Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies From François Payard

December  2, 2019
69 Ratings
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Makes 12 cookies
Author Notes

You’ve seen this cookie before. There’s the glossy, maple-brown top, bumped and cracked like parched earth. The taste memory of a thin, crackly shell caving into fudge-brownie middles with toasted walnut studs. And even if these calling cards weren’t enough to remind you, the head-scratching ingredient list is: No flour. No butter or oil. And really, that much confectioners’ sugar? (Yes, really.)

These are the sorts of surprises that lodge in our brains. They’re why I’ve been writing about Genius Recipes for eight years now, and why still more “Yes, really” memories keep breaking free from all of you and finding their way to me.

As I was hunting down iconic sweets for my second book, Genius Desserts, this cookie came up a lot—sometimes with bonus spices or pecans or chocolate chips, but always with this same curious basic set of ingredients and proportions. I’m almost certain (and please correct me if I’m wrong) that all trace back to the mother recipe below, a 1997 invention by French pastry chef François Payard. Some are credited to him; some are several hand-offs deep, their origin lost along the way.

I had my own double-take moment with this cookie seven years ago on this very website. Jennifer Steinhauer (who we all called Jenny), a New York Times reporter by day and weekly columnist on Food52 by night, had shared her version, riffed from one from the Homesick Texan blog, explaining, “This cookie is so pleasurably rich in chocolate, and offers such a delightfully surprising texture, that most people race toward them like deer to a salt lick.”

Jenny’s columns were unlike any food writing I’ve read, before or since, and showed me what the best of the genre could be—honest and madcap, searing and sincere, short, funny, and real. It was some swirling cocktail of her example, plus the peanut gallery of early-days Food52 (“a pajamas operation,” as Jenny called it), plus the thoughts rattling around in my head, that helped me find my own writing voice—a voice which, with any luck and clarity, didn’t need to be like anyone else’s.

When I called Payard to ask for the story behind his cookie-spawning cookie as I was building Genius Desserts, he told me that, when he opened his first patisserie in Manhattan in 1997, he didn’t want to compete with iconic American treats like chocolate chip or snickerdoodle. Instead, he based his signature cookie off a French macaron, a similarly featherlight confection with a chewy middle and a thin, crisp outer shell that’s made from little more than egg whites, ground almonds, and sugar. Finally, the ingredients made sense.

The nuts can disappear or be swapped; the cocoa can be Dutch-process or natural; chocolate chips are fine; spice and extract at will. But to the inevitable question of substitutes for the egg white, I’ll quote Jenny’s own reply, “I confess I am at a loss but some of the vegans in this community will probably have ideas.”

Recipe from Genius Desserts (Ten Speed Press, September 2018). —Genius Recipes

What You'll Need
Watch This Recipe
Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies From François Payard
  • 2 3/4 cups (275g) walnut halves
  • 3 cups (350g) confectioners' sugar
  • 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons (70g) Dutch-processed cocoa powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 4 large egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
  1. Heat the oven to 350°F (175°C), with racks in the upper and lower thirds. Spread the walnut halves on a large rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven until they turn golden and smell toasty, about 9 minutes.
  2. Let the walnuts cool to the touch, then transfer them to a cutting board and coarsely chop them. Line two large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
  3. Combine the confectioners’ sugar, cocoa powder, salt, and walnuts in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until well combined. With the mixer running, slowly add the egg whites and vanilla. Mix on medium speed until the mixture has just slightly thickened, about 3 minutes.
  4. Using a 2-ounce (60ml) cookie scoop or a large spoon, scoop the batter onto the baking sheets in 12 mounds, spacing them 3 inches (7.5cm) apart. Put the baking sheets in the oven, immediately lower the temperature to 325°F (165°C), and bake until the tops are glossy and lightly cracked, 14 to 16 minutes, rotating the baking sheets from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Slide the parchment paper (with the cookies) onto two racks to let the cookies cool completely before removing the cookies from the parchment. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

