Thursday, October 18, 2012

Soft and Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies


It's been years since I braved the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie. My only excuse (aside from not actually being gluten-intolerant) is that my first try was such a spectacular failure.


A senior at UC Santa Cruz, I decided to follow the lead of my crunchy housemates who read astrological charts, experienced past lives, and eschewed wheat in all its forms. I mixed up a batch of cookies, substituting brown rice flour for the wheat flour one for one. The cookies spread nicely, and when they had cooled, I scooped them off the cookie sheet with a spatula and set them in a tupperware to bring to a party. They looked like normal cookies.


At the party, the hostess's face lit up when she saw them, and she immediately reached down to pick one up. But the cookies were like a hologram: seemingly 3-dimensional, but eluding every attempted grasp. They crumbled at the slightest touch, slipping though our fingertips as we persisted, until all that remained were crumbs. (Which we still ate, natch.)


I now know to add something sticky, like xanthan gum, to crumbly rice flour, and that sweet rice flour is naturally stickier and smoother than the regular stuff. But despite such successes as gluten-free blondiesbrownies, and über-chocolate cookies over the years, all of which get help sticking together from melted chocolate, coconut, or plenty of egg, I still put off tackling the gluten-free chocolate chip cookie.


Alice Medrich gave me renewed hope in her latest cookie book Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies, which contains plenty of gluten-free recipes. Her gluten-free chocolate chip cookies call for brown rice flour, oat flour, and xanthan gum in addition to the usual suspects. Since I only had sweet white rice flour on hand, I mixed up a batch with a few substitutions. These were good, but they didn't spread as much as I would have liked, and the texture was a bit sandier than I was hoping for (probably because I failed to agitate the dough long enough to activate the xanthan gum). They wanted more depth of flavor and more chocolate. I used walnuts, but their bitter flavor exaggerated the bitterness in the flours and wasn't a happy pairing with the bittersweet chocolate.

But I loved the basis of the recipe, and especially loved that the butter gets melted and stirred with the other ingredients, rather than spending an hour softening and then getting whipped in my heavy kitchen aid that lives on top of the fridge and is a pain to drag down. Alice claims that stirring the dough vigorously for 30 seconds activates the stickiness of the xanthan gum, making for chewier cookies, which is brilliant. Finally, she lets the dough sit for at least an hour post-mixing, which allows the starches to absorb more moisture, smoothing the rough edges of the rice flour. This leads to thicker, chewier cookies.


So as I melted the butter for trial 2, I thought, "Why NOT brown the butter?" I wanted more depth of flavor, and butter caramelized with vanilla bean is nothing if not flavorful. I also used super-molasses-y organic dark brown sugar, and increased the chocolate, hand-chopped Scharffen Berger bittersweet, by 50%. I used sweet, toasted pecans in place of the walnuts. As for the texture, I decreased the flours a bit to allow for more spreading, and I swapped in some tapioca flour, hoping it would make the cookies chewier. Finally, I added a few flakes of Malden salt to the top of each cookie prior to baking.


I couldn't have asked for more in a cookie. They melt into rippled puddles in the heat of the oven. Each bite is redolent with the flavor of salted butterscotch dough encasing deep, dark chocolate chunks. The occasional nip of flakey salt is addicting. When properly baked, the texture is indistinguishable from a wheaty chocolate chip cookie. Fresh from the oven, the cookies are crisp outside, soft and gooey inside, with big pockets of melting dark chocolate and toothsome nuts. But I find that they actually improve on the second day. The butterscotch flavor of the cookie blossoms, and the cooled chocolate tastes softer and less sharp, blending more readily with the vanilla, nuts and toasty butter. I've made four batches this past month; I want to share them with everyone. 

To put these cookies to the test, I mixed up a batch of my heretofore favorite chocolate chip cookies: the Thick and Chewy ones from Baking Illustrated. (Actually, I made 5 batches for a bakesale at my dance collective's annual charity showcase.) I was happy to find that my gluten-free cookies had double the flavor, and the texture was on par. No one will ever guess that these are gluten-free.


Cookies are at once one of the simplest treats to bake and one of the most sensitive. Here are a few tips to ensure cookie nirvana:

Ingredients for success: Flavorful cookies start with flavorful ingredients, so be sure your flours, butter, sugar, eggs and chocolate have been purchased within the past month or so, and have been properly stored. European-style butter (such as Strauss or Plugra) has a higher fat content and is better for browning. Brown sugar should be soft and full of molasses (I love Wholesome Sweeteners brand). Choose the organic, more flavorful and less processed turbinado sugar over the pure white stuff.

Chocolate deserves its own section; after all, there is nearly half a pound of the stuff in this recipe. Buy a couple bars of the good stuff and chop it by hand; the dust that flakes off is important to the texture of the cookies, and the uneven chunks look pretty, too. Since cookie dough needs to be sweet to stay moist and chewy, I like to pair it with a bittersweet chocolate with around 70% cacao mass. I usually use Sharffen Berger or Guittard as they are tasty, fairly inexpensive, and local brands, and I've recently discovered Theo Chocolate, which is made from bean to bar in Seattle, Washington. In addition to tasting as good as esteemed conventional brands, Theo chocolate comes from organic and fairly traded cacao. Theo partners with charities such as the Jane Goodall Institute and World Bicycle Relief. I gave these cookies a go with Theo's Rich 70% dark chocolate and am enamored of the chocolate's smooth flavor and coffee notes. That being said, use any chocolate that you like the flavor of.

Measure for measure: Accurate measuring is crucial for cookies, where too much flour will lead to  thick, dry cookies, and not enough will lead to thin, greasy ones. For best results, weigh your ingredients with a food scale. Lacking a scale, stick to the flours listed here, as rice flour weighs substantially more than oat flour, and both weigh in differently than wheat flour. Use the dip and sweep method for flours: fluff up your flour, dip in your dry measuring cup, and use a flat butter knife or your finger to sweep away the excess so that the flour is level with the cup. For brown sugar, pack it well into the cup; it should mostly hold the shape of the cup when turned out into the mixing bowl.

Temperature: If your oven is too cold, your cookies will spread too thin, and will overbake in the centers before the edges show signs of doneness. Too hot, and the cookies' outsides will firm up before they have a chance to spread; the outside will be overdone before the innards get a chance to cook. Since most ovens don't run true to temperature (mine runs 50º cold, for instance) spend the 5 or 10 bucks on an oven thermometer. Your cookies are worth it.

Timing is everything: An extra minute in the oven can mean the difference between soft and hard cookies. Set the timer, and know the signs. Pull the cookies when they look underbaked. The edges should be just starting to color, while the tops should be puffed and soft, collapsing when you touch them gently with a fingertip. Use rimless cookie sheets and parchment paper so you can effortlessly whisk all the cookies off the sheet and onto a cooling rack to stop the cooking. The cookies' residual heat will bake them fully. Much of the softness of hot cookies comes from the melted butter and chocolate, both of which become solid at room temperature. The properly baked cookie will stay soft in the center when cooled. 


Hopefully you won't wait as long as I did to brave these cookies. If you give them a try, please let us know what you think in the comments section below. Happy baking!


C is for Cookie:
Gluten-Free Über Chocolate Cookies
Gluten-Free Chocolate Rum Coconut Blondies
Flourless Chocolate Peanut Butter Cookies (gluten- and grain-free)
Buckwheat Chocolate Chip Cookies

One year ago:
Shakshouka
Two years ago:
Cacao Nib Ice Cream
Three years ago:
Decadent Eggs on Toast

Soft and Chewy Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies with Brown Butter and Flaky Salt

Adapted loosely from Alice Medrich's Chewy, Gooey, Crispy, Crunchy, Melt-in-Your-Mouth Cookies

As I mention above, don't overbake these! The cookies should seem underbaked when you pull them from the oven, but will continue cooking from residual heat. Even a minute can make a difference, so set a timer, and watch these like a hawk. 

Vanilla bean brown butter adds incredible depth of flavor, but if you lack vanilla bean, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract along with the egg. For the chocolate, I like Scharffen Berger's Bittersweet or Theo's Rich; both have a 70% cacao mass. Valrhona and Guittard are also excellent choices. For best results, chop up a bar of chocolate into pieces the size of a hazelnut; smaller shards will flake off, and the cookies will have a mix of different sized pieces throughout, which is nice, and the chocolate dust improves the texture of the dough and helps the cookies spread. Sweet rice flour, such as Mochiko brand, is stickier and more finely ground than other rice flours, and is important to the texture of these cookies. Look for it in the gluten-free baking section in well-stocked grocers, or order it here. If you're extremely sensitive to gluten, be sure to purchase certified gluten-free oat flour.

This makes a relatively small batch of cookies, as far as batches of cookies go, so feel free to double it. The dough keeps beautifully in ready-to-bake balls in an airtight container in the fridge, or longer in the freezer. Let the (defrosted) dough balls soften at room temperature while you preheat the oven.

All ounce measurements here are by weight.

Makes fifteen to twenty 2 1/2 - 3" cookies

4 ounces (1 stick, 8 tablespoons) unsalted butter
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped

1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) packed organic dark brown sugar
1/4 cup (2 ounces) organic granulated sugar

1 large egg (2 ounces by weight out of shell)

1/2 cup (2 3/4 ounces) sweet white rice flour
1/2 cup (2 ounces) oat flour
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) tapioca flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

7 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped (1 1/2 cups)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) toasted pecans, cooled completely and coarsely chopped
flaky salt such as Malden for the top

Make the dough:
Brown the butter: Melt the butter and vanilla bean and scrapings together in a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat. Continue to cook, swirling occasionally, until the butter turns golden and smells absolutely amazing, 5-10 minutes. There should be brown bits (not black) on the bottom of the pan. When the butter starts to foam up, watch it very closely.

Place the sugars in a large bowl and when the butter has browned, scrape it and the browned bottom bits into the sugar immediately to stop the cooking. Let cool, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, sift together the flours, baking soda, salt and xanthan gum (I like to sift as oat flour tends to be clumpy). Set aside.

Whisk the egg into the sugar mixture until well-combined and emulsified. Use a sturdy wooden spoon to stir the flour mixture into the sugar mixture, stir until well combined, then continue to stir vigorously for 45 seconds; the mixture will firm up slightly. (Doing this activates the sticky power of the xanthan gum and leads to chewy cookies.) Stir in the nuts and chocolate until evenly distributed.

Cover the dough and let it sit at room temperature for 1-2 hours (alternately, scoop the dough into individual balls and store in the fridge or freezer until ready to bake - the dough is harder to scoop when cold).

Bake the cookies:
Position racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat to 375º. Line two rimless cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Scoop the dough into 1 1/2" diameter balls (about 3 tablespoons; a size 24 or 30 spring-loaded ice cream scoop works wonderfully) and place on the prepared cookie sheets, spaced 2-3 inches apart. Flick a few flecks of flaky salt over the top of each cookie.

Bake the cookies about 7-10 minutes, rotating back to front and top to bottom after 5 minutes. When the cookies are ready, they will seem underbaked. The edges should be just starting to color, and the tops should be puffed all over with soft centers that collapse when gently touched with a fingertip. The centers will look wet under thin surface of dry, cracked-looking dough.

Remove the cookies from the oven and pull them, parchment and all, onto cooling racks. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before devouring. Or cool completely and store in an airtight container at room temperature. The cookies are best within 2 days of being baked.

38 comments:

  1. I think I recognize these... are they the same ones you brought over last week? I had no idea they were gluten free! They were freaking delicious. The pecans were an especially good choice as they added flavor without the usual nutty texture. YUM.

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    1. Thanks, Allegra! They are indeed the very ones. : )

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  2. These are ridiculously tasty! I especially love the salty top and the rich vanilla buttery goodness!

