By Rick Nelson Minneapolis Star Tribune
Pastry chef Dominique Ansel, inventor of the croissant-meets-doughnut confection he christened the Cronut, is coming out with a cookbook in a few months.
To whet the media’s appetite, publisher Simon &Schuster is circulating a preview piece. The sneak peek contains two recipes, and, no, neither is for his most-talked-about creation.
I am not exactly crushed, particularly since the flier features a formula for a flourless chocolate cookie with pecans. Cronut, schmonut; one glance at photographer Thomas Schauer’s hard-core food-porn images of said cookie and I knew that I’d be first in line to buy the book upon its October release.
Ansel’s comment at the top of the recipe proved to be the real clincher. It reads, “I love making this recipe … because of its forgiving nature and utterly addictive results.”
Yeah: Chocolate. Easy. Fabulous. Three of the greatest motivators for composing a shopping list.
I don’t recall the last time that a rookie whirl through a recipe went so well, with so little effort. No electric mixer required, just a whisk. Sure, you’ll need a double-boiler, but my rudimentary version — a saucepan and a mixing bowl — more than sufficed. As for the technique, it’s the drop cookie at its most fundamental.
And wow, what results. I was bowled over by the cookie’s intensely chocolate-y essence. Its gooey texture comes as close to voluptuous as a cookie can get. Holding all of that melted chocolate together is the barest, faintest trace of a crispy exterior, and the way it collapses in your mouth is almost meringue-like.
Ansel, chef/owner of Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York City and winner of the 2014 Outstanding Pastry Chef award from the James Beard Foundation, wisely suggests serving the cookies warm. “A glass of milk helps,” he writes. It certainly does.
But eating them in their fully cooled state isn’t exactly disappointing. Just don’t wait too long. It’s a fairly perishable cookie, lasting about two days when stored at room temperature. Trust me, they’ll go fast.
The dough can be refrigerated for up to three days, or frozen for up to a week. For the latter, defrost the dough in the refrigerator for a few hours before baking.
Initially, the dough resembles a thickish pancake batter, so much so that you’ll wonder, this is going to turn into cookies? Fear not. An overnight firming-up period in the refrigerator resolves the matter.
Ansel doesn’t suggest toasting the pecans, but I do. The recipe’s directions create oversized, fairly ungainly cookies. For more manageable cookies — and more of them — cut the recommended 3 1/2 tablespoon drop down to 2 tablespoons.
Each batch requires roughly a pound of dark chocolate. I purchased two (10-ounce) bags of Ghirardelli 60 percent cacao bittersweet chocolate baking chips, at $3.99 per bag, and the results were fine.
A few days later, I test-drove bittersweet Cordillera, a 65 percent, single-source chocolate sold in the bulk aisle at a co-op. The cost ran roughly $3 more than the Ghirardelli, but the results were totally worth the investment.
One final note: This is a gluten-free recipe, a fact that Ansel doesn’t mention anywhere in the recipe. It’s maybe the best gluten-free cookie I’ve ever baked, although, let’s face it, the competition isn’t exactly Olympian.
Just be sure that you’re using the proper baking powder. Some baking powders contain flour, so note that the package is clearly labeled “gluten-free” before using.
Flourless chocolate pecan cookies
Note: This recipe must be prepared in advance. Tester suggests that smaller cookies are more manageable (drop 2 tablespoons instead of 3 1/2 on the pan) and toast the pecans. (Place pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat and cook, shaking the pan often, until the nuts begin to release their fragrance, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool.) From pastry chef Dominique Ansel, a preview from his upcoming cookbook, “Dominique Ansel: The Secret Recipes” (Simon &Schuster).
2 cups dark chocolate chips (60 percent cocoa content, or greater), divided
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cups sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
4 tablespoons pecans, roughly chopped
Fill a saucepan with about 2 inches of water over medium heat and let it come to a simmer. Place a stainless steel bowl on top of the simmering water (making sure that the bottom of the bowl does not come in contact with the water) and add 1 1/2 cups chocolate chips. Stir slowly with a spatula to ensure that chocolate chips are completely melted before turning off heat.
In a separate microwave-proof bowl, melt butter in microwave oven. Stir melted butter into melted chocolate. Keep mixture warm over double boiler with heat turned off.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
Add eggs and whisk until fully incorporated and batter resembles the consistency of pancake batter, making sure you incorporate any dry ingredients that may have settled on the bottom or side of bowl, using a spatula or scraper if necessary.
Slowly whisk in melted chocolate-butter mixture (if chocolate-butter mixture cools and begins to solidify, gently reheat it over the double boiler before incorporating).
Using a spatula, gently fold remaining 1/2 cup chocolate chips, as well as pecans, into the batter.
Cover batter tightly with plastic wrap, pressing wrap to cover surface of batter. Refrigerate overnight.
When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees and line baking sheets with parchment paper.
Using your hands or a scoop, break dough into pieces roughly the size of your palm (about 3 1/2 tablespoons, or smaller if you prefer). Roll dough into balls. Place balls at least 2 inches apart on prepared baking sheets. Using the palm of your hand, gently press the tops of the dough, forming it into a thick disk.
Bake in the oven’s middle rack until cookies are just beginning to crack on top but the dough is set on the edge and has a soft spot in the center (about the size of a quarter), about 8 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking. Remove from oven and allow cookies to cool on baking sheets until cookies further set, about 5 to 7 minutes. Serve warm, or carefully slide parchment paper onto a wire rack and cool cookies completely.
Makes about 16 to 20 cookies.