I’m not a big bourbon fan. Actually, I’ll go even further and say that brown liquor is not my drink of choice—be it rum or whisky or scotch. (Between you and me, I entered a tequila phase about five years ago and I don’t think I’ll ever go back. Because, margaritas.)
Actually, if I really think about it, the last time I can remember really getting down with bourbon was about a year or two after graduation, at a rowdy bar on the edge of Soho called Naked Lunch—which has since closed—where everyone treated the tiny, packed room like a dance floor and you always ran into someone you knew from college. One night I was offered a shot of whiskey, and I gamely accepted the challenge, throwing it back and then gesticulating wildly for someone to pass me some orange juice, Champagne, tonic water…anything to clear the taste from my mouth and the burning from my throat.
Gone are the days of drinking Southern Comfort in college dorm rooms, or sipping on mint juleps on a spring afternoon. I know better now that I’m likely to feel all kinds of terrible the next morning after either of those situations.
But the thing about bourbon is that it is such a good flavor. And here is something you should know, if you like to bake at all: bourbon is an excellent substitute for vanilla extract. It plays the same role, imparting a depth of flavor without adding a discernibly specific flavor of its own. Consider how many cake or cookie or muffin recipes call for a splash of vanilla, despite not tasting anything like vanilla once baked.
Bourbon is the same — but you can also up the quantity (the same way you could with vanilla) and you’ll get a hint of its flavor in the final result.
Here are a few things bourbon works beautifully for: pound cakes, apple cakes, banana bread, pecan pie, vanilla ice cream, and—perhaps best of all—chocolate chip cookies.
Now, you could just take any chocolate chip cookie recipe and add a tablespoon of bourbon—and you wouldn’t be mad about it. But I wanted to really tailor a recipe to the bourbon, highlighting its flavor as much as possible. So I started with a classic chocolate chip cookie recipe and made a few tweaks.
First, I brown half of the butter. This gives the cookies a nutty flavor (without using nuts because I am NOT INTO that in my chocolate chip cookies, sorry dudes) which goes nicely with bourbon.
Most cookie recipes that call for brown butter have you brown the butter, then fully cool it or even chill it. As it turns out, you really don’t need to do that. I add the brown butter while still liquid and warm—I do this after I cream some room temperature butter with sugar, but before adding the eggs. It’ll look like a gloppy mess at first, but add the eggs and really beat it for a few minutes and it’ll turn creamy and fluffy and pale in color.
Also, I add an extra egg yolk to the dough. An extra yolk adds richness and an almost, dare I say, savory note? Okay no. That’s not right. But it balances out the sweetness better than if you just use two eggs.
Also, instead of just using chocolate chips, I add cacao nibs. Their bitter crunch is an excellent foil to sweet cookie dough. You can skip them, of course, but I wouldn’t!
Bourbon Brown Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 2 1/2 dozen cookies
1 cup (2 sticks, 226g) butter, at room temperature
1 cup (198g) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (160g) brown sugar
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons bourbon
3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup dark chocolate chips or chopped dark chocolate
1/2 cup cacao nibs
flaky sea salt, for finishing
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a small saucepan, melt half of the butter (1 stick) and continue cooking—swirling the pan occasionally—until the butter browns (you’ll see it foam first, then the foam will subside and you’ll start to see brown flecks in the bottom of the pan and it’ll smell nutty). Remove from the heat and pour into a heatproof bowl to let cool slightly.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat together the remaining 1 stick of butter with the granulated sugar and brown sugar. Beat until pale and fluffy, at least 3 minutes.
Add the slightly cooled brown butter — it’s okay if it isn’t fully cooled. It’ll make the mixture look gloppy, but it’ll get fluffy and smooth again once you add the eggs.
Add the eggs and the egg yolk, one at a time, beating very well (at least 1 minute) between each addition. The mixture should look creamy and fluffy and pale in color at this point. If it doesn’t, keep beating.
Add the bourbon and mix well.
Add the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. Mix until just combined, scraping down the bowl as needed.
Stir in the chocolate and cacao nibs.
Using a large spoon or cookie scoop, scoop generous-sized balls of dough onto your prepared baking sheets. Leave plenty of room as the cookies will spread some.
Sprinkle the tops with flaky sea salt and bake for 10-13 minutes. The cookies should be a light golden brown on the edges but will look soft still on the top. **I like to remove them from the oven partway through baking and “smack” the tops with the back of a spoon—this helps smoosh the cookies down and make sure they aren’t too domed or puffy.
Let the cookies cool briefly on the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to finish cooling.
You can also scoop out the dough into balls and freeze it to use later — I often bake half the dough and freeze the other half for later.