room temperature

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

4 cups old-fashioned (rolled) oats

2 cups walnut halves and pieces

Heat oven to 375 F. Line 3 large cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Coarsely chop the chocolate into 1/2-inch chunks, leaving all flaky bits on cutting board. In a medium bowl or on a large sheet of parchment or wax paper, combine the flour, baking soda and salt.

With a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and both sugars on medium speed, scraping bowl occasionally, until smooth and creamy but not fluffy, for about 3 minutes. With machine running on medium speed, pour in the cream in a steady stream and beat until smooth. Scrape bowl, turn machine to medium-low speed and add the eggs 1 at a time, then the vanilla. Beat just until smooth and scrape bowl.

Turn machine to low speed and gradually add flour mixture then the oats. Scrape bowl, add the walnuts and mix on low speed until evenly incorporated. You should hear nuts cracking into smaller pieces as paddle turns. Scrape in all chocolate chunks and bits and beat on low speed until well mixed.

Use a large (three-tablespoon) cookie scoop to drop balls of dough onto a prepared sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Dough balls will keep in an airtight container in refrigerator for up to 3 days and in freezer for up to 3 months before baking.

Bake in preheated oven until golden-brown, for about 15 minutes. Scoop remaining dough while first batch bakes, then bake remaining sheets, 1 at a time.

Cool cookies on pan on a wire rack. You can wait for them to completely cool or eat them warm. No judgment. Makes about 3 dozen.

VARIATIONS: Sprinkle tops of the dough balls lightly with flaky sea salt, fleur de sel or kosher salt before baking. For Soft and Chewy Chocolate Chunk Cookies, substitute 1/4 vegetable oil for 4 tablespoons of the butter. Beat with butter and sugar and proceed as above.

Tribune News Service photo