If you’ve never been, New York City has a tiny little bakery called Levain on the Upper West Side. Levain is easily missed as you pass by – but is landmarked with their royal blue awning and a small bench out front. You take a couple steps downstairs into the tiniest bakery where the aroma of rich milk chocolate is overwhelming and intoxicating. Bakers racks stand behind the counter, filled to the brim with freshly baked mounds of Levain’s signature Chocolate Chip Cookie, along with their other cookies, Oatmeal Raisin, PB Chocolate Chip and Chocolate Chocolate Chip.
It’s a sight to behold, really, and I am thankful I’ve been able to eat one of their glorious cookies fresh from the oven. Soft and THICK, it’s a huge mound of buttery, vanilla-scented dough baked until the tops and sides are slightly crispy but where the insides are still soft and slightly gooey. Each cookie is LOADED with chocolate chips studding each and every bite, without it being too cloyingly sweet. And sprinkled throughout these ginormous cookies are salty walnut pieces that add a great textured crunch and saltiness to these fantastic, irresistible cookies.
While walnut chocolate chip cookies may not seem that fantastic, it’s probably because you haven’t had one of these cookies yet! Even I was skeptical that a standard walnut chocolate chip cookie recipe would be too boring, or just.. so what? but folks, these are anything but. They’re everything.
The real key players in this all-star cookie game? Toasted walnuts, which are mandatory; tons of vanilla, because one teaspoon just isn’t enough; and double-dipping with the cookie scoop — one Tablespoon? Try two. Also, Levain’s known for their heavy hand with the chocolate chips, so for this, I used one whole cup of the morsels — semi-sweet, so they weren’t too cloying, but if you’re a die-hard chocoholic, feel free to use milk.
And the inspiration for these bad boys?! The Walnut Harvest 2014 I attended on behalf of Diamond of California, who was also the inspiration for #NuttyDessertsWeek this week! Founded in 1912, Diamond of California leads the industry and was the first to implement the laser-sorting technology that accurately sorts walnuts by size, ripeness, moisture-levels, even color. All walnuts are purchased from local growers located in the Central Valley since California grows about 1/3 of the supply of walnuts worldwide and about 80% of the almonds! At the Diamond of California plant in Stockton, California, workers will crack up to ONE MILLION pounds of walnuts a day during season.
I had the pleasure of attending their Walnut Harvest to see firsthand how Diamond Nuts and their farmers harvest these walnuts fresh from the trees to package them into the product you purchase at the store. First, everything starts at the orchards of course! Hundreds and hundreds of miles of walnut trees as far as the eye could see!
The nuts grow on the trees in green hulls, which protect the walnut inside. When the walnuts are ready, the hulls will generally fall away. If not, once they’re at the sorting plant, a large steel-bristled brush will sweep away the hulls. Did you know that the hulls can actually get sunburnt? This will affect the quality of the walnut inside, so walnut farmers will occasionally apply sunscreen to the outer hulls to protect the walnuts inside!
Later, our tour was able to sample some different varieties of walnuts at Diamond’s plant in Linden, CA. Most of the walnuts were mild and sweeter, but some had more bitter undertones. Overall, my favorites were Howard and Chandler, both buttery, mild, sweet, and perfect for baking.
Diamond of California’s Walnut Harvest Tour was SO much fun! I learned so much about the walnuts (and other nuts!) that I regularly snack on and purchase for baking. Little did I know all of this was happening in my backyard, about an hour from my home, and has been for over 100 years. The folks at Diamond Foods (they also own Pop Secret, Kettle Chips and Emerald Nuts!) were so sweet, knowledgeable and friendly and ensured our experience was a great one — and filling, as we ate all the walnuts our bellies could handle 🙂 Thank you for the memories, Diamond of California!!
Okay. With all this talk of nuts, it’s time to get baking! And I have juuuust the recipe for you to try… I have a hankering this will become a new family favorite soon enough!
*adapted from my Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies recipe
- ¾ cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¾ cup brown sugar
- ¼ cup sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp pure vanilla extract
- 2 tsp cornstarch
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup semi-sweet chocolate chips
- 1 cup Diamond of California Shelled Walnut Pieces, toasted*
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream together the butter, brown sugar and white sugar with the paddle attachment on medium speed for about 2 minutes, until fluffy. Beat in the egg and vanilla. Lastly, beat in the cornstarch, baking soda, salt and flour until a soft dough has formed. Stir in the chocolate chips and walnut pieces gently.
- Refrigerate the cookie dough for AT LEAST one hour, up to overnight. This is MANDATORY and chilling the dough is necessary to produce thick, fat, chewy cookies that do not spread. Don't skimp on this step!
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie sheets with silicone liners or mist the sheets lightly with cooking spray. Portion ¼ cup sized balls of dough (or two Tablespoon-sized cookie dough scoop's worth of dough) into huge balls of dough and place them onto the baking sheet. Bake for approx. 12 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking time. Cookies will be lightly golden on top and may appear slightly undone; this is normal as they will continue to set up as they cool. Do NOT over-bake them! Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for about 5-10 minutes before carefully transferring to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Serve cookies warm or room temperature, if desired. For the full Levain Bakery effect, serve them warm!
- **TO TOAST WALNUTS: preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with foil and place the walnut pieces on the baking sheet in an even layer. Toast for about 5-10 minutes, turning walnuts every so often, until fragrant and nutty. Keep a close eye on them as they can burn quickly. Allow to cool before stirring into dough.**
Thick, FAT & buttery cookies scented with a heavy hand of vanilla extract and bursting with warm brown sugar flavor — studded with rich, gooey semi-sweet chocolate chips and nutty, toasted walnut pieces as an added crunch.. these cookies are memorable and so freakin’ fantastic. For the full Levain Bakery effect, eat them warm with a huge glass of milk — I dare you to stop at just one!
I really hope you’ve all enjoyed Nutty Desserts Week as much as I have! I was so inspired by my generous friends at Diamond of California and I hope you’ll be inspired by their awesome lineup of products (and my recipes this week!) too. Be sure to check out their website and follow them on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM & PINTEREST.
Have a fantastical day!!
In the interest of full disclosure, I was generously provided with a trip to Diamond of California’s plants in Linden and Stockton, CA. All opinions and recipes are 100% my own and I was not otherwise compensated for this or any posts.