Thursday, June 30, 2011

Gluten Free Chewy Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies

Have I finally jumped on the gluten-free bandwagon?? Well, no- not really. I just wanted to see if I could make a gluten-free treat that doesn't fall apart or taste like cardboard.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat products, creates structure in baked goods. It makes bread awesomely chewy and cakes springy. Unfortunately, it makes some people sick. People with Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity need to avoid eating it. Recently, people have been using a gluten-free diet as a healthy weight loss tool (mistakenly!). You can read more about this issue here:

So, what can you use as a substitute for wheat flour? There are a lot of other flours out there, such as brown rice flour, tapioca flour, almond flour, etc- the list goes on. How can you improve the texture of a gluten-free baked good? One answer is to use a stabilizer/thickener.

I chose xanthan gum, because it was on the shelf at my grocery store. But it is interchangeable with guar gum, which serves the same function. Xanthan gum is a polysaccharide that comes from the interaction between xanthamonas campestris bacteria and corn sugar, and guar gum comes from the guar bean. At least, that is what the Google machine told me. The Google machine also told me that Alton Brown has a recipe for chewy gluten-free chocolate chip cookies, and no celebrity chef is more trustworthy, exacting and scientific with baked goods than Alton Brown. So I bet the farm on him and felt confident that my ingredients would behave themselves. You can find his recipe here:

The formula for all-purpose flour replacement in his chewy cookie recipe is:
  • 11 ounces brown rice flour, approximately 2 cups
  • 1 1/4 ounces cornstarch, approximately 1/4 cup
  • 1/2-ounce tapioca flour, approximately 2 tablespoons
  • 1 teaspoon xanthan gum
Typically, you need to use 1/2 tsp guar gum or xanthan gum per 1 cup gluten free flour in every cookie or bar recipe. If you use too little, you will end up with a crumbly mess, and too much will yield heavy, gummy baked goods. The ratio Alton Brown uses looks about right. I made sure to double check this before beginning in the kitchen.

I had a ton of peanut butter and peanuts hanging around. I turned to the Google machine once more, and asked it for a gluten-free peanut butter cookie recipe. None of my hits included using alternative flours. All the recipes I found included only peanut butter, sugar, and egg. Boring! I was curious to see if I could just replace the same volume of AP flour with Alton's GF formula. As luck would have it, my FAVORITE peanut butter cookie recipe, from Baking Illustrated, has approximately the same weight of AP flour as Alton Brown's GF flour in his GF chocolate chip cookies. So I just substituted, and here is the recipe:

11 oz brown rice flour, approximately 2 cups
1 1/4 oz cornstarch, approximately 1/4 cup
1/2 ounce tapioca flour, approximately 2 TBS
1 tsp xanthan gum
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
8 oz (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
7 oz (1 cup) light brown sugar
7 oz (1 cup) granulated sugar
1 cup peanut butter
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 cup peanuts, ground to bread crumb consistency in a food processor (or chopped finely- just do whatever is easier for you- I don't think it makes a huge difference in this recipe, they will still taste good)
1 1/2 cups semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 and line baking sheets with parchment paper. In a large bowl, combine all the dry ingredients. Cream the butter and sugars in a stand mixer. Add the eggs one at a time, then the vanilla. Add the peanut butter, beat on medium speed until blended smooth. Add the dry ingredients in low speed. Add the ground peanuts and the chocolate chips, stir to combine. Scoop into 1 inch balls onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, about 2 inches apart. Bake 15 mins.

The results- surprisingly good. You can't really tell that they are gluten free. Moist, chewy, peanut-y, chocolatey awesomeness. Let me know what you think!