After Pastry School – Chocolate Chunk “Research”

Sam & I had a roommate in college that made an incredible chocolate chip cookie.  He wouldn’t give us the recipe.  As far as I know he has not yet been made wealthy or famous by these cookies so I’m not 100% sure what all the secrecy was about.  It was over these butter laden, chocolate chip studded masterpieces that Sam & I discovered a mutual love (obsession) of cookies and embarked on a quest for the perfect cookie, a crispy, yet chewy cookie with notes of vanilla and brown sugar with just the right type and amount of chocolate chips.  We have a notebook with dozens of recipes, some good, some great, but haven’t yet managed to recreate that exact cookie.  That’s ok though, chocolate chip cookies are like pizza, even the mediocre versions are really pretty good.  Our recipe “testing” has been on hiatus for some time, I’ve found several excellent and reliable recipes, but I expect we shall take the quest up again this winter when we’re back in Glosta.

The chocolate chip cookie may be the most humble of all baked goods, but I believe the quality of an establishment’s chocolate chip cookie tells volumes about the overall standards of a place.  I have tried chocolate chip cookies across the U.S, in Paris, London and Aruba.  My best-loved are on Nantucket, sold in my favorite type of “restaurant”, the small, superior quality sandwich shop offering the penultimate lunch; sandwich, chips, cookies and a drink.  Best consumed in a park or on the beach.

In most bakeries and cafes, there are no chocolate chip cookies.  They are chocolate chunk cookies.  It’s a fair distinction, very few bakeries and cafes use chips, they prefer chunks or discs of higher quality chocolate and for the natural variations of size/shape of chunks that make for a better textured/tasting cookie. Of course I have tried cookies all over the Boston area, from Shaw’s bakery and local coffee shops in Glosta to well-known Cambridge bakeries and hipster cafes in Somerville.  Rather than the more comprehensive research I did for macarons, I decided to re-taste and compare my four favorites from Cafe Madeleine (South End), Flour Bakery + Cafe (South End), Pain D’avignon (Hyannis via SoWa Market) and Sofra Bakery (Cambridge).  Results below.

And the winner is….

Sofra Bakery &Cafe

The fact that I am currently an intern at Sofra played no part in bestowing the first place honor to this truly magnificent cookie.  A tender, buttery cookie almost an inch thick.  Crispy at the edges, chewy in the middle.  Stuffed full of Tcho chocolate discs.  The batter is made on day 1, scooped on day 2 and baked on day 3.  The resting time allows the flavors and texture to develop.  The commercial convection oven gives them the perfect, “puff and crack”.  My one and only complaint?  Size. I wish these were about twice as big.  That way I’d only have to eat half as many.

The runner up…

Pain D’Avignon

Pain D’Avignon’s cafe & bakery in Hyannis is our last mainland stop before boarding the ferry for Nantucket and our first stop back in America.  Everything there is phenomenal, the croissants, sandwiches, house made potatoes chips, pecan cranberry rolls, etc.  I always buy at least three cookies, one to eat immediately, one for when we get home and one to freeze for later.  That’s how good they are.  Crispy edges and bottom, tender, almost chewy interior and tons of really tasty chocolate.  Not sure what type, but I would guess a high quality bitter sweet.  And they come in that wonderfully shareable bakery cookie size.    When not on your way to “the island” you can find Pain D’Avignon’s baked goods at SoWa Market on Sundays.

A close runner up…

Cafe Madeleine

Cafe Madeline is, IMO, the best French style bakery in the Boston area.  Their croissants are as good as we had in Paris and their French pastries are always fresh and delicious, particularly the eclairs.  I was quite pleasantly surprised to find that they also make fantastic chocolate chunk cookies.  They’re a bit thinner than I usually prefer, but they still have a chewier center with a good 1/4 inch of perfectly crispy edges.  Ratio of chocolate to cookie is spot on.  The cookie could have a touch more vanilla and/or brown sugar to impart more of that rich, almost caramel taste in the cookie.

Last, but certainly not least…

Flour Bakery + Cafe

Flour is an amazing place.  I first tried this cookie some time around 2006 or 2007 and never looked back.  It was when I realized that no matter what you’re making, a commitment to using the best possible ingredients and approaching everything with thought and passion is what produces wonderful, consistent and uber tasty results. It was also my introduction to Tcho chocolate and a turning point from being a chocolate chip cookie enthusiast to a chocolate chunk cookie lover. Over the years I’ve come to prefer a less crispy, more chewy cookie and one with a higher cookie to chocolate ratio. The size is also a conundrum, somewhere between almost small enough that it’s ok to have my own but not quite big enough to share.  These cookies are great and will always have a special place in my heart.

The chocolate chunk cookies at Something Natural, Sconset Market and Provisions on Nantucket are all excellent.  Maison Villate in Falmouth also makes a strikingly good chocolate chunk, and is also the best French style bakery this side of the Atlantic. Period.  That good.

Hoping to do some further “research” projects in the fall including doughnuts, cupcakes and chocolates.  It’s hard work, but someone has to do it.  Might as well be me.

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