Levain Bakery: The Art of the Perfect Cookie

Pam Weeks and Connie McDonald at Levain Bakery. Melissa Kirschenheiter photo

Perhaps it’s sugar, frosted, and sparkly. Or maybe it’s a simple peanut butter or chocolate chip, with or without nuts. Everyone has a favorite cookie and around the holidays, classics can make the best go-to. When two friends traded in top Manhattan careers in banking and fashion for baking, their mission was simple: create the world’s greatest chocolate chip cookie. What Connie McDonald and Pam Weekes of Levain Bakery created was an Instagram-worthy creation that customers say is just as mouth-watering in real life. In the thick of the holiday season, they share what sweet and savory treats are popular in their Wainscott shop.

In baking, yeast is typically used to lighten and soften a mixture. Also known as a sourdough starter, this is called leavening. A natural leavening agent traditionally consists of flour, water, and wild yeasts. In French, this is called Levain. Before opening their first Upper West Side location in 1994, McDonald and Weekes baked wholesale artisanal breads for New York City restaurants, which is where the idea for their own bakery name was born. In 1994 their first shop opened on the Upper West Side, and in 2000 they found another home in the Hamptons.

“It took about a year before we stopped tinkering with little things and decided we were happy,” McDonald says of their perfect chocolate chip cookie quest, which resulted in their whopping six-ounce chocolate chip walnut cookie. As for trial and error, “It was just a great opportunity to eat cookies,” she said.

The large cookie, crispy on the outside and thick and gooey on the inside, has become their signature. Cookies are among the most popular baked goods for the holidays at Levain. Dark chocolate with peanut butter chips, dark chocolate with chocolate chips for extra indulgence, and oatmeal raisin are all baked fresh daily. Gift packages are available for the holidays and can be shipped to the sweet tooth on your list as well.

Rustic fruit tarts with strawberries, blueberries, and peaches, and flat bread pizzas in various combinations like grape tomato and parmesan or artichoke hearts and gruyere are top-sellers in the Hamptons. Brioche and blueberry muffins and baguettes are also hard to keep on the shelves, Weekes shares. “When it starts to get chilly out east, our espresso beverages, coffee from our Coffee Labs beans and delicious Valrhona hot chocolate are always a hit,” she says. “For the holidays specifically, also our loaf cakes, especially pumpkin ginger spice, banana chocolate chip and sour cream coffee cake.”

Levain’s own version of ginger bread, the pumpkin ginger spice bread is a blend of warm and fragrant spices designed for the cooler seasons. Sweet banana bread with semi-sweet chocolate chips are a reminder of home, while the sour cream coffee cake is described as another heartwarming favorite. The loaf cakes are perfect to have on hand for an influx of visitors or to give as a delicious hostess gift.

Like the Hamptons, Levain Bakery was once seasonal. As the crowds began to linger post-Labor Day and the year-round population increased, the traditional Hamptons season continues to extend itself a bit more each year. Now, McDonald and Weekes join those that are braving the winter off-season to keep the shop open all year long.

“It has always felt really sad to us not to be there year-round,” McDonald shares. “We love our Hamptons community and we’re so excited to finally be open year-round. The East End is such a vibrant, beautiful place to be. We feel very lucky to be a part of the community.”

As the holiday season is buzzing with shopping for gifts and parties, the scene at the bakery is in full swing as well. McDonald and Weekes suggest ordering ahead, if even by an hour, and give yourself even more time when ordering items like the loaf cakes. Levain Bakery is open Thursday through Monday, and for last minute baked goods, they are open Christmas Eve from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit levainbakery.com for more.