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    1. Thanks, Jozz! There's a batch with your name on 'em, should you choose to accept. ; )

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  3. I tried these this weedend. Two thumbs up!

    Kirk

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  4. Would there be a way to make these without the oat flour?

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    1. I do like the flavor and texture of oat flour, but you could certainly try an all-purpose gf flour blend, sorghum flour, or all sweet rice flour i place of the oat. If you swap flours, I'd recommend weighing them (see post above for reason ;)).

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  5. Thank you for all of the extra tips! I sooo appreciate anyone who teaches me anything in my life! You have been a blessing!

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    1. Aw, thanks for the kind words - it's my pleasure!

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  6. So good! I don't put nuts or the flaky salt because I am too cheap. I have even used chopped up Hersheys chocolate bar. I did try to triple the recipe once. Bad idea! I think I lost count of my sugar and did not beat the dough enough.

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    1. I'm SO glad you like the cookies, and thank you very much for commenting! Sorry to hear that the recipe tripling didn't work. I doubled it successfully, so hopefully it isn't a problem with the recipe. Happy baking. :)

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  7. This recipe was AMAZING. I have been searching far and wide for a good chocolate chip cookie, and this is it. I was skeptical of the dough, but it thickens after 1-2 hrs thanks to the oat flour. The cookies spread out, browned beautifully, and even got slightly crispy at the edges while staying gooey at the center.

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    1. I'm so glad you like the cookies - thank you for the testimonial!

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  8. Alanna, what if I were to add oats to make oatmeal choc chip cookies, what would you think the proportions would be?

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    1. Hi there,
      Oatmeal chocolate chippers are my favorite! I haven't tried this recipe with oats yet, and it may take a bit of experimentation to get the proper spreadage.

      As a rough starting point (based on this recipe with similar proportions: http://www.bojongourmet.com/2010/12/nibby-chocolate-chip-oatmeal-cookies.html) I'd reduce the total flour mixture to 3/4 cup and add 1 to 1 1/2 cups of old-fashioned rolled oats.

      Please let us know if you give it a go, and I'll let you know if I do the same. Happy baking.

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  9. I just started eliminating wheat from my diet and can't wait to try these out. Thanks for sharing your recipe.

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    1. You're welcome! Please let me know how you like them. :)

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  10. I just tried this recipe and it is AMAZING! None of my coworkers could tell it was GF and I am still in awe of how much the dough behaved like wheat flour cookie dough as it was baking! I posted about this recipe including a few minor tweaks for personal taste: http://www.6bittersweets.com/2013/02/gluten-free-perfection-big-fat-chewy.html Thanks so much for sharing this with the world!

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    1. Hi, XL! Thank you for the super sweet comment and write-up. I'm thrilled that you like the cookies, and your photos are stunning!

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  11. AMAZING Cookies! I didin't have oat flour that was gf so I substituted with Almond flour and they came out great! My 11 year old who recently went gf, said they were 'perfect" cookies! Thank you!!!!!

    Carmen

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    1. Hi Carmen, I'm so glad to know that almond flour can be subbed for the oat flour. Glad you two like the cookies - thanks for commenting!

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  12. I'm new to the gluten-free world so I didn't have all the right ingredients but I had great success nevertheless!

    I substituted coconut flour for the oat flour (same weight) and potato starch for the tapioca starch (same weight). I've heard that coconut flour needs more eggs in general so I used two eggs instead of one. Finally, I only had regular rice flour (not the sweet rice flour that is recommended) so I doubled the xanthan gum to 1/2t total.

    The dough looked great but didn't spread as much as I had hoped while baking. Despite that the final product is fantastic - ever so slightly crispy on the edges and moist and chewy towards the center. No one will ever have a clue that these are gluten-free.

    Thanks for sharing this recipe! I'm definitely making them again.

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your modifications - I'm thrilled that you liked the cookies! I bet coconut flour tastes amazing in these - I'll have to try that myself sometime soon. Thanks!

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  13. Be careful labelling these as gluten free. They are certainly wheat free, and look delicious. But someone with a severe gluten allergy would have a reaction to the oat flour.

