Everyone has opinions about chocolate chip cookies. For me, it’s always been about the dough. If I’m going to the effort to make cookies, the cookie dough itself should be full of flavor and well-seasoned, worth eating with or without chocolate. I don’t like cookies that are more chocolate than cookie — if I want that much chocolate, I’ll just eat a chocolate bar.
My go-to base is in my cookbook, Baked to Order. I use brown butter, a mix of flours (including rye), and a hit of espresso powder for an extra flavorful cookie. I still make that recipe often, but lately I’ve been tinkering with it a little to really focus on one particular element: brown butter.
Brown butter has been the darling of the culinary world for…I don’t know, decades now? I’m sure you’re familiar with it. Browning butter is the process of heating butter until the water evaporates and the milk solids (which make up about 3-5% of the butter content) brown. In French, brown butter is called beurre noisette, or “hazelnut butter”, because the aroma resembles toasted hazelnuts. It’s a beautiful thing.
But what if you want to add more brown butter flavor? You can’t just add more brown butter, or the ratio of fat to everything else will result in a very different end product. Enter: toasted milk powder.
Milk powder is essentially a concentrated powder of milk solids, made by preheating, evaporating, and reheating milk. It’s a staple in my baking kit; I use it most often in my enriched sourdoughs to make extra tall and soft loaves (by increasing the protein and lactose without adding extra liquid). I first came across the concept of toasting milk powder on Francisco Migoya’s blog, where he talks about adding it to financier batter. It’s brilliant — by toasting the milk powder, you’re adding more of the tasty brown bits that give brown butter its flavor and aroma!
There are a number of ways to toast milk powder. If you want to make a large batch to have on hand, try the microwave method or the pressure cooker method. For these cookies, I decided to just toast the milk powder directly in the browning butter.
- When toasting the milk powder, keep the heat down and whisk constantly to avoid clumping. Normally I crank the heat up once the butter has melted, but I got more consistent results with the milk powder keeping the temp around medium-low. If your milk powder is clumpy, definitely sift it / break up any lumps before adding to the butter.
- You can make these cookies straight from the melted butter stage, but these days I prefer the texture of the final cookies when the butter is brought back to a spreadable consistency. Creaming the butter also helps break up any bits of clumpy toasted milk powder that may have formed during the browning process.
- I’ve added in a touch of liquid (usually coffee) to make up for the moisture loss from browning the butter. It helps the cookies spread more predictably, especially if you’re refrigerating/freezing the dough for more than a day.
- To get perfectly round cookies, you can scoot them with a round cookie cutter just larger than the baked cookie or use an offset spatula or spoon to nudge them into shape IMMEDIATELY after the cookies come out of the oven. Totally optional; it’s just for looks.
Toasted milk powder (extra-strength brown butter) chocolate chunk cookies
Makes 12-14 cookies | Adapted from Baked to Order
- 113g unsalted butter, cubed
- 45g nonfat milk powder
- 100g light brown sugar
- 65g granulated sugar
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp baking soda
- 3g (3/4 tsp) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
- 1/2 tsp espresso powder (optional)
- 1 large egg, cold
- 1 large egg yolk, cold
- 18g coffee or milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 175g all purpose flour
- 140g good quality dark chocolate, chopped (I like a mix of 55% and 70%)
- Flaky sea salt, for garnish (optional)
Make the extra-strength brown butter: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium-low heat. Once the butter has melted, whisk in the milk powder. Continue cooking on medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until the milk solids darken and the butter takes on a toasty, nutty smell. Remove from heat and scrape the butter and all the toasty bits into a heatproof container. Refrigerate until spreadable, about 45 minutes. (You can speed up the process by stirring the butter over an ice bath or sticking it in the freezer, stirring every 5-10 minutes.) You can make the extra-strength brown butter up to a week in advance; bring to room temperature before mixing cookie dough.
Make the cookie dough: In a medium bowl, combine the softened extra-strength brown butter, sugars, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and espresso powder. Using an electric hand-held mixer, mix on medium speed until well combined, 2-3 minutes (the mixture will be a bit crumbly). Scrape down the beaters and sides of the bowl. Add the egg and egg yolk and mix until smooth, then add the coffee or milk and vanilla. Mix until well combined. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. Add the flour and mix on low until the flour is mostly mixed in, then add the chopped chocolate. Switch to a spatula and mix just until the chocolate is evenly distributed and no streaks of flour remain. Cover and refrigerate for BARE MINIMUM 1 hour, but preferably at least four hours (or up to 3 days).
Bake the cookies: Preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle and line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Portion the dough into golf-ball sized portions (weigh them if you want perfectly even cookies — I usually make mine around 55g each, which gives me a baker’s dozen). Place the cookies on the prepared baking sheets about 2½ inches apart and sprinkle the tops with flaky sea salt.
Bake the cookies one sheet at a time until the edges are set and the centers no longer look wet, about 12 to 14 minutes. Rotate the sheet in the oven halfway through baking. Cool the cookies on the baking sheets for about 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store leftovers in an airtight container.