Saturday, April 16, 2011

My One And Only

Anyone with an allergy has probably by now given up on finding a chocolate chip cookie that actually tastes like one. Or, to be more specific, finding one that tastes good AND costs less than $1 per cookie, AND is actually real-cookie sized, not "snack" sized. What is it with the companies that make cookies? I can only assume they charge so much for allergen-free cookies because they know most people don't have the time to monkey around with recipes in their kitchen. Clearly, they reckoned without my wild-eyed obsession with the quintessential cookie. Or my magic wand.

The story runs like this: Once upon a time, I only had to avoid dairy products. That was a tough adjustment, but once I figured things out, it was pretty easy to maintain. For one thing, if I didn't feel like making cookies, Newman's Own made a tasty little cookie that didn't require a second mortgage. Then the wheat allergy hit our family. No problem, Newman's Own had a wheat-free variety! UNTIL THEY DIDN'T. Yep. One day, the line was just discontinued, probably because it was only wheat-free, not 100% gluten-free (as one of my more sensitive relatives discovered the hard way). This caused something of a collapse in our own personal universe, especially my father's, since he had recently gotten the Wheat Allergy Diagnosis and his favorite cookie in the history of ever is chocolate chip. But help for us came from a very unexpected source: Martha Stewart. Yes, she of the made-from-scratch, butter-and-cream, nothing-tastes-as-awesome-as-organic-wheat-flour, empire.

You see, back in my fluffy newlywed days, one of my sisters, a devout Martha Stewart fan, gifted me every Christmas with a subscription to Martha Stewart Living. Being new to the whole "cooking" thing (I was a whiz at ordering carryout), every issue was pored over and savored, and of course saved and catalogued, so that when I inevitably had to host formal dinners for twelve at our humble abode I could totally pull those suckers out and Win at Domesticity. So there they sat, rank on rank, on a nice bookshelf, until...the need for cookies hit. I remembered that I had an old issue buried in there with a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that had done well in the translation to dairy-free (I used it every Christmas), and was therefore worth monkeying with.

These cookies remain, via the old stand-by magic of Pixie Dust and a little tinkering, my signature baked good. They taste good warm and gooey, they taste good cooled and sitting on a plate, they dip well in your dairy-alternative milk of choice, they are just moist and fluffy enough, and they're the only chocolate chip cookie our family can devour by the double-batch without having to sell a kidney. In fact, just recently a fellow Cub Scout mom who also used to run a bakery that BAKED FOR THE WHITE HOUSE (yeah) said they were awesome, and swapped baking tips with my husband (he's my baking pinch-hitter, so he was the one who made that batch). Martha might disagree, and say that they aren't as awesome as her original recipe, but that's just sour grapes talking. Sorry Martha, but more people can eat mine, and apparently no one else can figure out how to make something as good that's also allergen-free. I own the Final Frontier of Baking.

Better Than Martha Chocolate Chip Cookies
  • 2 1/4 cups Pixie Dust*
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 cup oil (I use soybean) OR 1 cup shortening
  • 1/2 cup evaporated cane juice
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 eggs (or egg replacer equivalent)
  • 1/2 package (roughly 6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
* I  usually make a double batch, so if I'm mixing it on the spot the ratios are easier, but here it's roughly 1 1/4 cups white rice flour, and 1/2 cup each of garbanzo bean flour and organic tapioca starch.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line cookie sheets with parchment paper (it's better than nonstick, and best of all, you can throw it away when you're done and you probably won't have to wash the cookie sheets).

