What are those sparkly crystals adorning those stunning chocolate cookies? Fleur de sel. Ha ha ha! When you stop laughing, consider this. A fudgey, gooey biscuit grows up and puts on a sprinkling of fine, pure salt as a study in contrasts. You've seen it on fancy chocolates. You put it on grilled fish. It's the reigning queen of salt and, yowzer, does it do wonders for this cookie! Fleur de sel is the surprise ingredient in this fine offering and I urge you to give it a go.
You may not realize this, but it is the magic of salt that gives foods the tastes we come to love. "Salt is the single most important ingredient in cooking and the single most powerful tool for improving the flavour of food" says Mark Bitterman in his book Salted - A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, With Recipes. Think of that tomato and the heights to which salt can elevate its tomato-ness. Or pan-fried potatoes and the lingering memory of the crispy, browned bits basking in a little sea salt. Baking requires salt for maximum flavour too, as you can see in all sweet recipes. Salt rounds out flavours and makes everything taste better. So, why not celebrate it and let it shine a bit more? And, in doing so, let's bring out the gold standard, fleur de sel, harvested from the sea by hand into crunchy beds off of the coast of France. Fleur del sel is light, flaky, pure and it will anoint your food with a finishing touch that will last in your memory, a clean bright waft of sea air. In these cookies, fleur de sel sits inside the dough as well, permeating the mouth with an even more punchy chocolate experience, and then dotting the tongue with a final, pleasant reminder.
The proliferation of food writing means that cooking and baking ideas spread and mutate and morph. This cookie is a stellar example. New York baker extraordinaire Dorie Greenspan took inspiration from Parisian pastry chef Pierre Herme. I, in turn, take my lead from Dorie, trusting her inclusion of salt crystals to bring midnight dark chocolate to greater heights. But, she rolls her dough into logs and slices cookies for baking, where I add a few drops of cold coffee to moisten the dough to allow for forming balls. My result is a crispy/chewy, crackled, salted beauty, the little crevices allowing for a peak into the deep heart of this chocolate sensation. This is what it means to create in the kitchen, tweaking, thinking, adapting, following, altering, modifying, enriching. I took this devilishly delicious cookie to where I wanted it, where the dough held together for me and allowed me to form uniform, round mounds of rich decadence. Where Dorie's dough felt dry and crumbly to me, I tweaked her recipe and made it work my way. All the flavour Dorie promises is there, the salt exalting our senses in a playful surprise.
Dorie calls these World Peace Cookies because her neighbour Richard Gold, upon tasting them, claimed that a daily dose is all that is needed to ensure planetary peace and happiness. Imagine if we could really test that concept.
Fleur de Sel Chocolate Cookies
adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe for World Peace Cookies
1+1/4 cups all-purpose flour; 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder; 1/2 tsp. baking soda; 11 tbsp. unsalted butter, at room temperature; 2/3 cup packed light brown sugar; 1/4 cup granulated sugar; 1/2 tsp. fleur de sel or 1/4 tsp. fine sea salt; 1 tsp. pure vanilla extract; approximately 2 tbsp. cold coffee, enough to moisten the dough so that it holds together when pinched; 3/4 cup bittersweet chocolate chunks or chips.
Sift flour, cocoa and baking soda together. In a large mixing bowl beat butter on medium speed until soft and creamy. Add both sugars, salt and vanilla and beat for 2 minutes more. Add dry ingredients and pulse mixer at low speed about 5 times to prevent the flour from flying around. Mix for about 30 seconds more, just so the flour disappears. If mixture appears dry and crumbly, add coffee a teaspoon at a time until the dough holds together when pinched.
Chill dough in the fridge overnight, wrapped well in plastic wrap. When you are ready to bake the cookies, centre a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat oven to 325 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone mats. With a tablespoon, scoop out balls of dough and roll in your hands until rounded. Place about 2 inches apart on cookie sheet and flatten balls slightly with the palm of your hand. Bake one sheet at a time for about 12 minutes or until set at the edges, puffed and crackled, but still soft. Cool on a rack and store in a covered container.
Let Dorie Greenspan be your capable and inspiring guide in the kitchen: