To some, baking is a complicated mess of precise measurements and failed experiments. But to Greg Rales, the owner and baker behind Red Gate Bakery in New York City’s East Village, there’s an undeniable spark of magic every time he pulls a cookie sheet out of the oven.
“I’ve always been obsessed with baking as magic and see[ing] the alchemy of it all—taking those disparate, not good tasting things on their own and putting them together. You get this magical thing, that if I’m doing my job right, is pretty delicious,” he says.
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Greg has long been a baking fanatic—starting with summers spent on Red Gate Farm, his family’s farm in Nantucket. There, he developed his passion and love for the craft, learning from doing and watching a lot of Food Network.
These days, he’s taken his expertise and plopped them into his first full-service bakery, an homage to the stripped down, humble pastry. The bakery hawks the kind of warming and nostalgic pastries of your youth—unfussy cookies and simple wedges of cake, but built up with high-quality ingredients and careful practices.
“I want to remind people of that warm and fuzzy feeling of being carefree, something simpler than what’s happening in all our lives today,” Greg explains. “So what I try to do is take this very classic thing—a chocolate chip cookie, an Oreo, a slice of cake—and turn the volume up all the way on one or two things in it.”
This means chocolate chip cookies shot through with nutty toffee. Caramelized sugar cookies marbled with house-made Oreos. Brown butter blondies studded with toasted pecans. Everything is wonderfully familiar, yet elevated in a new and creative way.
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Since Greg is an expert when it comes to boosting even the most modest of baked goods, it seemed only appropriate to have him provide his best tips for transforming the humble chocolate chip cookie. Keep reading for his suggestions, then check out Red Gate Bakery’s recipe for the beloved choco-toffee cookie, exploding with hunks of chocolate toffee.
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Brown Your Butter
The simplest way to really launch the humble chocolate chip cookie over the edge? Brown your butter. “We’re very big on brown butter in the bakery,” Greg explains. “Browning your butter is the simplest thing any home cook can do to make restaurant quality food at home.” The resulting cookie is much darker and nuttier.
Favor Brown Sugar Over White Sugar
Eschewing white sugar for brown sugar is a trick Greg stands by in most of the cookies and baked goods at Red Gate. He guesses that most of what’s made at Red Gate starts with a predominant base of brown sugar, rather than white flour. “It adds a lot of chewiness and gives it that nuttier, molasses flavor,” he says.
Sprinkle Flaky Sea Salt on Top
It should come as no surprise that many cookies these days are topped with a smattering of flaky sea salt, and Greg is a big proponent of that move. “A little flaky salt on top of anything sweet, whether that’s a piece of cake or a cookie, is delicious,” he says. The more ways you can prick your tongue with a surprise of flavor, the better.
Choco-Toffee Cookies Recipe
- 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup brown sugar, packed
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 ounces (1/2 cup) chocolate-covered toffee bar (Trader Joe’s makes a great candy), chopped
- 8 ounces (1 cup) chopped bittersweet chocolate
- Flaky sea salt, for sprinkling
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- Cream together both sugars with the butter until light and fluffy, 3-5 minutes. Your arms will thank you if you don’t have an electric mixer! You’re looking for a noticeably lighter, creamy result, where sugar has nearly dissolved.
- Add eggs, one at a time, making sure to scrape down the sides between each addition.
- Add all of the dry ingredients and mix just to combine. Fold in both chopped toffee and chocolate.
- Using a 4-oz scoop, scoop mounds of dough onto a baking tray, at least two inches apart. Sprinkle with flaky salt.
- Bake for 15 minutes, rotating pan top to bottom and front to back halfway through. If you, like me, are into crinkly edges, rap the pan against the rack in the oven during rotation to deflate the centers and create ripples toward the edge of each cookie.
- Let cool.
Header image courtesy of Rachel Vanni.