Thursday, November 5, 2009

Lisa Michele's Levain Cookies

This will eventually be a post about Levain's chocolate cookies and the many attempts to make them, but first I am going to share my experience of New York City's food with you.

When I lived in New York City in the spring, I explored the city through bakeries. I'd hear or read about some fantastic bakery, then set off the first chance I got, even if it meant changing trains 5 times because of closed lines and walking 3 miles in the rain and venturing absurdly far off my beaten path. One pivotal afternoon, I sat on the floor of Barnes and Noble. (in NYC, the B and N's don't have comfy chairs to lounge in. The only chairs there are at Starbucks, and they patrol those, making sure you are actively sipping an expensive drink. They don't want to encourage loitering, I suppose.)

Anyway, I found a book called (I think) Gourmet in NYC, and it listed fantastic food according to parts of the city (Upper West Side, Chinatown, Brooklyn, the Village, etc). It featured not only bakeries, but chocolate specialty stores, butchers, cheese shops and ice cream parlors. I sat on the floor and carefully copied places and locations into the notebook I carried with me everywhere. I referenced this list often, determined to seek out these notable eateries. I focused mostly on the bakeries, with occasional side trips to the chocolate, ice cream and of course, Rice to Riches (for rice pudding in any flavor you can dream.)

I think my most ridiculous trip involved taking the train to another train to a bus and then walking through Redhook, Brooklyn just to taste the wares of Baked and of Steve's Authentic Key Lime Pie. (totally worth it- Baked has amazing cookies and very creative brownies like stout brownies. and at Steve's I sampled frozen chocolate dipped key lime pie on a stick.
And I wondered why my wedding body was slow in coming.)

I loved Redhook. It is on the water and has a lonely feeling I didn't experience anywhere else in crowded NY. While there, I stumbled upon the Waterfront Museum, run by a man who restored an old tugboat, and now lives there with his family. They put on circuses in the summer and open up their home for tours a couple days a week.
I had to walk a very long way to find a train back to the inhabited portions of the city. I know I was stumbling around wide-eyed with my nose stuck in my Not-For-Tourists map and info book. (A must for anyone new to the city.)

Anyway, I told you that to tell you this: Probably the most famous cookies in NYC can be found at Levain Bakery on the Upper West Side. They have Chocolate Chip Walnut, Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter, Oatmeal Raisin, and Dark Chocolate Chocolate Chip, and these cookies are MASSIVE. And DIVINE. A nice way to spend the afternoon is to take the train to Levain, then walk over a few blocks and park yourself and a book at Strawberry Fields in Central Park to munch away.

When I got back to Virginia in May, I was struck with a hankerin for these delicious cookies, and in searching the internet, I found several recipes which satisfied my craving for huge almost raw in the middle cookies. The Levain website even has a page dedicated to the many knock-off recipes out there. (I guess they are that confident that no one will crack their secret recipe.)
Today, I followed two of these recipes, one for the Chocolate chip Walnut, and one for the Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter. They are both good, but I love the chocolate PB a bit more than I love the walnut. (as a rule, I hate nuts in cookies, but these are good.)

Here are the links to the recipe and recipe from the blog Parsley, Sage, Desserts and Line Drives.

And here are the cookies at the restaurant:

If you are interested, here are some other food locales that I would highly recommend (I was in NYC about 4 months):

Magnolia Bakery (greenwich village)
Absolute Bagels (upper ws)
Max and Mina's Icecream (queens)
Australian Homemade (icecream and gelato) (east village)
Donut Plant (lower es)
Amy's Bread (midtown)
Grom (gelato) (upper ws)
Hungarian Pastry Shop (upper ws)
Junior's Restaurant (cheesecake) (brooklyn)
Grimaldi's Pizza (bklyn)
Di Fara Pizza (ah-mazing) (bklyn)
Brooklyn Icecream Factory (bklyn)
Angelica Kitchen (vegan restaurant, and AMAZING even to non-vegans. I am definitely non-vegan.) (300 E 12th)
Smokejoint (BBQ) (bklyn)

Other places to go:
Brooklyn Flea Market
Prospect Park
Brooklyn Bridge/Grimauldi's
free nights at the art museums (Brooklyn Museum, MAD Museum, Queens Museum, Moma, Whitney, the Met) (some are free all the time)
MetroNorth to DiaBeacon
Brooklyn Botanic Gardens
Coney Island (pure ridiculousness)
I heard a lot about governor's island, but I never went.

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