Have Yourself a Boozy Little Xmas: Whiskey & Rye Chocolate Chip Cookies

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I cannot remember the last time I made chocolate chip cookies. I seriously have no idea. I’ve been so consumed with learning advanced pastry skills over the past several years that I have rarely stopped to revisit that all-time icon of home baking. For shame! Sometimes you need to throw back to a simpler time when cookies solved all of life’s problems, and there is nothing more comforting than chocolate chip cookies. I guess my apathy is mostly due to the fact that I’ve never quite nailed down the cookie recipe of my dreams. I am squarely in the crisp-on-the-outside-chewy-on-the-inside camp—none of that Chips Ahoy crispy nonsense for me, thankyouverymuch. Despite playing around with butter temperature and other variables, my cookies are always flatter and crisper than I’d like; what I want is a thick, dense disk that I can sink my teeth into, not some dainty little biscuit. Perfecting this elusive masterpiece has taken a bit of a backseat to things like layer cakesbuttery shortbreadfancypants bars, and Italian desserts… but then I stopped. Bon Appétit magazine publishes a show-stopping array of holiday cookies each December that makes me re-examine my life every winter. And this year… well, this is the year of my personal chocolate chip cookie reawakening. Among their cookie bounty (more of which I’ll probably post here soon), are—are you ready?— Whiskey & Rye Chocolate Chip Cookies. That might not be what you were expecting me to say. (Or maybe it was because you already read the title, but just act surprised anyway.)

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If ever I was looking for a way to rev up a chocolate chip cookie, the words ‘rye’ and ‘whiskey’ would not likely be the first things to come to mind, but I would be wrong—very, very wrong. The addition of whole grain rye flour gives the cookies a slight tang that is hard to describe other than perfect. The recipe also calls for a teaspoon of bourbon, but there’s a note that specifically says rye whiskey (more on this below) will enhance the rye notes, so I decided to give that a whirl. And if you’re wondering what the frak caused me to go, “Wow, a rye and whiskey cookie—how nifty!”, it’s because the photo resembles one of my all-time favorite chocolate chip cookies, the Valrhona Chocolate Chip Cookie at Craftsman and Wolves in San Francisco. I’ve spent far too many minutes gazing admiringly at its swirling chocolate striations and graceful salt-crystal garnish, sadly at a loss for how to evolve my own cookies in this direction… until now. The Bon Appétit cookies immediately caught my eye for the same reasons, and hey, I’m always curious about ingredients with a twist. Friends, this cookie is chunky and toothsome, loaded with dark chocolate pieces of all shapes and sizes, and there’s a lovely, complex hint of “What the heck is that subtle flavor?” courtesy of the rye and whiskey. When you open their storage container, there’s a micro whiff of rye bread, which is actually a great thing. I could not be more pleased with this cookie—it has all the components that make a top-notch chocolate chip cookie in my book… and I may never look back.

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A few recipe notes/preferences:

  • The recipe specifically calls for chocolate wafers, which are different than chocolate chips. They are small disk-like pieces of high-quality baking chocolate called ‘couverture’ that melt well and are meant for advanced/professional baking– they are much more flavorful than chips and give cookies a great variance in texture. Wafers are produced by many good chocolatiers and may also be called discs, pistoles, or fèves depending on the brand. You can find them at baking supply stores, specialty food stores, some grocery stores, and online. There is a range of cost and they come in varying cacao percentages. My go-to choices for affordable, yet good-quality, wafers are Guittard 61% “Lever du Soleil” and 72% “Coucher du Soleil”, and I love TCHO for their 39% SeriousMilk Chocolate Discs and 66% Dark Chocolate Baking Drops when I want to get a little fancier. Valrhona is top-notch with a wide array of choices and a price tag to match.
  • The cookies are topped with flaky sea salt combined with vanilla bean seeds. I happened to have vanilla fleur de sel on hand and sprinkled the first batch with that, but I actually found that it was a bit bitter for some reason. I ended up topping the rest with plain Maldon salt because I like the clean salt flavor, but I will try mixing it with the vanilla seeds next time as written.
  • The dough may be a little crumbly when you’ve finished mixing in the dry ingredients (due to the rye flour?), but you can easily shape the dough when scooping. The baked cookies were not at all crumbly.
  • Rye flour is new to me as a baking ingredient, but apparently not at all new in cookie-baking. I found a few recipes combining chocolate and rye, which seems to be a delicious duo. Rye flour is made from a grass that is closely related to barley and wheat, and it imparts a slightly sour flavor, making it a popular flour choice for various earthy breads. It carries many nutritional properties and produces a heartier, denser bread than white flour. In cookies, it is often combined with all-purpose flour to retain a light texture.
  • Also new to me is rye whiskey, which is similar to bourbon. I am not a whiskey drinker, so I haven’t the faintest idea whether rye-distilled whiskey or regular ol’ corn-distilled bourbon is superior, or if they’re simply two different animals. There are many brands available at well-stocked liquor stores– who knew?! I used Bulleit brand on the recommendation of a seemingly knowledgeable gentleman at BevMo. At any rate, rye is a bit of an olden-days beverage that is making a comeback with the younger set. It is less sweet than bourbon, and in these cookies it pairs nicely with the rye flour to bring out the rye’s tanginess.

