Sunday, July 31, 2011

Gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookies

Food intolerances are a pain in the ass.

There, I said it.

Since my last post, my full food allergies/intolerance tests came back, and the list is a lot longer than gluten. Dairy is no longer allowed. The exception, for now, is butter. My doctor says it is ok because it is 99% fat, and most of my issues are with the proteins and sugars in milk. But there is a chance that I am so sensitive to it that I may need to cut that out of my diet as well. I have hopes that I will be allowed small amounts of dairy after it has been eliminated from my diet for a while, but there is no guarantee of that.

I also am not supposed to have asparagus, amaranth, pineapple, or bananas, as my body makes antibodies against them. No amaranth is fine by me, as most GF products don't use it. No asparagus is also fine, as I do not like how it tastes. I am sad about the bananas; they are convenient breakfast food and I love banana bread. However for reasons highlighted in this article, I had already been limiting my consumption of them. I am sad about pineapple, but we didn't eat it that often anyway, as we try to eat our produce in season.

I am able to look on the bright side about a lot of these new food intolerances, but I will be honest with my readers and say that I am taking the no-dairy pretty hard. Unlike traditional glutenous products like bread, there is no good substitute for cheese. True, there are some almond and soy products that look fairly promising, but I just ate some decent almond “cheddar” with my lunch that, after looking at the packaging, turns out contains casein. Casein is one of the proteins in milk, and it is bad for me. There is so much more potential for cross contamination now, and a product that says “non-dairy” or “lactose-free” is not neccesarily dairy-free.

About half of the times I have gone out to eat in the last few months (which is increasingly difficult) I have had to send back my order because there is cheese or bread crumbs on it, when I asked for no cheese, or said “no gluten”. Which, look, I used to work in food service and I know that it can be hard to keep track of customizations to orders, but this is literally playing with my life. I have had to miss several days of work due to accidental cross-contamination now. Also, many people were sympathetic with me about going gluten-free, but suddenly when you add “dairy-free” to that list, a number of people reacted drastically. “I could never do that!” or “I would miss cheese/bread/bananas (etc) too much” or my personal favorite “well what CAN you eat?” I know that people generally aren't well educated about allergies/intolerances until they have to deal with it themselves (and I am guilty of this as well) but I just feel so different from people now. I hate that when I go out to eat in groups, we have to eat in places that won't make me sick; that I have to change the group agenda.

Well, that was a longer rant then I expected.

There is a lot to be happy about, though. First off, why wouldn't I be glad to stop eating the things that were making me sick? I do have more energy now, there is no way I could have worked an 8 hour day even a few months ago. The Man and I still have now idea how I was able to finish school when I had maybe four hours of energy on a good day. And there are a lot of places that make GF and DF foods now. I live in an area that is actually very good about trying to accommodate dietary needs. Also, there is still so much food that I can eat, and I try to do so happily. And, I can make my own baked goods when I am sad that there is something I can't have.

On the subject of making my own baked goods, I made some cookies! At my internship, I am due to make a presentation soon. In the lab I am working in, people always bring snacks to the meeting when they are speaking. Most people bring cookies, usually storebought. Well, I don't want to buy something I can't eat, nor do I want to spend the money on one of the brands that I can (GF baked goods are 2-3 times the cost of glutenous baked goods). And sometimes you just want to eat homemade cookies! So here is a recipe I am am experimenting with, that I hope people will enjoy.

This is adapted from Roben Ryberg's book “You Won't Believe It's Gluten-Free!”

I went ahead and made this recipe vegan too, in order to accommodate more dietary needs.

Some of the ingredients are measured in grams. This is because it is much more precise, and very useful in gluten-free cooking. This post explains why.

Also, please make sure that all of your products are gluten-free before you buy them. I have had a lot of unpleasant surprises when I neglected to read labels even on things that should be GF, such as vanilla. Bob's Red Mill has a great line of GF flours, Thai Kitchen makes GF products, and there are several brands of baking powder and cornstarch that clearly list “gluten-free” on their packaging.

Gluten-Free Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies

1 Tbs ground flax seed
2 Tbs nearly-boiling water
¾ cup coconut solids*
¼ cup coconut water *
115 grams (1/2 cup packed) brown sugar
80 grams (2/3 cup)cornstarch
50 grams (1/3 cup)GF flour mix**
1 ½ tsp baking powder
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp vanilla
1 ¼ xanthan gum
1 cup of chocolate chips

Make a “flax egg” in a large bowl by whisking the water with the flax seed until it forms a paste. Let stand for 5 minutes.

Add the coconut solids and water, and the sugar to the same bowl. Cream together until smooth.

Add the other ingredients, except for the chocolate chips, and mix together. Add the chocolate chips.

You can see how sticky the dough is.

Optional: Leave dough in the refrigerator for 1-3 hours. This allows the liquid to absorb into the flours better, and makes the dough easier to handle.

Preheat oven to 375. Scoop 1-2 Tbs of dough with a spoon onto a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper or a silpat (if you have neither, then grease the cookie sheet very well). Because these do not spread out when baking as normal dough would, flatten the balls to ¼ inch thick. This is easiest when done with a spatula that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

Bake for 8-12 minutes, depending on how crisp you like your cookies.

So how were these? I enjoyed them quite a bit, but they aren't quite right yet. They are very soft and fluffy, almost like a little pancake! This was improved by baking for 11 minutes instead of nine, and by flattening the cookies more. The flax made them taste a bit more “whole grain” then I wanted in my dessert (normally I love whole grain!) Also they could be a little sweeter. Next time, I will probably use butter or margarine and an egg instead of coconut milk and flax seed. However, they are very good if you want a soft, gluten-free, vegan cookie.

Edit to add: these had a much more cookie-like texture the next day.

* I put a can of coconut milk in the fridge, which allowed the solids to float to the top, and the coconut water to settle. I suspect that pouring a cup of coconut milk straight in this recipe would not work, as the extra fat is needed to replace the butter.

** I made up a master mix of all-purpose GF flour from white and brown-rice flour, teff, almond meal, oat flour, and sorghum. I love it for most of my baking. There are articles on how to come up with your own mix here and here.