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    Jocelyn McAuley
Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

149 Reviews

RavensFeast March 23, 2024
This is a bold statement, but these are easily the best cookies I’ve ever made, or ever eaten. The recipe is perfect as it is, there’s no need to change anything. I will often make them in a small 70 size scoop, so there are more to go around. Obviously, this results in a shorter baking time, but not by much. I also love that they are gluten-free and dairy free, because they appeal to most everyone.
David J. March 10, 2024
Simple to make. Fabulous texture. Simple and deep chocolate flavor - we used high quality Dutch cocoa. Great that it is both dairy and gluten free
Yael E. August 10, 2023
Why did my batter come out almost liquid?

Ann H. August 10, 2023
How did the cookies themselves turn out?
Lrnoff August 9, 2023
These sound great, and a perfect recipe to make during Passover.
Pinklady February 17, 2023
I’ve been making these for at least 10 years. They are by far the best cookies we’ve ever eaten. I was looking online for a flourless dessert that I could enjoy. With only eggs, walnuts, sugar and cocoa powder (salt and vanilla extract) … these seemed perfect. Ive made them many times and people are always blown away by how delicious they are. Think fudgy brownie cookies with crunchy walnuts. Over the years I have adjusted the recipe to eliminate some steps lol. The texture varies from time to time because you can’t get the exact eggs every time. Sometimes they are more flat and other times a little more puffy. But always delicious. My husband and I like the puffier version so I tried making them wirh 3 whole eggs instead of just whites. They came out delicious and a little less flat. I use 3/3/3 3 cups sugar 3 eggs 3 cups chopped walnuts 3/4 cups cocoa 1/2 teaspoon salt and. Teaspoon of vanilla extract. I stopped toasting the walnuts too… they cook fine raw in the batter. And I just started spreading the batter in a puzza pan or shallow brownie pan instead of making separate cookies…. You must try this recipe….everyone who has ever eaten them wants the recipe or asks me to make them for special occasions. Warning… it has to be mixed by hand and it only makes may 16-20 cookies. I wouldn’t give them to children only because they are a labor Of love and quite chocolaty for young children to really appreciate. But the kids oreos or chocolate chip cookies… these are ADULT ONLY LOL! I have added small bitter sweet chocolate chips and sprinkle with sea salt at the end….YOU WILL LOVE THESE! Be aware they are very addictive! Bon appatit’
Tucker &. August 13, 2023
Any advice on storage?Would like to bake them today for an event tomorrow afternoon.
Ranna December 21, 2022
By far my favorite gf cookie out there.
Easy to bake (follow the directions, of course) and delicious every time! Best of all they have the wow factor ❤️
Mark W. July 7, 2022
I used egg whites from a carton (30 g per 'egg') and plain-old Hershey's cocoa (what I had on hand). The cookies came out great - although even after cooling they were sticky (I used a sheet of parchment for one tray and a silicon baking mat for the second - same result). My spatula got a little bit gooey when I transferred the (fully cooled) cookies to a wire rack. I'm going to try this with pecans and 'real' dutched chocolate. I'm sure they'll still be good. Thanks for a great recipe!
tastysweet June 8, 2022
Question: can you use the carton of pasteurized egg whites?
Jocelyn M. May 8, 2022
I finally have the answer to the question no one has been asking:
Yes, this cookie batter makes a great filling for "cinnamon" rolls.
Smeared this in a ginger brioche dough, rolled up cinnamon roll style, and it was lovely!
ChefMogul May 8, 2022
Brilliant! Though significantly less good for the Passover crowd! (Which is where I first encountered this recipe, in a write-up In New York magazine. Though I make and serve them all year round!)
ChefMogul April 18, 2022
Truly a classic. I hope everyone realizes this is a super variable recipe! You can:
a) substitute any nuts you like. It works very well with pecans, almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts.
b) add flavorings, such as almond extract, cinnamon, cardamom (sparingly!), chili/paprika.
c) salt flakes on top are key!
d) add currants or cherries (or other dried fruit, but these are the ones I prefer)
e) for the love of god, cut the sugar! I usually do by 20-25%.
tastysweet June 8, 2022
Salt flakes after removal from oven?
sharadawn June 9, 2022
Carol November 28, 2021
Made these for our Thanksgiving table; subbed pecans (what I had on hand) and subbed my homemade Nocino for the vanilla extract. Superb substitutions.