Incidentally, I brought these to work and received some of the nicest and most enthusiastic compliments that I’ve ever gotten on my baked goods. Have a holiday cookie exchange coming up? You can’t go wrong with these– your fellow cookie-eaters will thank you. 🙂

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Whiskey & Rye Chocolate Chip Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appétit Magazine – October 2015
Yields 16-30 cookies

  • 1½ cups (250 grams) chocolate wafers (preferably 72% cacao), divided
  • 2 cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
  • ½ cup (65 grams) rye flour
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • 1½ teaspoons kosher salt
  • ¾ cup (1½ sticks/6 ounces) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, at cool room temperature
  • ¾ cup (160 grams) firmly packed dark brown sugar
  • ¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla bean paste
  • 1 teaspoon rye whiskey or bourbon
  • Seeds scraped from 1 vanilla bean (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Place half of the chocolate wafers the bowl of a food processor and pulse until some pea-sized pieces have formed. (This did not work super well for me in my mini processor, so I further chopped down the biggest pieces by hand. The point is to have pieces of varying sizes, even tiny shards and chocolate “dust”.)

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Whisk the all-purpose flour, rye flour, baking soda, and salt in a mixing bowl.

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or using an electric hand mixer and a large bowl), beat the butter on medium speed for about 1 minute or until smooth and creamy. Add the brown and granulated sugars and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy, approximately 3-4 minutes. Add the egg, vanilla, and whiskey/bourbon and beat until they are fully incorporated, about 1 minute. Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed throughout the mixing process.

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Add half of the dry ingredients and mix on the lowest speed just until incorporated. Repeat with the remaining flour mixture. Fold in the chopped chocolate bits and the whole chocolate wafers. (I chopped down the whole ones a little, since I planned to make the cookies smaller than in the original recipe.)

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Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a medium or large spring-loaded ice cream scoop, scoop the dough onto the pan. (You can also form the dough into balls by hand.) If you want larger cookies, make roughly ¼ cup portions, and you’ll get about 16 cookies; I prefer mine a bit smaller (about 2 tablespoons of dough), and I ended up with 30. Gently flatten each dome to about ¾” thick, like tiny hockey pucks. Wrap the pan tightly with plastic wrap and chill for at least 3 hours or overnight.

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Set a rack in the middle position of the oven and preheat it to 350°F. If you are making vanilla salt, scrape the vanilla seeds into the sea salt in a small bowl and mix them until evenly combined.

Line 1 or 2 rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place the dough disks in batches on the sheets, spacing a few inches apart– I fit 8 to a pan. Sprinkle each with salt or vanilla salt. Bake each sheet of cookies for 14-18 minutes (14 for my smaller ones), rotating the sheets halfway through, until the edges are lightly golden brown; the centers will still be quite soft, but will firm up as they cool. Let the cookies cool for 5 minutes on their pans, then transfer to a wire cooling rack to cool completely.

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Make ahead: The cookies will keep well in an airtight container at room temperature for at least 3 days (didn’t make it past that).

By the way, you can also do this….

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© Dafna Adler & Stellina Sweets, 2015; updated photos 2020.

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