I had very little free time in my schedule, but the proximity allowed me to do a little personal shopping (books, utensils, magazines), buy a few things to improvise breakfast in my room** and, moments before I was to catch a ride back to the airport, get a sandwich and a treat to eat on the plane.
What I really meant to get was a chocolate chip cookie, because Torres is one of the experts David Leite consulted for his perfect chocolate chip cookie article, and the devil on my left shoulder was hoping to persuade the angel on the right that it was all in the name of research. But they were out of those, so I simply got the other kind on offer. (As it turns out, my shoulder angel has a weakness for chocolate so he’s a bit lax when it comes to that kind of decision.)
I ended up not eating the cookie on the plane but simply brought it home, where it fed Maxence and me over the next couple of days; it was that big.
This cookie was so good, so chocolate-intense, that I credit it for helping me recover from the jetlag and travel fatigue. And because I felt I needed further assistance in that department, I looked for a recipe online. I easily found one in the New York Times archives, and it came with a leetle veedeo in which Jacques himself walks you through the process — always a bonus.
I two-fifthed the recipe, scaling it down to use 2 instead of 5 eggs, and modified it to use bittersweet chocolate only (unsweetened chocolate is not a staple of the French baker’s pantry), a little less sugar, and pecans in place of walnuts. And instead of making eight jumbo cookies, as the recipe scaling would have me do, I made sixteen of a size that is still plenty satisfying, but seemed as if it would go down better with the angel.
The trick to getting these (and many other) cookies right is to time the baking precisely so that the core of the cookie remains fudge-like, in ideal contrast with the crisper edges, the pecan pieces, and the chocolate chunks. The timing I’m giving below is perfect for my own oven, but yours is probably different, so start with a trial batch, watch the cookies closely, and make a note of the baking time that works for you.
At this point, I think I should stress how insanely chocolatey these mudslide cookies are — after all, they are more than 50% chocolate in weight. This is what makes them spectacular, but it also means that you should think carefully about the chocolate you use in them, because it will have a majority vote in the final flavor. (In Paris, affordable couverture chocolate can be obtained from G. Detou.)
And if you celebrate Valentine’s Day — I belong to category #2 so I don’t — these would certainly make your special someone feel very special.
* This involved a brief “cooking” segment on CBS’s Early Show, if you’re interested.
** I broke my own no-hotel-breakfast rule on my first morning there and ordered a so-called “seasonal fruit bowl,” only to discover that, in their world, this meant melon and berries. In December. Sheesh.
Pecan Mudslide Cookies
– 430 grams (15 ounces) high-quality bittersweet chocolate, in disks (couverture chocolate is sometimes sold that way) or roughly chopped
– 60 grams (1/2 cup) pecan halves (or walnut halves)
– 135 grams (2/3 cup) sugar (I use light unrefined cane sugar)
– 35 grams (1 1/4 ounces, about 2 1/2 tablespoons) unsalted butter
– 2 eggs
– 50 grams (1 3/4 ounces, a scant 1/2 cup) flour
– 1 teaspoon baking powder
– 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Makes 16 cookies, about 45 grams (1 1/2 ounces) each.
Have ready a medium baking dish, square or rectangular, lined loosely with parchment paper (don’t worry about lining it too neatly; you just want the bottom and sides covered).
Reserve 180 grams (6 1/3 ounces) of the chocolate and set aside in a bowl with the pecan halves.
Melt the remaining chocolate in a double-boiler (i.e. a heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water), stirring regularly until smooth. Set aside to cool slightly.
Cream together the sugar and butter until fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each addition. You want the batter to be super smooth.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt in a bowl, then add that to the previous batter, mixing until just combined.
Add the melted chocolate, mix until just combined, then add the reserved chocolate and pecans and stir them in.
Pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish and spread it into an even-ish layer with a spatula. Place in the fridge for 20 minutes, or until firm enough to handle without it sticking to your fingers. Don’t leave it in for too long, though, or it will be too hard to shape. (If you do, just let it come up to the right temperature on the counter.)
Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F) and line a baking sheet with a fresh piece of parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.
Remove the dough from the fridge and slide the parchment paper and dough onto a cutting board. Using a large, sharp knife, cut the dough into 16 equal pieces (a simple way to do that it to cut the dough in four vertically, then in four again horizontally).
Give each piece a somewhat rounded shape with the palms of your hands and place on the prepared baking sheet.
(At this point, you can freeze the rounds of dough for later use; freeze in a single layer before putting them in a freezer bag or container. Bake without thawing.)
Insert into the oven and bake for 15 minutes (16 if they were frozen), until the surface is just set, but still plenty soft when gently pressed in the middle. Let the cookies settle on the baking sheet for 20 minutes before transferring them to a rack to cool completely.
Adapted from a recipe by Jacques Torres published in the New York Times on August 11, 2003.
Cooking/baking time: 15 min