Claudia Fleming and François Payard take entirely different approaches to baking a basic chocolate cookie. And in our pursuit of a recipe that lets the signature ingredient shine without lapsing into fudgy, dense overload, we found we had lessons to learn from both of them.
We liked Fleming’s chocolate brownie cookies in part because they mimic the lustrous, crackly-crisp exterior of a classic brownie, yet they bake up lighter. That’s because Fleming, a pastry chef and cookbook author, beats the eggs and sugar for 15 minutes, giving the cookies a cakier, more open crumb than standard brownies.
We also liked Payard’s flourless chocolate cookie. In addition to the flour, Payard—a French pastry chef who has worked at some of the world’s finest restaurants—also eliminates the butter. His cookies get their structure, as well as their lightness, from whipped egg whites. He also flavors his cookies only with cocoa powder.
Though we appreciated the simpler, cleaner flavors of Payard’s cookie, it didn’t give us quite the richness and intensity we were after. But by hybridizing the two, we hit upon success. We combined melted bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder with butter for the base of our batter. We then whipped egg whites and brown sugar to soft peaks and folded them into the base to give the batter lightness, loft and structure.
In order to retain Fleming’s shiny, crackly exterior, we needed a two-step approach to the egg whites. We began by hand-whisking the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. We then set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and heated the mixture to 100°F. Only then did we set the bowl in the mixer to whip the eggs to soft peaks.
Gently heating the egg whites and brown sugar ensures the latter evenly dissolves so that the cookies bake up with crisp, shiny exteriors. Heating the mixture also creates a more stable meringue, which makes it easier to combine and less likely to deflate. Chopped chocolate folded into the batter at the very end created pockets of chocolate intensity in the baked cookies.