On a cold, rainy Wednesday morning, we decided to take some time out of our busy schedules and bake an enormous batch of cookies (I mean, this makes a lot – I distributed half to one of my classes, we ate many of them, naturally, and there are still some left over to take in to work for lunch). Nick, whose banana bread pleased at Athens and Rome, and is still admired in Paris and London today (ok – bad, nerdy joke – no need to get the reference), is still in the early stages of learning how to cook. As is common to many first-time cooks, he is particularly getting into baking, so this was a nice opportunity to practise his skills. (I suspect that one of the appeals of baking is that you mix a bunch of things together, place them in a box, and out pops real, cooked, delicious food.)
These turned out wonderfully – a little crisp on the outside, a little gooey on the inside. You can either use commercially produced bars of chocolate-coated english toffee (Smitten Kitchen suggests for US readers that you can find Heath bars at Duane Reade), or (as we did) some nice delis may also sell chocolate-coated toffee (such as the hazelnut toffee we got, below, from the wonderful Bedford Cheese Shop in Williamsburg). The toffee does tend to melt into the rest of the cookie, and I was a little disappointed that you didn’t just get nice hard chips of it throughout a soft cookie, but the result was pretty great nonetheless.
Chocolate toffee walnut cookies
65 g (2.25 oz/half a cup) plain (all purpose) flour
A teaspoon of baking powder
A pinch of fine salt
455g (1 lb) bittersweet or semisweet dark chocolate
57g (2 oz/quarter of a cup) unsalted butter
385g (13.6 oz/ one and three quarters of a cup) brown sugar
4 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
200g (7oz/ about 5 chocolate bars) chocolate-covered toffee (alternatively, just use toffee if you can get it – you don’t strictly need the extra chocolate)
1 cup walnuts
Begin by roughly chopping the walnuts (I liked having decent-sized chunks of walnut in the cookies, so advise not to chop them too small), and dry-toast in a frying pan until they are a little more golden in colour, and are beginning to smell toasty and delicious. Put to one side to cool. In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking-powder and salt, and mix together well. Put to one side.
To melt the chocolate, heat up a pot of water to simmering, and over it place a heat-proof glass or metal bowl. Make sure the water isn’t touching the bottom of the bowl, and that the flame (if you are using a gas stove-top) is not directly heating the bowl. Break up the chocolate and chop up the butter, place in the bowl, and mix they have melted and combined. (Melting chocolate is a delicate process. For more instructions, look here.) Put the melted chocolate to one side to cool.
In a large bowl, beat together the eggs and sugar until thick. If you have electric beaters, this will take about 5 mins, otherwise you can do it with a whisk, but the mixture is quite heavy, so your arm will hurt a lot by the end (I say this from experience – we really need to get electric beaters!). Beat in the melted chocolate and vanilla. Then, mix in the flour and, when that is fully combined, mix in the toasted walnuts, and coarsely chop the toffee, mixing that in as well. Don’t chop the toffee so coarsely that you have massive chunks, though, as they become harder to mould, and the toffee may run out of the cookie while baking.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and place in the fridge for about 45 minutes until firm. We made two batches, and by the second one the mixture was so firm it was rather difficult to scoop out – if this happens just leave out of the fridge until it softens enough to be workable, which shouldn’t take long. When you are ready to cook, make sure that the oven racks are in the middle of the oven (too high up and the toffee is more likely to burn) and pre-heat it to 180 degrees celsius (350 degrees fahrenheit). Line large baking trays with baking paper (you may end up needing to cook in batches depending on how many baking trays you have – we made enough cookies to cover four of them). As the toffee has a tendency to run out of the cookie while cooking sometimes, and then the paper sticks to it, I would also grease your baking paper – even if it already claims to be greased.
Scoop a small fistful of dough, make it into a ball, and place on the baking paper, spacing the balls of dough at least 2 inches apart and flattening them slightly. These are very rich, so you can make them smaller if you like (we made two sized and I slightly preferred the bigger ones not for any reason other than the fact that you get more every time you eat one of them). Bake for 12-15 minutes – the tops will be a bit cracked, but the middles will still be soft – don’t worry if they seem a little soft, because they cook more as they cool. For the same reason, leave them to cool entirely before consuming.