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour and baking soda and set it aside. In a larger bowl, combine both sugars with the oil OR shortening. Shortening works best, but thanks to allergies and strange grocery store stocking practices, frequently I am unable to find a shortening that will work for everyone! [Customer Service Note: Any store in my area that regularly stocks a shortening that is pure soybean oil, or a soybean/cottonseed blend, will be my new friend for life. Asking at customer service counters has not helped me at all.] Thankfully, oil works okay. The cookies spread out a bit more, but tend to have a pleasant buttery taste, so that's nice. In fact, they have a strange resemblance to the Keebler ones with the soft centers. Other allergy-conscious cooks recommend using Earth Balance, a lovely dairy-free margarine, but it's rather expensive, in addition to the fact that one of my family members is allergic to palm oil. If you really want a pronounced buttery flavor, though, give it a try! Helpful tip: if you accidentally add both oil AND shortening, you will end up with cookies that need to bake a few minutes longer, but come out tasting a lot like a chocolate chip version of Pepperidge Farms' Bordeaux cookies. Ask me how I know. Now ask how many times since then I've done it on purpose! (They were GOOD.)

Once the sugars and oil/shortening have been thoroughly mixed, add salt, vanilla, and eggs/egg replacer. Beat until well mixed. Then add the flour mixture and stir in. For ease of mixing, I tend to add the flour about a cup at a time (remember, I work almost exclusively in double batches!), and stir that in before adding more. Last but not least, mix in the chocolate chips. If you have a nice manicure you don't want to ruin, it's best to use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment once you start adding flour. Since I never paint my nails, I use a hand mixer until the batter gets too thick, then mix it the rest of the way with my (washed!) hands. This provides an excellent excuse to "clean my hands" by licking off the excess cookie dough before I wash them. Clearly I do not have a sensory processing disorder. Also, since I rarely use real eggs, I do not have to worry about salmonella.

Space tablespoon-sized balls of dough on a cookie sheet, remembering that these will spread somewhat as they bake. If you used liquid oil, they will spread more; space them out accordingly! If you like smaller or larger cookies, that's fine - just remember to press down on larger dough balls a little, so that the centers will cook all the way through.

Bake until cookies are golden around the edges, but still soft in the center, roughly 8-10 minutes. Remember, ovens will vary, so for your first batch start checking them at 8 minutes, and leave them in longer if they need it. I like my cookies a little darker, so mine tend to take about 12 minutes. If you used liquid oil, some of that oil may leak out at first during baking, and be reabsorbed as it cooks. There may still be some residue when they're done. Do not panic - it really is supposed to do that! Remove the cookies from the oven and allow them to cool on the sheet before transferring to a plate or cookie jar. If you're a real stickler for perfectly-shaped cookies, you can let them cool completely on a wire rack; warm cookies will often bend a little as they finish cooling if they're stacked together.

This recipe makes about 3 dozen fairly large cookies. If you make yours smaller, you could get quite a bit more. I always make a double batch; these rarely last more than a day or two!

Safe for the following allergies: dairy, gluten, wheat, corn, oats, barley, egg (if you use egg replacer), tree nuts, peanuts, shellfish, soy (if you use a different oil), nightshades (if you use eggs)

Oh yes, I nearly forgot. The thing that made the original recipe so very wonderful was...the modifications. This is a magical recipe, because you can easily alter it to make PEANUT BUTTER CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES or MINT CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES, as well as DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES or MOCHA CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES. All of these are pretty darn awesome. Read on for instructions:

  • Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip: Reduce the shortening/oil to 3/4 cup, and add in 1/2 cup of peanut butter with the shortening/oil and sugars.
  • Mint Chocolate Chip: Along with the vanilla, add a 1/2 teaspoon of peppermint extract - it's strong stuff! To provide a visual clue that these are different, I also add a small amount of green food coloring. Make sure to taste-test the batter on this one! If you need more mint flavor, add more - tastes can vary.
  • Double Chocolate Chip: Replace 1 cup of flour with unsweetened cocoa powder. Yes, that's one heck of a chocolate punch; eat carefully!
  • Mocha Chocolate Chip: Replace 1 cup of flour with unsweetened cocoa powder AND add 2 Tbs instant espresso powder - but if you're low on espresso powder, plain old instant coffee works alright too. Again, this is one heck of a caffeine buzz.
So there you have it! The Perfect Cookie, with 4 extra versions to keep things interesting. That's like 5 recipes in one entry! Try them all out, and let me know which one is your favorite!