Though I will most likely never win the Nobel Prize (most likely, but not never, because what if the Nobel committee might starts awarding the prize to people based on their dedicated contributions to the study of delicious baked goods?), the Fields Medal (nope—no way I’d ever win that one, baked goods or no), or the National Medal of Science, I did just achieve a profound and nearly unbelievable scientific feat: I just reverse engineered a cookie that I ate four months ago and had to recreate based entirely on memory.
You see, over the summer, when we were wrapping up our annual trip back to San Francisco to watch baseball games and gorge ourselves on ice cream, I stopped off at Bi-Rite Market to grab some snacks and treats for our journey back home. After locating a number of reasonable of healthy foods to accompany us, I also decided to buy a bag of gorgeous toffee colored cookies. The cookies were thick and chewy, rich with brown butter, and topped with a spoonful of sticky apricot preserves. They were some of the best cookies I have ever eaten, and, folks, I have eaten a lot of cookies. We ate most of the cookies while traveling, but I made sure to save one last cookie to enjoy while back home. Also, I had already decided that I had secret plans for that last cookie. Like a scientist entrenched in the lab, I was going to break down that cookie, bite by bite, and recreate it in my own kitchen.
I started with brown butter, deeply cooked so its toffee notes stood front and center, then, looking to create a cookie with a nice, chewy finish, paired it with brown sugar. Since the cookie I was looking to make was essentially a souped-up butter cookie, I followed the pattern of butter cookie know-how, creaming the lightly firmed brown butter with sugar and flour, then chilling the dough to allow it to hydrate and set up. When baked up with a spoonful of apricot preserves, the cookies were a dream. With a pronounced brown butter flavor, a sticky lid of apricot preserves, and a delectably crisp-yet-chewy bite, they were just like my long lost cookie friend of the summer. Only now, the code cracked, we’ll be able to make this cookie’s acquaintance all year long.
Last Year: Ginger Almond Toffee
Apricot Brown Butter Cookies
I first made these cookies much larger than the ones pictured here (in the interest of recreating Bi-Rite Creamery’s cookie as closely as possible). The tiny cookies seen here were made for a holiday cookie swap, so a small size seemed like a reasonable idea. If you want to make the cookies more like Bi-Rite Creamery’s, triple the scoop size, multiply the apricot topping by the same factor, then bake the cookies for 2 to 5 minutes longer, checking the cookies every couple of minutes to reach the proper level of doneness. When made larger, the cookies will end up much chewier than a tiny cookie.
1 ½ cups (3 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup dark brown sugar
½ cup granulated sugar
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
1/2 cup to 1 cup apricot preserves
In a medium skillet or pan, melt 2 sticks (1 cup) of the butter over medium heat. When browning butter, it is always best to do so in a light-colored pan so you can closely gauge the changing of the butter’s color. Slowly cook the butter, swirling the pan around every few seconds so the butter cooks evenly. The butter will begin to foam, then spatter a bit, and then you’ll see the little dots of milk solids begin to turn brown at the bottom of the pan. This can take anywhere from 5 to 8 minutes, so be sure to watch the butter very carefully to keep it from burning, and stir the butter every now and then to keep the milk solids from sticking to the bottom of the pan.
When the dots of butter solids have turned dark brown and the butter begins to emit a lovely nutty aroma, pour the butter into a medium bowl. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator or freezer. Allow the butter to cool, stirring every few minutes, until it is the spreadable consistency of softened butter (you basically want it to be the same texture as the remaining stick of butter that has been left to soften at room temperature). Getting the browned butter to this texture can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes, depending on whether you place it in the refrigerator or freezer, how often you stir it, etc.
When the browned butter has reached the proper consistency, place it in a large bowl, or in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, along with the remaining stick of softened butter. Cream the butters together until they are light and fluffy. Slowly add in both the brown sugar and granulated sugar, beating all the while, until everything is blended together. Beat in the egg yolks and vanilla. With the mixer on medium low speed, slowly add in the flour and salt and mix until everything is well combined and the dough is relatively smooth. Cover the bowl of dough and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.
When the dough has chilled, preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Using about 1 teaspoon of dough at a time (or, for a much larger cookie, a couple of tablespoons of dough), roll dough into a roughly 1-inch ball (or, obviously, larger). Place balls of dough about a inch or so apart on parchment-lined baking sheets. Using the tip of your finger, make a small indentation in the center of each dough ball. Drop a small scoop of apricot preserves into the indentation (a small ball will handle about ¼ of a teaspoon of preserves, but a larger ball can take about three times that much).
Bake the cookies in the center of the oven for 12 to 14 minutes, until the edges are lightly golden. Remove cookies to a wire rack to cool.
If you make these cookies using 1 teaspoon scoops, you will get around 6 dozen or more cookies.