Friday, January 8, 2010

Cookie Quest

As I begin exploring the art of baking without gluten, I'm amazed by the range of flavors and properties gluten-free flours present. In traditional bread and pastry recipes, all-purpose flour is usually just a backdrop, but choosing the right balance of gluten-free flours requires research into density, texture, flavor, protein, and fiber content. Good luck helps, too.

Take something basic, like drop cookies. With normal all-purpose flour, there are only three possible outcomes: ooey-gooey, cakey, and somewhere in between. In each case it's not the behavior but the amount of the flour that determines the outcome. Substituting combinations of bean, nut, and gluten-free grain flours can lead to dozens of results, most of them inedible.

I have a lot to learn, so I turned to a confection that's practically fool-proof in its traditional form. Chocolate chip cookies, that good-old American classic, are one of the first items most children and novice bakers master. Recipes abound, on the backs of chocolate chip bags and in the pages of all but the snobbiest cookbooks. Making them vegan is no problem, but what about vegan and gluten-free?

Searching for wisdom in other people's recipes, I've made and eaten several dozen cookies over the last two weeks.

First, there were the Flying Apron chocolate chip cookies, which I discussed at length in my cookbook review. Made with brown rice and chickpea flour, they were a bit too light, dry, and crumbly.

Next I tried a recipe posted by Lori Jablons, another food blogger who recently went gluten-free. Lori's recipe uses coconut flour, almond meal (gluten is a protein, so if you're not replacing it with eggs, nut flour seems a good choice), and an all-purpose mixture of rice flour, potato starch, and tapioca starch.

I liked these cookies more. They were dense and gooey, with a lovely caramelized brown sugar flavor. The flecks of almond detectable throughout (Bob's Red Mill Almond Meal isn't as finely ground as other brands), benefitted the cookies' flavor and texture.

My third batch came from a box. I wrote a while ago about Cherrybrook Kitchen's Sugar Cookie Mix, which works like a charm but makes me feel like a cheater. The ingredients in the chocolate chip cookie mix are very similar: a mix of white and brown rice flour, lots of sugar, xanthan gum, and some starch.

Like the sugar cookies, the just-add-water-and-margarine chocolate chip cookies are puffy, quite sweet, and a little grainy. Of the three batches, the mix made the tastiest (and quickest) cookie dough; I saved a bit for mixing into ice cream.

After two weeks of eating cookies and studying the effects of gluten-free flour combinations, I was ready to create a recipe of my own. I took the rice flour and starch from Cherrybrook Kitchen's mix, the almond flour and brown sugar from Lori's recipe, and modeled the rest of my ingredients on the classic Toll House recipe.

Photogenic and completely delicious! They're crispy on the outside, soft and melty on the inside, and they hold up well for days. The recipe needs a little tidying up before I can share it; I threw every binding agent I could think of into those cookies, and I'm sure some of them are redundant. Peanut butter made a lovely addition to the second batch.

I can't believe it, but I'm beginning to get tired of chocolate chip cookies. The recipe is almost there, though, so I'll make another batch this weekend and get it right.

How I suffer for my art.

11 comments:

  1. You go girl! That is a lot of work. I know since my son became gluten intolerant I have put on some pounds from all my experiments since you have to try everything you make right? lol. Nice to meet you

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  2. Those look really good - I admire your fortitude. You probably have but I'll ask anyway. Have you seen the blogs gluten free girl and I am gluten free? GFG is far from vegan but you never know when something will convert well. I am gluten free is close to vegan.

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  3. You are so funny! What is your fav gluten free flour?

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  4. You do indeed suffer for your art, but your suffering (and your seemingly bottomless patience) is paying dividends, at least! Your cookies are beautiful, works of art for sure!

    By the way, don't you ever wonder how someone discovered, say, flour? To think, for the first time, "Hey, if we take this grain, and grind it into this stuff, and mix it with this other stuff, and put it in a fire this hot, for this long, we'll get... cookies!" (I wonder that about cigarettes too. "Let's take this leaf, dry it, roll it up, stick it in our face, set fire to it, inhale the smoke and see what happens!") Huh.

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  5. What an interesting post! I like to experiment with recipes, ingredients, and textures too. Spending 2 weeks on the perfect chcolate cookies sounds so....worht it! How fantastic that you found it.

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  6. These look completely delicious! So proud of you for creating your own recipe. I can completely empathize on being sick of chocolate chip cookies! We do suffer for our art, don't we? :)

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  7. Tired of chocolate chip cookies!!?! Impossible! I refuse to believe it. ;-)

    I'm really loving your GF adventures, I'm learning so much. Thank you!

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  8. Those cookies look beautiful! Congrats on finding a good recipe and way to be inventive.

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  9. Wow, can't wait for that! Thanks for all your experimentation!

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  10. glad you're on my team! go mary go.
    xo
    kittee

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  11. I admire your quest for gluten-free baking. I write a vegan blog and recently went gluten-free, so I'm going through many of the same trials and tribulations: www.greenveganliving.com.
    Good luck!

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