Chocolate Chip Cookies With Fleur de Sel

As I was baking this week, I was reminded of that classic saying about old dogs and new tricks. It happened  right as I was beginning to unload flour and sugar and various other ingredients from my kitchen pantry, and noticed I was experiencing a slight sense of dread. It wasn't that I was dreading making cookies -- in fact, chocolate chip cookies are some of my favorites to bake -- but what I was dreading was that blasted kitchen  scale I knew I would be using to weigh the ingredients. It stood there on my kitchen counter, resolute, proud, taunting me ever so slightly with its menacing way of changing my baking habits. And I've been baking since I was 8 years old, which now makes me an old dog. 

You know how the saying goes . . .

Don't get me wrong. When I used my Ozeri digital kitchen scale for the first time last week, it was sort of fun. I brought out my glass mixing bowl set and placed each bowl on top, watching with grave curiosity as I poured baking soda into it and noticed the digital numbers continually climb. More often than not, I got carried away and poured too much of every ingredient inside, and then had to scoop out little pinches of sugar until the numbers went back to what the recipe called for.

You'll notice in all the recipes I post for this project, I'll provide measurements for both weight and volume. Thomas Keller claims that measuring ingredients by weight (in grams), as opposed to volume (with cups and measuring spoons) will ensure accuracy. He says that flour is especially troublesome to measure by volume because some bakers will lightly scoop it into the measuring cup, while others tend to pack it. That is why two people can follow the same recipe; yet, one person's chocolate cake can taste lighter and moister because it actually has less flour in it.

According to Keller, even environmental factors such as humidity can change the way  flour fits into a measuring cup; thus, turning the baking experience into a veritable game of Russian roulette! To avoid such insanity, he advises tossing the measuring cups and using the scale for everything. As his current "student," I am taking heed of this advice.

However, if you choose to do the same, I have one word of warning. When you're first starting out, do not attempt to measure multiple ingredients in one bowl. Don't do it because here's what will happen:

You'll be measuring something like cake flour, which is white with a soft, powdery consistency. You'll press the "tare" button to set the scale back to zero, and then on top of the cake flour, you'll add baking soda -- which happens to be white with a soft, powdery consistency. If, heaven forbid, you accidentally add several grams more baking soda than is actually needed, I wish you the best of luck in discerning where the cake flour ends and the baking soda begins.

It's not a fun predicament, but it's one I found myself in last week while trying to make banana bread. I accidentally added double the amount of baking soda, and finally ended up dumping the contents of the bowl in the trash can and starting anew. But not before first having to run to the grocery store and buy more cake flour -- because I sort of dumped the last of what I had on hand in the trash. Live and learn, as they say.

A quick word on Fleur de Sel

Above: Check out the difference in consistency between three different types of salt, from left to right: Fleur de sel, Table salt, Kosher salt 
This is a special type of French sea salt that is meant to be used as a finishing touch on an already-completed dish. It's generally rather expensive, which is why I chose to buy it by the ounce at a local spice shop in Costa Mesa. One ounce was more than enough, and it cost me around $4.00. 

The chocolate chip cookie recipe in Bouchon Bakery doesn't call for it, but I got inspired to give it a try after eating a cookie from M Street Kitchen in Santa Monica that was delightfully sprinkled with fleur de sel. That cookie was the perfect marriage of sweet and savory, with the salt working to enhance the flavor of the chocolate. The recipe below didn't turn out quite as magical as M Street Kitchen's cookies. But it was a solid start.

Chocolate Chip Cookies With Fleur de Sel
(slightly adapted from the Bouchon Bakery Cookbook)

All-purpose flour                 238 grams, or 1 1/2 cups + 3 Tbsp.

Baking soda                          2.3 grams, or 1/2 tsp.
Kosher Salt                           1 gram, or 1/4 tsp.
Dark brown sugar               134 grams, or 1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp. lightly packed
Molasses                               12 grams, or 1 3/4 tsp.
Granulated sugar                104 grams, or 1/2 cup
 70% dark chocolate bar     100 grams, or 1/2 cup
(coarsely chopped)
chocolate chips                     100 grams, or 1/2 cup
Unsalted butter                   1 cube + 3 Tbsp.
(at room temperature)
Egg                                        1
Fleur de sel                          A few pinches to lightly sprinkle on top

Combine flour, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl. Place the the brown sugar in a medium bowl and stir in the molasses and brown sugar, until evenly combined.

Place the chunks of dark chocolate bar in a mesh strainer and tap the sides to remove any any tiny, powdery pieces that will cloud the cookie. I collected them all in a little bowl and am saving them to dust on top of my hot chocolate :)

Place the butter in a large bowl and whip with a stand mixer, or hand mixer on medium-low speed until it's the consistency of mayonnaise. Add the molasses/sugar mixture and whip for another 3-4 minutes. Add the egg and mix on low speed for 15-30 seconds, or until just combined.

Add half of the dry ingredients, and stir until evenly combined. Then add the second half, stir until most the flour is absorbed, then get out the mixer and whip for 15-30 seconds to make sure the batter is thoroughly mixed. Stir in the chocolate chunks and chips, then refrigerate the dough for 30 minutes.

Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, and preheat to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper, and use either a standard cookie scoop for normal-sized cookies, or an ice cream scoop for extra large cookies, and scoop them onto the cookie sheet. Use the palm of your hand to flatten each cookie, and then lightly sprinkle each with fleur de sel.

Thomas Keller tip: Place only 3-6 cookies per cookie sheet because they expand -- a lot. And, boy is he ever right! Granted, the cookies will taste the same regardless of whether they're crowded and running into each other, but if you want them to look extra beautiful, then take his advice. These are my crowded cookies, below: