In our first round of tastings for the Serious Eats Chocolate Chip Cookie Championship, we're headed uptown, to the Upper East and Upper West Sides. After combing the bakeries, asking our commenters, and doing a few preliminary nibbles, we've settled on eight: Levain, Bouchon Bakery, Two Little Red Hens, Hampton Chutney Company, Citarella, Fairway, Yura on Madison, and Silver Moon Bakery.
The blind taste test, and our favorite chocolate chip cookies uptown, after the jump.
"Like Stale Chips Ahoy"
A few commenters loved them. They made New York Magazine's Best Chocolate Chip Cookies of 2005 list. But not a single one of our tasters found anything redeeming in the hard, unexciting cookies from Hampton Chutney Company. "All crunch; no chew." "Completely generic." "This tastes like a packaged cookie." The one bright spot? Though the huge chunk-like chips were unevenly distributed, almost everyone appreciated the quality of the chocolate. But good chocolate does not a good chocolate chip cookie make.
Better-Than-Expected Market Cookies
"Wow! Such a normal cookie!" was the consensus on Fairway Market's bakery cookie. Thin and crisp-chewy, sweet but a little salty, soft in the middle without being underdone. But many tasters were left wanting more chocolate, and the cookie didn't quite break in to the top 3.
Citarella's cookies fell into the same tasty, but unremarkable camp. Thick and a bit soft, they lacked any exterior browning or chew, and had a cookie base described as "generic" and "OK." But the ample chocolate won a few points.
Most Like a Pecan Sandie
As a cookie, the entry from Two Little Red Hens won all sorts of praise. "Love the buttery chew!" "Crisp caramel flavor, tastes almost brown-sugary." But with virtually no chocolate, these tasted far too much like pecan sandies to win a chocolate chip cookie title.
All-Around Solid Contender
Often appearing in Best Cookie roundups, Silver Moon Bakery makes a mean chocolate chip cookie. Our tasters liked the buttery taste and soft innards, and chocoholics, take note: this is one choco-heavy cookie. ("Chocolate overload!" "Where's the cookie?") And many noted that it tasted far less burnt than it looked. But it was a bit too thick and sweet to win anyone's nod for the best cookie we tasted.
The Second-Place Tie
"This is precisely what a cookie should be," wrote one of our tasters of Yura on Madison, an opinion echoed by others. "Buttery, salty, perfect." "Great ratio of chocolate to cookie—you can taste both components." "Crisp edges, soft center." Some found the interior a bit dry, and missed more of a soft, molten core. But all in all, a great cookie.
We've come to expect perfection from Bouchon Bakery, and its chocolate chip cookie was pretty darn close. "Perfectly baked, with three layers: crunchy border, softer middle, still softer core." "Just a little bit salty, just a little bit sweet." "Beautiful to look at. Better to eat." But some found it a bit dry. As one taster put it, "This just isn't a holy grail cookie."
The Controversial Winner
We all agreed, before the taste test, that the perfect cookie was thin and pliable, crisp around the edges, soft in the middle. Buttery without tasting like butter, sweet without a sugar overload.
But that was before we tasted Levain.
Nearly every taster forgot all about that ideal cookie they'd been keeping in mind. "This is incredible." "Melts in your mouth." "So moist! And so tasty." "I could eat this forever. But then I would die." Sure, it was a massive barely baked lump of dough. But such a good barely baked lump of dough. When we tallied up the scores, Levain came out on top.
That said, there were a few hard-core anti-Levainites. "That's not a chocolate chip cookie! Homie don't play that." "This would be great, in a blondie taste-test." "Was this actually baked? I'm a little salmonella-nervous."
In truth, it didn't hold up to our ideal cookie. Not at all. Does it say something that most tasters preferred a dough lump to most of the cookies on the Upper East and West Sides? Perhaps. In either case, we're advancing it to the next round, because people liked it just too much to hold it back. But our perfect cookie, it wasn't.
So Levain, Bouchon, and Yura—you're all moving onto the next round.
How will the rest of New York's cookies measure up? Stay tuned for the next installment, next week.
Jacques Torres, Petrossian, and Ruby et Violette will appear in future rounds.