Guests clamored for more, so I'll be baking a double batch and making smaller cookies for the Christmas Eve gathering.

RUNNY TIP.... I didn't like the runny look of my batter, so I popped it in the frig for a spell (cannot remember the time, as I was doing other Thanksgiving prep). It worked much better after a chill.
sarah P. August 6, 2021
Why o why does the video show the batter/dough looking so stiff and mine is always impossibly runny? I added an extra tbs of cocoa powder this time, beat it all a little longer, let it sit for a while before scooping. Cookies still ran all over the sheet. They are delicious but hard to work with and disappointingly flat.
sarah P. August 6, 2021
reading more comments now and see that recommendation is to underbeat rather than beat longer. Also see that someone notes that 3 cups confectioner's sugar is 475 gr, not 350. That probably explains it.
myramccormick December 12, 2023
No, 1 cup of confectioner's sugar is about 120g, so 350g for 3 cups is just about accurate.
JCrys April 15, 2021
I've been wanting to try these for a couple months and totally worth the wait! Rich, decadent, and fudgy cookie! Had no problems making them, followed recipe to the letter. I also used a hand mixer and had no problems mixing. My cookies came out shiny, crackly, and did not flatten out. I will make these again especially for my favorite people.
Pate February 15, 2021
I LOVE these cookies - so easy to make and the are delicious. These are my new favorite.
Pate February 15, 2021
I love this recipe. These cookies are simple to make if you follow the recipe. I did find that if you let the batter sit for 30 min they will bake a little thicker if that is your preferance.
I do have a question I am hoping someone can help me with. My cookies finish with a DULL surface. How do you get the SHINY CRACKLE FINISH ON TOP? I cook them for 14.5 min - am I not cooking them long enough? Any suggestions
Colleen M. January 16, 2021
So easy. First two times I used combo almonds and walnuts. Off the hook good!
Gini December 16, 2020
They always come out flat. don't worry about it.
tess December 16, 2020
These are so delicious and chocolatey. I used Whole Foods Organic Coco Powder and they are deep dark and so rich I have to take a break in eating them. They consistently come out flat so I'm going to try using my hand mixer a bit longer. They are amazing for ICE CREAM Sandwiches!!
Deepika December 16, 2020
I've found it helpful to let the batter sit outside for abt 30 mins before making to help with the lift. :)
Jocelyn M. May 23, 2022
Thanks for the ice cream sandwich tip- I'm making them flat intentionally now (I use powdered egg whites so add a touch more water and hand whip) for this frozen treat!
tabsthebaker December 12, 2020
I halved this recipe, as I was only baking for myself and my husband and didn't want too many sweets in the house. I was out of powdered sugar so substituted regular granulated sugar. Also, since I don't like really sweet desserts, I reduced the amount of sugar by a third. Probably due to the reduced sugar, they produced five 4-inch cookies rather than six.

I baked them for 18 minutes (they didn't look done after 15 minutes) and I waited until the cookies were all the way cooled before removing them from the parchment paper. I did not have trouble with them sticking. They were delicious! Nice crispy exterior with a slightly gooey interior. My husband doesn't usually like chocolate cookies, but he liked these.

I'd like to try them next time with a different type of nut - maybe hazelnuts or pecans. I think I may also try slightly increasing the cocoa powder or adding some chocolate chips to make them even more chocolatey.
Ann H. December 12, 2020
These sound great, but you've made so many changes that you're basically talking about a different cookie entirely.
shars November 8, 2020
Yum!!! They have become a staple in our house!!!