Friday, April 20, 2012

Perfect Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

Today, I made the most perfect chocolate chip cookies I've ever made.  They are browned JUST right.  They are crispy on the outside but chewy on the inside.  There is a fantastic balance of flavors.  And they are gluten free, which means I can eat them!  I am super proud of these cookies.

I must admit, I've had my fair share of baking failures since I've had to go gluten free.  These gluten free flours don't behave in the same way as wheat flour, so there are new rules to be learned... and a lot of old rules to be ignored.  It takes time, practice, and patience... something I don't always have in abundance LOL.  But it certainly has paid off with these cookies.

One thing I've learned is that gluten free flours soak up moisture.  In the past, I'd whip up a batch of cookie dough and I'd start baking the cookies as soon as the dough was done.  The first tray of cookies were all right, but the second ones were moister, lighter, and in general... better.  Many of the gluten free recipes for cookies, doughs, and so on that I've been trying call for the dough to rest for 15-60 minutes in order for the flour to hydrate.  This was my first a-ha moment.  I decided to let the dough rest for 15 minutes before I dished it out onto my cookie sheets.

The next a-ha moment comes from a universal rule in baking:  In the oven, cold dough spreads much less than room temperature dough.  When making gluten free breads, we're told to always work with room temperature ingredients, including eggs, butter, and milk.  It makes the texture of gluten free breads better.  However, in this case, I wanted my cookies to hold their shape while baking.  I decided to refrigerate the dough while it was resting.

One other thing I did.  Or actually, one thing I didn't do.  I didn't use any xanthan gum, guar gum, or any other things like that.  I've discovered, through trial and error, that denser items like cookies, cakes and brownies don't really need it.  You can use some when you make these cookies if you like... but it really isn't necessary.

OK, so this wasn't an a-ha moment, but I think it had a positive impact on the cookies as well.  Earlier this week I was watching an episode of Good Eats with Alton Brown.  I forget which episode it was, but in it he was admitting to using butter flavored shortening in whatever he was making because it makes the texture better and to him it tastes more buttery than butter.

I had just bought some Spectrum Organic Butter Flavored Shortening, so I decided to use that instead of butter.  To be honest, I'm hooked.  I believe that substitution had just as much to do as everything else in getting a fantastic texture and rise on my cookies.  I also prefer Spectrum to other brands because it is non-hydrogenated and so is healthier than the rest.

So, without further ado, here is the recipe I used and the steps I took to make these the best cookies I've made so far.  :)

Gluten Free Chocolate Chip Cookies
Makes 3½ dozen cookies.

* 2½ cups gluten free flour
* 1 cup brown sugar
* ½ cup granulated sugar
* 1 cup Spectrum Organic Butter Flavor Shortening
* 2 eggs
* 2 tsp vanilla extract
* 1 tsp baking soda
* 1 tsp kosher salt
* 12 oz chocolate chips

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

2. Cream together the shortening and the sugars.  Add eggs and vanilla; mix well.

3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt.  Add to butter mixture in 2-3 batches, mixing well between additions.  Add chocolate chips and mix to distribute them evenly.

4. Place bowl in refrigerator for 15 minutes to let the dough hydrate and chill.

5. Using a spoon or a disher (I used #40 disher), portion out your dough onto cookie sheets prepared with parchment paper or a Silpat mat.

6. Bake for 10-12 minutes, or until lightly browned.  If you're baking more than one sheet of cookies and have them on separate racks, after 5 minutes rotate the cookie sheets to promote even browning.  If your cookies aren't done after another 5 minutes, rotate one last time and bake for 2 more minutes.  Remove from oven and let rest on cookie sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to finish cooling.

And voila!  You have the best, tastiest cookies.  Enjoy!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

GF Sourdough Bread Part 2

I'm back!  Remember how I showed you my sourdough starter yesterday, and the dough that I made with it?  Well, I baked that loaf of bread and BOY did it make my house smell good!

I can report that the bread had a very nice sourdough flavor and the texture was good.  It tasted like "real bread" as my kids would say.  In fact, they had some of the bread and gobbled it right up.

I am pleased with the structure of the bread, it rose nicely enough in the proofer.  But then I had to transfer the dough from a parchment paper lined bowl to a hot dutch oven for baking and I probably didn't do it as smoothly as I could have, so the bread deflated a bit.  And during baking, it really didn't rise any more than it already had.

As you can see, the loaf is fairly flat, it's only 2" tall in the center.  But what it lacks in height, it makes up in flavor!  And it's actually pretty moist, which is something most GF breads are not good at.  How many stale dry GF breads have you eaten?  Most of them, right?  Me too.  I had a slice with my dinner last night, here's a picture to show you a better detail of the texture of the bread.

