Thursday, August 16, 2012

Lovin' Levain

If Cookie Monster didn’t live on Sesame Street, he would be stationed right above Levain Bakery.

Founded in 1994 by friends Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes, Levain Bakery is a cozy neighborhood spot located in New York City’s Upper West Side. The bakery’s legendary baked goods draw locals and tourists alike. The overwhelming demand inspired Levain to open locations in the Hamptons and Harlem, as well as offer shipping of their world-famous cookies around the globe.

The bakery’s name comes from the French word levain, a natural leavening agent that traditionally consists of flour, water, and wild yeasts; it is also known as sourdough starter in the U.S. McDonald and Weekes thought that the French term for a natural starter was the perfect fit for their new bakery.

Levain prepares a variety of tantalizing baked goods that are baked on-site, including breads, sticky buns, and muffins, but what puts them on the map are their cookies. Four types of cookies are available: chocolate chip walnut, oatmeal raisin, dark chocolate chocolate chip, and dark chocolate peanut butter chip. With their $4 price tag, you are most definitely getting your money’s worth; each massive six-ounce cookie is literally the size of your fist and can easily replace a meal. Levain’s staff bakes trays upon trays of these decadent mountains throughout the day, so they always come out fresh, warm, and delightfully gooey.

The Levain cookie experience stimulates all five senses. Smelling the mouthwatering aroma of fresh-baked cookies as you wait in a line that stretches out the door. Hearing the constant clatter of metal trays as they are pulled off towering racks, laden with hulking mounds of cookie dough, and shuttled to ovens nearby. Seeing staff members transfer the hulking masterpieces directly from an oven tray into a brown paper bag for customers. Feeling the cookie’s steady warmth and satisfying heft in your palm upon extracting it from the bag.

And the taste... oh, the taste. Levain’s cookies can only be described as heavenly. They are by far some of the best cookies I have ever sunk my teeth into. Each cookie has tremendous depth of flavor. The exterior is just crisp enough to hold the whole cookie package together, giving way to an incredibly soft, chewy interior slightly reminiscent of cookie dough. My personal favorite is the dark chocolate chocolate chip; it is a rich and decadent treat, with huge chunks of dark chocolate chips studded throughout the cookie that slightly melt all over your fingers as you dig in. A chilly glass of ice-cold milk is practically necessary to complete the experience.

If you can’t finish these enormous treats in one sitting (and I don’t blame you), not a problem—the chips and insides stay soft and melted for hours. The cookies taste just as incredible if you pop them in the microwave for 10 seconds later on.

Cookie Monster may croon “Share It Maybe”, but Levain’s scrumptious cookies will make you want to keep them all for yourself. After one bite, you’ll be going back for seconds, thirds, fourths…

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