Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies From François Payard

December  2, 2019
4 Stars
Photo by Rocky Luten. Prop Stylist: Brooke Deonarine. Food Stylist: Samantha Seneviratne.
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

Watch This Recipe
Flourless Chocolate-Walnut Cookies From François Payard
  • Prep time 15 minutes
  • Cook time 25 minutes
  • Makes 12 cookies
  • 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
In This Recipe
  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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Genius Recipes

Recipe by: Genius Recipes

135 Reviews

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%.
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.
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!
virginiastanley 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. :)
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!!!
virginiastanley September 28, 2020
On my first try at this recipe the cookies stuck and were too hard to eat. I have since remade them but only beat as for as long as the recipe required and they come out perfect every time. I think it's because of the egg white - if you beat too long they get stiff. But the nuts may have something to do with it too.
Betsy K. September 28, 2020
These cookies are - in a word - FABULOUS! So easy to make, so delicious.
I've made these a number of times and they are a winner; another plus is that when we made them again a few days ago, a family member had just been told to stay away from gluten - well no problem there with these cookies. Yum! I feel like making another batch... And no, I've never had any problems getting them off the parchment paper after they've cooled.
(my only problem with this cookie is that I cant stop eating them).
Appa.Stan September 28, 2020
I didn’t use any of the nuts (I’m allergic) because the recipe explicitly said omitting them was fine and they came out completely stuck to the paper. They were so bad that the spatula didn’t even work because the parchment tore before I could get them off. They also had a weird and unattractive foot (like a macron) and tasted so heavily of vanilla extract it hurt my teeth. Would not recommend..
Diane September 28, 2020
Appa.Stan good to know these cookies are not recommended to be made without the nuts.
Gina H. September 22, 2020
These were fantastic, they taste exactly like a macaroon & a brownie. I used almonds since I had them on hand. Based on the comments I used a whisk attachment instead of the paddle. The consistency was loose but the texture out fine.
Sarah D. May 13, 2020
Did anyone else have a difficult time getting the cookies off of the parchment paper? It was very gooey in the middle, but the edges are crispy... So it was really hard to remove the cookies from the parchment paper.
ReS410 May 14, 2020
The recipe says to let cool completely. I had no problem, found them very sturdy.
Theresa M. May 19, 2020
Yes! I had the same issue.
Nicoletta F. June 19, 2020
I had exactly the same issue. They were glued to the paper and had to throw away everything. I have followed the recipe and let them cool completely as they say. Still, one piece with that paper... How did you solve it?
Sarah D. June 19, 2020
I've only made them once because I'm afraid they'll stick again. :( I just used a spatula and pulled them off. They don't look pretty, but they were really delicious!
Myo Q. July 7, 2020
Use a wet paper or kitchen towel to wet the bottom of the parchment (under the cookie). The moisture will help it really easy to pull right off. GL!
Archrighthere May 10, 2020
I was very skeptical of this recipe but the number of raving reviews and the allure of chewy goodness made me decide to give it a try. When I mixed the batter for a minute per some reviewers’ comments, it was rather runny. I mixed it a little longer, I’d say about 2.5 minutes total, until the batter was “slightly thickened” and didn’t spread like soup once placed on the baking sheet.
The cookies were chewy, slightly puffed up a bit; they were not as dark as the article’s picture, but they did have the crackled and shiny top; I used 170g of walnuts and 30g of dry cranberries to offset the sweetness.
I’m glad I gave these a try, but they’re just too sweet for me.
ReS410 May 14, 2020
Same here. I’m about to give em a second go with 1 more tbsp cocoa, 1 less tbsp sugar. We’ll see...
Archrighthere May 28, 2020
How did your modified recipe turn out?
Archrighthere May 10, 2020
I was very skeptical of this recipe but the number of raving reviews and the allure of chewy goodness made me decide to give it a try. When I mixed the batter for a minute per some reviewers’ comments, it was rather runny. I mixed it a little longer, I’d say about 2.5 minutes total, until the batter was “slightly thickened” and didn’t spread like soup once placed on the baking sheet.
The cookies were chewy, slightly puffed up a bit; they were not as dark as the article’s picture, but they did have the crackled and shiny top; I used 170g of walnuts and 30g of dry cranberries to offset the sweetness.
I’m glad I gave these a try, but they’re just too sweet for me.
olivia123 May 10, 2020
my batter came out really loose and runny and spread out very thin on the tray, they looked shiny and cracked but a very thin crisp vs a thicker cookie? and why is the batter gotten so thin like melted milk shake than harder substance to scoop out.
Madeleine T. November 7, 2020
I think you have to mix them longer to get it to thicken. Also I cooked them in two batches and by the time I did the second the batter had thickened from just sitting there.
Elizabeth D. April 28, 2022
I mixed my batch for a few minutes longer. I stuck the batter in the refrigerator for two hours, that also helped.