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    1. Thanks for your concern. Oats are actually gluten-free, but they are sometimes processed on machines also used to process wheat, and can pick up gluten that way. However, there are plenty of certified gluten-free oat flours on the market, such as this one: http://www.bobsredmill.com/gluten-free-oat-flour.html

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  14. Hello,
    I've recently been on a quest for moist vegan/gluten-free choco chip cookies (seems to be all about finding the right mix of ingredients) so I was excited to find your recipe. A flax egg worked lovely in these. The dough was soaking with oil from the warmed margarine once mixed in...which was mostly just messy for my hands trying to make the cookie balls, but they cooked absolutely beautifully!!

    I'm going to have to take these to work and see if anyone detects my egg, dairy and gluten free-ness in them. ;)

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    1. Hi Jessy! I'm thrilled to hear that these worked out with flax eggs and margarine! If you let me know the proportions of flax and water, and the kind of margarine you used, I'd love to add that info into my headnote for other readers. Thanks a lot for stopping by!

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  15. Oh!! delicious! I will definitely try out this recipe this weekend.. Thank you for sharing!

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    1. It's very much my pleasure! Thanks for the sweet note!

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  16. I used your advice for an ~oatmeal chocolate chip cookie and made it vegan because I had all the ingredients to do it that way, no eggs here today....:
    3/4 total flour (I did 1/4 cup brown rice flour since the original recipe had brown, 1/2 cup oat flour)
    1 cup of oats.
    1 flax egg was 1 tablespoon of freshly ground brown flax and 3 tablespoons water
    I also used coconut oil for the fat..did 7 tablespoons instead of 8 becaues they seemed too oily last time. This time I also added a tablespoon packed of coconut butter too...

    WHOA! so good
    Blessins!

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    1. oh aaand I only had coconut sugar so I only used a lil more than a 1/2 cup cause my chocolate chips were semi-sweet. fantastic.

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    2. Hi Henna, That variation sounds fantastic! Thank you thank you thank you for sharing it! I can't wait to try it. Gluten-free vegan baked goods can be challenging, so kudos to you!

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  17. I'd love to try this recipe, but would like to use some all purpose gluten-free flour which I have on hand. If I substitute all the flour for this flour, would I still need to use the xanthan gum? Would I go by the cup measurements for the flour substitution? I'd also like to try using coconut oil and coconut sugar as Henna did in the previous post.. so I appreciate her feedback on how it worked for her.
    I've been looking for a gluten-free cookie recipe that equaled those that aren't, and having it be chocolate chip on top of that is more than I could have dreamed! I'm so looking forward to trying it.. thanks so much!

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    1. Hi Jun, I feel that the secret to success in these cookies is in the specific flour blend, so I don't know how they will work with another blend. If you have a kitchen scale, using the weight measurement should get you closer to the correct amount. Ditto for subbing the coconut sugar, which weighs less than refined sugar of the same volume. Since coconut oil contains more fat than butter (which contains some protein and water), a direct substitution may or may not work. If your AP mix already has xanthan gum, you can probably leave it out. Pretty please let me know which flour blend you use and how you like the resulting cookies. :)

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  18. I've been excited since I discovered your recipes about an hour ago, and now am completely off track with my day as planned! I got hooked originally with your chard saag …

    Now I have found these cookies. They look great, and I am very GF and they seem excellent - except that I find a great many GF people are highly sensitive to xanthan gum. It's a nasty beast of a man-made additive found in so many GF recipes now that the gov has ok'd it and declared it a food. Which by my definition it is not, in that it doesn't derive from anything that ever grew in nature and still doesn't.

    I'll try these without. I know they won't hold together as well, but they look so good!

    I hope all great chefs will realize how hard this gluten substitute xanthan gum is on sensitive people. I can tell it's in something within a few hours of eating it, so now I have to refuse all GF products if I can't read a label. An intestinal bleed is not worth the taste sensations however wonderful!

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Nice comments make me warm and fuzzy!