On Dec. 11, my husband and I will fly to Paris, reviving a holiday tradition that was set aside during the pandemic. For more than two decades, we celebrated Christmas at friends’ homes there, and then friends and family would come to our place nearby for New Year’s Eve. Last year, away from Paris, I missed looking down our dinner table and seeing people I care about, together and joyful. I missed feeding my friends. I missed the hugs at midnight and the macarons minutes after.
The macarons, as well as the gougères that I serve when people arrive, and the oysters and Champagne we have when we sit down, are knit into the celebration. Everything else has been a matter of whimsy and mood. I’ve made variations on a seafood stew a few times. There were a couple of years when I poached beef and served it with the broth and chunky root vegetables in shallow bowls, with mustard, sharp horseradish and cornichons within reach. There was the time I made a series of somewhat fussy starters and called it dinner — the wrong meal for a crowd and exhausting for the cook. One year there was couscous and a miscalculation: Everyone went home with enough couscous for another dinner, and I still had more in the fridge.
Yet for all the baking that I do at home, I can’t think of a New Year’s Eve in Paris when I made the dessert myself — too many temptations in too many patisseries, including those beautiful bûches de Noël that I sometimes served before the macarons. But this year, I’m going to bake a big, made-for-many cookie that will remind my American friends of a chocolate-chip cookie and make my Parisian friends proud, because the cookie that inspired mine was born at the Ritz, the legendary hotel on the Place Vendôme.
At Le Comptoir, the pastry shop at the Ritz that showcases the chef François Perret’s whimsically elegant creations, the cookie is called “Cookie” — a bit confounding for us Americans but understood by most French people to mean a chocolate-chip cookie. For years, I’ve seen “cookies” in Parisian patisseries and even shops devoted to them. Some were good, some weren’t and most were standard. But a few years ago, I started seeing a play on the American classic that was truly original. Instead of making a cookie with the chocolate and nuts mixed into the dough, everything happened on top. And there was a lot happening, so much so that the cookie looked and tasted different from what we know as a chocolate chipper.
When I was in Paris this summer, I went to Le Comptoir and bought a long, slender, rectangular croissant arranged in a box that could have held a skinny hot dog. It was a new reading of the morning staple and, because the shape was radically different, so was the sensation — there was more crust to crumb, and I loved it. I bought five madeleines, all different colors and all filled with different flavors, and I loved them too, especially the one with caramel. And I bought a cookie — a small, just-for-me cookie — and the fascination began.
Perret’s cookie was sweet, tender and caramel-flavored, with an undertone of hazelnuts. On top, paving the cookie’s surface, were chunks of hazelnuts, their skins colored mahogany in the oven’s heat, and pieces of dark chocolate. There were small dollops of caramel and a sprinkling of fleur de sel. Every bite was interesting, crunchy from the toppings and chewy from the base.
When I talked to the chef about his cookie, he told me that he first made it at home for his children, a diversion and a treat during the severe pandemic lockdowns in Paris in 2020, and that, instead of making a batch, he baked one cookie as large as a cake. It struck me as perfect that it was a cookie to share at a time when community was hoped for but rarely possible.
The recipe Perret generously gave me included cassonade, a coarse brown sugar that’s not refined in the same way as American brown sugar, and a thin hazelnut purée from Italy’s Piedmont region. It was baked in a cake ring, a low metal ring placed directly on a parchment-lined baking sheet. I made it in Paris to get the bones of the recipe down, and then, when I returned to America, I remade it, coming as close as I could to the original using ingredients I could find locally. Turbinado sugar stood in for the cassonade. Almonds and almond butter (the kind made with just nuts) replaced the hazelnuts and purée. A springform pan, minus the bottom, did the job of a cake ring. And when I’d scraped the last bit of homemade caramel sauce from the jar, I topped the cookie with dabs of caramel bought from the supermarket.
What I made, and what I’ll make again to welcome in the New Year, was not a precise replica of Perret’s splendid creation, but it was surprising and playful, novel, delicious and satisfying. And, like the cookie that the chef made for his children, it can be shared, the sweetest — and most important — part of this coming celebration.
Recipe: Parisian Cookie Cake
Dorie Greenspan is an Eat columnist for the magazine. She has won five James Beard Awards for her cookbooks and writing. Her new cookbook is “Baking With Dorie.”