Who would dare to mess with something as classic as traditional chocolate chip cookies? For one, how much better can they really get? Any sane person would respond, “Not much.” So we pull out all the stops here and see if we can’t just push chocolate chip cookies over the edge, into a new place altogether—into an alternate universe where grilling and smoke and chocolate and just a kiss of salt against sweet make up the sun, sky, earth, and roaming deliciousness. This is classic—you just need a portal to an alternate dimension to get there. That portal is your salt block.
WALNUT-CHOCOLATE CHUNK COOKIES
1 (10 to 12-inch) square salt block, at least 11⁄2 inches thick
11⁄4 cups all-purpose flour
3⁄4 cup ground walnuts
1⁄2 teaspoon baking soda
1⁄4 teaspoon strong smoked salt, like red alder or hickory
1⁄2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into chunks and softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large or extra-large egg
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
5 ounces semisweet chocolate, cut into 1⁄4-inch chunks (1 cup)
1⁄2 cup walnut pieces
1⁄2 teaspoon large smoked flake salt, like Halen Môn Gold
1 cup fruitwood wood chips (apple, cherry, etc.)
Half an hour before you are ready to start grilling, put the salt block on an unheated gas grill. Heat the grill to low, cover the grill, and warm the block for 10 minutes. Raise the heat to medium and wait another 20 minutes. A laser thermometer aimed at the center of the block should register around 350°F. Turn the heat down to medium-low. If using charcoal, bank a chimney of red-hot charcoal briquettes to one side of the firebox. Put the block on the grill grate away from the fire and cover the grill. In 30 minutes, your block will be 350°F and ready for grilling.
While the salt block is heating, mix the flour, ground walnuts, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
Mix the butter and brown sugar in a large bowl by hand with a wooden spoon or with an electric mixer using the paddle attachment until creamy. Mix in the egg and vanilla. Mix in the dry ingredients just until a cohesive dough forms. Mix in the chocolate and walnut pieces.
Line a small sheet pan or plate with foil. Divide the dough into 8 equal portions about 1∕3 cup each. Wet your hands with cold water and form each piece of dough into a ball. Put on the foil. Flatten into 1⁄2-inch- thick disks. Sprinkle with flake salt.