Cook on a Whim: Browned Butter Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies

These browned butter pecan chocolate chunk cookies are all of my favorite things packed into one HUGE cookie: toasted pecans, melty dark chocolate and the best part: two sticks of browned butter. A sprinkle of sea salt on top gives them just the right finishing touch.

They are baked just long enough to not be too doughy, but the middles still have just the right amount of cookie-doughness. The toasted pecans add the perfect, not-too-crunchy crunch, and the chocolate puddles sprinkled with flaky sea salt just send me to the moon. The best, I tell you. If you haven’t started your holiday cookie baking, these are the perfect cookies to start with.

How do the holidays tie in with this recipe? Well, when I was a child, my dad would always set out a big bowl of shell-on nuts and we’d snack on them all through the holiday season. This is a tradition I’ve carried on; there is something so special and so old-fashioned about it that just tugs at my nostalgic, sentimental heartstrings.

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Cook on a Whim.

Pecans were my dad’s favorite. I still remember him showing me how to carefully crack them and use the little pick to get the meat out of the shell. A true labor of love.

To me, a cookie doesn’t have to be in the shape of a snowflake, flavored with peppermint and dusted in powdered sugar to be a holiday cookie. It just has to be special. It has to evoke a feeling, a memory, make us think of someone we love or someone we miss. That’s what these cookies do for me (surrounding them with greenery and fairy lights doesn’t hurt either).

I hope you’ll give these cookies a try. Feel free to sub in your favorite (toasted!) nut for the pecans. Or just double up the chocolate chunks if you’re totally opposed or allergic to nuts. Either way, make some! Santa will thank you.

What goes into these cookies …

Layer one: browned butter. Oh, browned butter, how do I love thee? Browned butter is like magic. Just a few minutes on the stovetop and you’ve transformed already delicious butter into an even more delicious, toasty, nutty, caramel-like elixir. It takes any recipe (sweet or savory) to whole new heights.

Layer two: brown sugar. Using brown sugar in a cookie is nothing new, but using a heavier brown-sugar-to-white-sugar ratio amplifies the caramel notes and adds moisture.

Layer three: Toasted and chopped pecans. Yes, we’re toasting them before we add them to the cookie dough. Another step, but so worth it (and no, you can’t skip it). If you taste a pecan straight out of the bag and then taste a toasted pecan you will understand why I add this step to my recipes. They are just better. The texture is better, the flavor is nuttier. And your cookies will be that much better because of it. UN-toasted nuts in cookies, cakes, scones, etc., is one of my pet peeves.

Layer four: Really good, dark chocolate that we chop into chunks. You want those chocolate puddles? This is how you get them. I love chocolate chips, I’m a fan of store-bought chocolate chunks, but I will always, always, go for chop-it-yourself, really high-quality chocolate bars for my best cookie recipes.

Layer five: Flaky sea salt. Dark chocolate loves salt. The end.

I’m sure we’re all very familiar with the internet-famous, face-sized cookies from Levain Bakery in New York. They are a pretty basic, very delicious, chocolate chip cookie dough, scooped into huge craggy mounds and baked until just set on the edges and still doughy and meltingly delicious on the inside. I developed these browned butter pecan chocolate chunk cookies with those cookies in mind, but this is in no way a copycat recipe.

Pulling from another famous New York cookie, Jacques Torres’ Famous Chocolate Chip Cookies (why do all the great cookies come from New York?), I have you chill this dough for a few hours — or overnight, if it’s easier. I know, another step, but I promise it’s worth it!

The scooping and chilling step is really important to allow the flour to hydrate and all the flavors to mingle. It also helps them hold their shape in the oven, so you have a big, hefty mound of cookie instead of a flat pancake. And speaking of the flour, a mix of all-purpose and cake flour gives these the perfect texture.

Happy baking! And happy, happy holidays!

Browned Butter Pecan Chocolate Chunk Cookies


1 cup light brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 sticks, plus 2 to 3 tablespoons butter

1 egg, plus 1 egg yolk

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1.5 cups cake flour

1.5 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup toasted, chopped pecans

1 3.5- to 4-ounce bar good-quality dark chocolate, chopped (I used Ghirardelli 72% intense dark chocolate)

Flaky sea salt for topping (I use Maldon)



To toast pecans:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Place about 2 cups of pecans on a baking sheet and place in preheated oven. Roast for 10 minutes, then stir and roast for 5 to 10 minutes more, until pecans are darker in color and smell very nutty. Remove and allow to cool to room temperature before chopping finely and reserving 1 cup for recipe.

To brown butter:

Place 2 sticks of butter in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Allow butter to melt and foam. Continue cooking and stirring occasionally until butter turns a dark amber color. You will have to push the foam aside in order to see the color of the butter underneath.

Once browned, remove from heat and pour into a heatproof measuring cup. You will need to add a couple tablespoons of soft butter to make up for evaporation during the browning process. Just add what you need to reach 1 cup total.

To make cookies:

Place 1 cup browned butter, sugars, vanilla and eggs in large mixing bowl (you can use a mixer, but I just stir this one up by hand). Stir until you have a smooth, cohesive mixture. Add flours, baking soda and salt. Mix until almost all of the flour is absorbed. Add chopped pecans and chocolate and mix thoroughly.

Using a large cookie scoop or a 1/4 cup measure, scoop dough and roll into large balls. Place balls on parchment-lined baking sheet and press tops down just slightly so they are not rounded on top. Once all dough is scooped, rolled and flattened, cover with plastic and let rest in refrigerator for 2 hours or up to 12 hours.

To bake cookies:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Space cookies 2 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle each cookie with a tiny bit of flaky sea salt. Bake in preheated oven for 12 minutes. Remove from oven and allow to cool on baking tray.

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Cook on a Whim.


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