How to Upgrade Your Chocolate Chip Cookies, According to a Pastry Chef
Paola Velez knows good chocolate. After graduating from culinary school, the pastry chef spent years working with Jacques Torres at the famed chocolatier’s eponymous Brooklyn chocolate factory. But it was years before, when Velez took a year-long hiatus from the culinary world—volunteering at a community organization to feed the homeless—that she first created her beloved chocolate chip cookie.
The group raised money with bake sales, setting up a table in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. After modifying and perfecting her recipe for nearly a decade, the Dominican-American chef finally had a place to showcase her cookie in 2019, when she became the executive pastry chef at Washington, D.C.’s Kith and Kin.
The restaurant, led by Food & Wine Best New Chef Kwame Onwuachi, highlights Afro-Caribbean cuisine through the lens of Onwuachi’s personal history and family tree. And Velez’s desserts—including over-the-top creations like her plantain sticky buns, served under a snowball-sized scoop of frozen icing that’s melted with a tableside pour of hot salted caramel—make impressive finales. Also on her dessert menu: the chef’s chocolate chip cookies, which she calls “thick’ems.” (Besides being an apt descriptor for the beautifully dense treat, the name is also an effort to normalize synonyms for “fat.”)
Velez’s recipe calls for Valrhona, including Tainori, a single-origin dark chocolate from the Dominican Republic, and Jivara, a 40% cocoa milk chocolate, plus butterscotch. She uses the premium, bean-to-bar chocolate brand in part because of its superior taste, and in part because of the nearly-century old French company’s commitment to the climate and fair trade. “They’re pioneering in the industry,” says the chef. “Not only are their practices environmentally-sustainable, but they’re equitable to the growers.”
While Kith and Kin is currently shuttered from a global pandemic, like all of D.C.’s restaurants, Velez says some of the staff is using the time to work on baking projects at home. The chef admits she’s not one to show effusive emotion—but instead lets her baking do the talking. “I show people that I care by listening, and then turning something that is very important to them, or something that is very dear to them into food that represents them in a way. That’s more tangible than me just saying, ‘I love you.’”
Now feels like a good time to focus on a baking project, especially one that involves chocolate. Below, find Velez’s best advice for baking your own thick and chewy chocolate chip cookies.
Brown your butter
“If you take a Food & Wine recipe for chocolate chip cookies, and wanted to modify it to be like the Thick’Ems, I would brown your butter,” says Velez. Let it cool, and have it on reserve. “Everyone should have brown butter in their house, because it’s delicious.”
Add more flour
If your recipe calls for two cups of flour, add a quarter cup more, suggests Velez. “That will turn your cookie into a higher density product, like a brownie, almost.” In general, learning how to play with ratios is important. “Learning how much butter to sugar to flour in any recipe is the fundamentals of what I teach in my kitchen. Once you understand what ratios you can put into a product, you don't make mistakes anymore,” says the chef. “Well, you just make happy mistakes, and happy mistakes can turn into your next great product or your family recipe.”
Experiment with temperature
“If the recipe calls for something like 350 degrees, and you know for a fact that it operates at 350 [be sure by using an oven thermometer], you can raise it up by about 10 degrees,” says the chef. “That'll give your cookies that crunchy outside—chewy inside.” But don’t go too high—at around 375 degrees, you could burn the chocolate and get a very bitter taste, Velez says. You could also experiment with temperature on several different batches. “We have nothing but time now, make a few batches, and really see what you like the best.”
Finish with salt
Velez adds a sprinkle of Maldon to the finished product, but if you don’t have that available, any salt will do. Just remember that table salt is much more powerful than the flaky sea salt, so sprinkle accordingly.