Monday, February 1, 2010

Gluten-free Review: Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar

I'm late in reviewing this book, which was published in November, because I almost decided not to buy it. Last fall I was banging my head against the wall trying to take the gluten out of vegan recipes and the eggs out of gluten-free recipes, and the last thing I needed was another collection of creative recipes and gorgeous photos to remind me of everything I couldn't eat. Thankfully, Isa and Terry remembered the gluten-free folk; as vegans, they understand how hard it is to eye a batch of warm, gooey cookies and know they are off-limits. In the first section of the book, Cookie Science, they provide ratios for an all-purpose Gluten Frida Mix, along with the promise that every single recipe in the book can be prepared gluten-free.

Could this be true? I threw together a gallon of Gluten Frida and began baking.

The book's one hundred recipes are divided into five categories: Drop Cookies, Wholesome Cookies, Bar Cookies, Fancy Cookies, and Sliced and Rolled cookies. I'm a drop cookie gal through-and-through (why make cookies if you can't enjoy the dough?), so I started with the Cherry Almond Cookies. Almonds, tangy dried cherries, and almond extract made a delicious and addicting combination, but the cookies were flat and crumbled easily. I added 1 teaspoon of xanthan gum to a second batch and got puffier cookies that stayed soft and cohesive for several days.

The Oatmeal Raisin Cookies (made with gluten-free oats) had similar texture issues: by the second day they had fallen apart and formed an oatmeal-raisin loaf. Not very pretty, and not very portable, but still delicious: I couldn't keep my fingers away from that cinnamon and nutmeg-spiced loaf. Without gluten, this recipe also benefitted from a teaspoon a xanthan gum.

I moved on to the wholesome Peanut Butter Agave Cookies.

They were soft and chewy, and thanks to the agave and brown rice syrup, didn't need any additional binders. They weren't as sweet as traditional peanut butter cookies, and it was nearly impossible to form a criss-cross pattern in the wet dough, but if you like the flavor of agave nectar, you might prefer these to the traditional granulated sugar version.

Next: gooey, caramely pecan filling on a shortbread crust? Good lord, yes.

For these Caramel Pecan Bars, I used for coconut flour instead of almond in my gluten-free mix, and it made the shortbread dough very dry. I needed half a cup of water to form it into crumbs. The shortbread needed a few extra minutes to begin browning, but it held together well and sliced cleanly, without any xanthan or guar gum. The recipe calls for lining a baking dish with tin foil, but since some of my (oiled) tin foil stuck to the sticky caramel, I might try parchment or wax paper next time. These pecan bars are almost as good as my favorite maple syrup-laced pecan pie recipe, and much less expensive. I will make them often.

The book's final recipe is for Cookie Dough Scoops, which are just spoonfuls of straight-up chocolate chip cookie dough (bitter-tasting baking soda is omitted). Gluten-free, with rice and almond flour, this dough was a little grainy. When I'm craving cookie dough, I prefer the near-instant gratification of the Cherrybrook Kitchen mix.

Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar is good enough replace my tattered old Mrs. Fields as go-to cookie book. The variety of recipes is exhaustive, from well-known classics (Gingerbread Cut-Out Cookies) to crazy new inventions (Tahini Lime Cookies and Spiced Sweet Potato Blondies). That said, if you're baking any of the recipes gluten-free, do a trial run before serving them to other people; you may need additional liquid or a binding agent. The Gluten Frida mix is fine for most cookies in this book, but the appearance and texture of ground flax seeds would alter the spirit of delicate cookies like shortbread or Macadamia Lace Cookies.

Because they don't need to rise much, cookies are generous to those of us new to gluten-free baking. I can't wait to try more of Isa and Terry's recipes and experiment with flour. I'm so glad I decided to give this book a shot!


  1. Wow, thanks for this great review! I'd passed over this cookbook too - like you said, I figured it would be page after page of gluten-y torture. I had no idea that they included a mix for gluten free folks - though it sounds like you've had a little more success altering it slightly. Now, I pretty much have to buy it! Those caramel pecan bars look devilishly good. -Eve

  2. Great review! Seems like xantham gum is key. Just so you know, I made the PB Blondies GF just by subbing Bob's Red Mill GF mix (with like 1-2 Tbs extra flour) and they're perfect! fudgy and dense and wonderful. The PB holds it together.

  3. Those Carmel Pecan Bars are Screaming my name! I love this book, haven't tried those bars yet though and I'm very tempted to go right into the kitchen and make them right now. Great review!
    Eco Mama

  4. Wow! All the cookies look absolutely beautiful! It sounds like you mastered GF baking very well. What a great review!

  5. How awesome that every cookie can be made gluten-free. I had to giggle, my grandma's name was frida. I doubt she ever heard about gluten-free.

  6. Excellent post, Mary. I've also been shying away from getting the book, as I have had little success with gf vegan baking. You have given me the courage to try it. Thanks! :)

  7. MM - great review. I'm so impressed with how your baking acumen is gradually becoming instinctive even with GF baking - using the coconut flour with extra water for the pecan caramel bars, when to use xantham, when you don't need it... the GF world is lucky to have you on its team!! I"m going to make notes in my VCIYCJ with your GF suggestions!

  8. So good to know that these recipes can be de-glutenized to such great success! A little pinch of xanthan gum really can work miracles, huh?

  9. Oh Sister, those pecan bars have me wanting to trade in my oatmeal right now! yummy.

    Jenn, HelloVeggie.Org

  10. I've actually ordered the cookbook - your review pushed me over the edge of indecision!

    Now I'm commenting to tell you I've given you an Honest Scrap award for writing such a clever and humorous blog. You always make me smile. Details available on my latest post.

  11. this is a great review. thank you. i'm looking for a fantastic gluten-free cookie review and i wasn't sure whether this book would offer one up... now i know for sure. i'm a big fan of isa's books but this one has gotten mixed reviews, but i think your review has helped convince me.

  12. While looking for other vegan gluten free pecan bar recipes, I saw your post.

    Check out my recipe using palm sugar as well.

    Your site looks great!
    Mollie Frances


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