Yum!  Look at all the nice nooks and crannies in there.  Hmm, there's an idea, I wonder if I can make english muffins with this dough?  There's a thought.  Anyway, I wanted to see how this bread fared as toast, so I toased some up for breakfast this morning.

As with all GF bread I've tried, I had to put it through the toaster twice to get a decent "toast" to it.  But once it was buttered and sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, it tasted fantastic.  It had a nice crunch, the crust itself toasted up beautifully, and it held up very well.

The next time I make this bread, I'm going to try it in a loaf pan, to see if I can get any more rise out of it.  I'm thinking that if I rise it in the same pan I'll be baking in and can eliminate that transfer, I might get a taller loaf.  One suitable for sandwiches!  Also, perhaps using a smaller pan in which to bake the dough will help it to hold its shape better.  Only time will tell. :)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

GF Sourdough Bread Part 1

Image via
Don't take good bread for granted.

In November 2010 I had to switch to a gluten free diet for my health.  Before going GF, I didn't think much about bread other than which brands were on sale when I went to the grocery store.  Now, however, though there are many options for GF bread available, they're just not the same.  The texture is different, the taste is different, and you almost always have to buy them frozen instead of fresh.

I've tried making yeasted GF bread myself, with the intention of making sandwich bread.  Unfortunately, most of my attempts have resulted in dense bread that is only inches tall... not very tasty or condusive to making sandwiches.  Without gluten, those little bubbles made by the yeast just don't hold so the bread is dense, the crumb is just non-existant, and it's like eating a brick.  Yes, I've added xanthan gum and/or guar gum to try to mimick the gluten, but it just isn't the same.

I was about ready to give up.

Then I came across this blog post on GF sourdough starters at and it intrigued me.  All this information about making sourdough (which I had never done before)... could I really do it?  Would it make a decent bread?  Would it be worth all the trouble?

At the bottom of the sourdough starter article, I followed her link to her recipe for GF Sourdough Bread (Boule) and I saw the photos of the finished loaf.  The crust looked amazing, the crumb fantastic!  Yes, it is a boule (round artisan loaf) and not sandwich bread.  But I could make crostini with this, I could toast it and butter it and it would taste the same even if it is a different shape.  (Don't we moms tell our kids this all the time?  Isn't it time for me to take my own advice?)

So, I'm on a journey to make GF sourdough.

I followed the directions in the blog post on how to get my sourdough starter going.  I used the flour she recommended, I used filtered water, and I used an organic red cabbage leaf to try to harvest the yeast that naturally grows on it.  I even left the top open to try to collect wild yeast that is floating in the air.  Unfortunately, this one never really got going and it went pink and nasty.

I have a theory on why it didn't work.  For one, I'm in Oregon and we just had the wettest March on record.  7.77" of rain in one month.  I know, you're thinking "You live in the Pacific Northwest, doesn't it rain all the time there?"  Well, it does rain a lot... but normally we get only 3.5" of rain in March.  We got more than twice the normal amount, and I don't think there were ANY wild yeast particles in the air!  And maybe the cabbage didn't have any yeast on it either.  All I know is that it turned funny colors and had a funny smell, so down the drain it went.

I searched online to see if it was acceptable (and not blasphemy) to seed a starter with some yeast, and I did find some recipes that started that way.  Just a pinch of yeast to get it going, and it would take care of itself the rest of the way.  So I tried again.  My second starter has been bubbling away since Sunday, April 1st.  No joke!  :)

Here it is!  Look at all those bubbles!  My starter has been bubbling away happily, it's been developing that sour smell, and I'm so pleased!

I did have a scare this morning... it wasn't nearly as bubbly as it had been the previous day.  Then I remembered that I had the back door open for over an hour while I was making dinner and grilling... and the cold air from outside probably affected the yeast, making it slow down.  This morning I fed the starter again and it's coming back!  Yay!

After I saw signs of my starter bouncing back, I followed the recipe linked above to make my dough.  I have also seen on several blogs that GF bakers (even traditional bakers) have been getting great results when rising their dough with a baking proofer from Brod and Taylor, so I bought one too.  I'm using it for the first time with this loaf, hopefully it will turn out great.

Here is my proofer, set up and ready to help this bread rise!  It folds down flat for storage, which is a really awesome feature.

And here is my bread, in a parchment paper lined bowl, just as the recipe called for, rising in the proofer.  It's supposed to rise over 4-6 hours, so I'll just end this post here and I'll be back tomorrow to let you know if this experiment worked out.  Keep your fingers crossed for me!  I'm SOOO hoping to have a good bread experience here!  And if it does... I'll be making another loaf and my favorite potato chowder for dinner on Friday.  YUM!