When my wife and I met a friend for lunch last weekend, my wife spied some pretty delicious-looking chocolate chip cookies at the bakery next door. These cookies were huge and had a perfect chewy texture. Best of all, they were sprinkled with fleur de sel – specialty sea salt from France.
The combination of salty and sweet makes sense, of course, and these cookies were incredible. As a chocolate chip cookie connoisseur, I immediately wanted to try to make my own version.
The first step was procuring my own fleur de sel. I visited my local specialty food store and bought Carmargue fleur de sel. This is not cheap stuff – I spent $11 for 4.4 ounces of salt. Fleur de sel is expensive because of how it’s harvested. I now quote from the back of my salt container: “These salt crystals, harvested in Camargue region near Provence, form on the surface of crystallizers early in the morning with a little help from the sun. The salt master’s art consists in patience and waiting for just the right moment to carefully collect this delicate gift of Mother Nature, since a gentle breeze is all it takes to blow away the fine flakes.”
So fleur de sel is labor-intensive and expensive. Is the effort worth it? I did a quick taste test of three types of salt: Traditional table salt, cheap sea salt and handcrafted fleur de sel. There was a noticeable difference between the three salts. The table salt tasted metallic and the most “salty,” while the fleur de sel had a much more mild and mellow flavor. The sea salt fell in the middle.
(For a much more in-depth explanation of the different types of salt, plus a very thorough taste test, read this Slate piece from 2005. Salt prices have risen since then. The fleur de sel I bought was rated highly, but wasn’t the favorite.)
The size of the salt crystals plays a big part in determining how salty something is going to taste, and how difficult it is to get an even sprinkling. The fleur de sel crystals are large without being overwhelming. They are perfect for sprinkling on cookies.
I don’t usually make giant cookies, but I wanted to match the bakery cookie as closely as possible. This meant I had to go thicker, without making the cookie cakey, rather than chewy. With the basic chocolate chip cookie recipe as a guide, I made a few changes. I increased the amount of flour so the cookies wouldn’t spread as much, and I used only brown sugar for a little added moisture. I made a few other changes, too. I used less salt in the dough, since I would be sprinkling plenty of salt on top. I eliminated the walnuts to match the bakery and aim for a more pure chocolate chip cookie, and I used chocolate chunks instead of chips.
The result: pretty darn satisfying if I do say so myself. The fleur de sel sprinkling on top is a revelation. The cookies are large without being too intense, and I preserved their chewiness.
One batch makes 16 large cookies. (A batch of traditional-sized cookies makes 48.)
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 1/2 cups dark brown sugar
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 12 ounces (2 cups) semi-sweet chocolate chunks
- Fleur de sel, for sprinkling
Step 1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cream together the butter and sugar. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt and baking soda.
Step 2. Add the vanilla and eggs, beating until well combined. Then mix in the dry ingredients. Finally, mix in the chocolate chunks.
Step 3. It’s always better to chill cookie dough, but this step is especially crucial with these cookies, because you want them spreading as little as possible. Chill for at least 30 minutes, but up to 24 hours (it’s well established that “aging” cookie dough improves flavor).
Step 4. Fill a 1/4-cup measuring cup full of cookie dough. This will perfectly divide the dough into 16 cookies. Go 4-6 cookies to a sheet, and bake two sheets at a time. Bake for 14 minutes, switching oven position halfway through.
Step 5. Sprinkle the cookies with the fleur de sel right when they come out of the oven. The salt will partially dissolve and stick to the cookie. If you sprinkle the cookies before they go in the oven, too much of the salt dissolves. Wait 15 minutes for the cookies to cool before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.