Gluten-Free, Agave-Sweetened Chocolate Covered “Sugar” Cookies

Back when I was a junior in high school, my mom, grandpa and myself visited the University of Wisconsin as part of a small series of college tours. While I didn’t choose the school, I fell in love with Madison; it was charming and friendly. And at the end of our long, cold days taking in the small city, our warm, inviting bed and breakfast left a special treat that may have just solidified our love for Madison. Crisp — yet slightly soft — pepperminty sugar cookies, lightly dipped in a thin layer of chocolate, were piled high on a plate when we walked in the door. Devouring the cookies, my mom and I looked at each other knowingly. These were no ordinary cookies. They were pure bliss. We were smart enough to get the recipe. Years later, we would continue to bake the cookies — mostly reserving the slightly labor-intensive process for Valentine’s day, when we would make several batches and send them out to all of our loved ones.

I’ve gotten over many of the food losses I suffered when I received my allergy diagnosis: my mom’s famous plum dumplings, bagels and lox, even Georgia ruebens (a guilty sandwich pleasure in college). But it saddened me to know that I would no longer be able to enjoy those cookies, which somehow represented the memory of a trip that was equally unforgettable.

I’ve tried several times to recreate the recipe using agave nectar and gluten-free flours — 13 times, to be exact. Each version was similar, but also quite obviously a little off in at least one way. Nearly defeated, this was, I told myself, going to be the last version I tried before calling it quits. As it turns out, this version came closest to the original, though not quite exact. I’m not sure I will ever reproduce cookies that mimic the original, but the following recipe merits some praise for being a gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan cookie that still actually tastes like a cookie. And looks like a cookie. And smells like a cookie when it comes out of the oven. They’re delicious cooled with chocolate hardened over them (as pictured), or warm just out of the oven. They will be really soft and flimsy immediately after being removed from the oven, but if you let them sit for a few minutes on the baking sheet before removing to a rack, they will harden as they cool and remain intact. In the spirit of Halloween, I decided to substitute grated orange zest for the peppermint extract called for in the original (the cookies don’t exactly come out orange and black — but the idea stuck). You can use peppermint if you wish, or try experimenting with any number of other flavors. The chocolate dip would also be a great sugar-free, natural option for chocolate-covered strawberries.

Please Note: If you opt to do without the chocolate, keep cookies at room temperature and store in an airtight container. The soft chocolate layer is a nice contrast to the crisp cookie underneath, but without the chocolate, the texture would be much better if left unrefrigerated.

Yield: about 30, depending on size

Chocolate Covered “Sugar” Cookies:

1 cup garbanzo bean flour

1 1/2 cups Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour (very important to use this brand)

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

3/4 teaspoon sea salt

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

zest of one orange

3/4 cup virgin coconut oil (liquify by letting jar sit in a bowl of warm water)

2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon agave nectar

Chocolate Dip:

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup virgin coconut oil

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 375.

2. In a large bowl, whisk flours, xanthan gum and salt. In a separate bowl, whisk vanilla, orange zest, coconut oil and agave. Add wet to dry ingredients and fold batter until incorporated. Chill batter in refrigerator for 10 minutes, or until workable.

3. Using your hand, roll tablespoon-sized amounts of batter into balls and place on baking sheet. Leave space between each cookie. Using the side of your hand, press down on dough and form into round, 1/4-inch high, 2 inch-round cookies (this should be fairly easy using the inside part of your hand).

4. Bake cookies for 10-12 minutes, rotating baking sheet halfway through. Cookies should be golden brown on the outside when done. Let sit on baking sheet for a few minutes, then gently transfer to a cooling rack. Cool completely.

5. Meanwhile, prepare chocolate sauce. Over a double boiler (I just used a glass bowl over a small saucepan filled with 1/2 cup water), melt together ingredients for dip. Whisk for about a minute until shiny and smooth. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before dunking cookies. Dip cookies halfway, then let set on wax paper in the refrigerator. Refrigerate at least three hours.

6. Serve cookies cooled — should not be left out too long or chocolate will melt.

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Gluten Free Banana Nut Bread

I am so happy to finally share this recipe with everyone. I made six versions of this bread. Each was good, but there was always something that needed tweaking. Pinning down the perfect recipe is sort of like working on a puzzle. Inserting the final piece — or finally slicing the perfect piece, in this case — is always as satisfying as the completion of any other seemingly insurmountable task. But there is one thing that I absolutely hate about having to bake over and over again: dishes. I am not one of those people who finds therapeutic solace in doing dishes. And frankly, I don’t believe those people who claim they do. So I was very happy knowing I would no longer being cleaning up after any more messy, havouc-wreaking baking attempts…for now. I know there will be several other trial and error sessions in my future. Today, however, I’m enjoying my banana bread and my clean kitchen. No more baking.

My experimentation did lead me to uncover some very interesting secrets to a moist and flavorful bread: 1) Mashed silken tofu will yeild a very nice texture, and 2) a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar will elevate the banana flavor.

On a final note, I tried using both Arrowhead Mills and Bob’s Red Mill Brown rice flour in this recipe, since I was curious as to whether the difference would affect to the results. The first loaf was made using all Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour and no white rice. The texture was very nice. But when I used all Arrowhead Mills brown rice flour, it had hints of the signature grittiness people associate with gluten free baking. So, that’s not good. Therefore, in the interest of creating a uniformly good bread, the recipe calls for part brown rice and part white rice flour, which will work no matter what brand you use. However, if you are using Bob’s Red Mill, feel free to use all brown rice flour in the recipe.

Because this bread is made with tofu, it should be kept in the refrigerator. It should keep for several days.

Gluten Free Vegan Banana Bread:

3/4 cup white rice flour

3/4 cup brown rice flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour (starch) or potato starch

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon

2/3 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup canola or grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 1/4 cup mashed ripe bananas

3/4 cup mashed silked tofu

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon hot water

1/2 cup chopped walnuts

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together agave, oil, and cider vinegar. Add to dry ingredients and whisk to incorporate. Fold in banana and silken tofu. Finally, add hot water and slowly whisk batter until absorbed.

3. Pour batter into a greased, 7x4x3 – inch loaf pan. Bake for 60 minutes, or until golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean. You may have to cover with foil about 40 minutes into baking so that the bread will cook through without the crust becoming too brown. Cool in the pan, on a wire rack, for 25 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool completely on wire rack.

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Gluten Free Apple Cranberry Cake

This cake is a quick and easy one-bowl-and-you’re-done operation. I adapted it from the apple cake recipe in the Joy of Cooking, which, for all intents and purposes, is my bible (the book, not the recipe). I’ve been known to bring it to bed with me to read on more than one occasion. You’ll love the smell coming from your oven as this cake bakes. In all, this gluten-free, sugar-free and dairy-free cake makes the perfect dessert for a cool fall evening. Add chopped walnuts for some extra flavor and crunch if you wish. In an effort to incorporate more gluten free flours into my baking, I made this bread using sorghum flour, which is high-protein and high-fiber and reminiscent of whole wheat. That is, if you remember wheat well enough to reminisce. I’m not sure I still do…

For a twist: try this cake topped with orange vanilla frosting from the recipe for carrot orange cupcakes. Of course, it’s very good as-is, with no frosting or sauce at all.

Gluten Free Apple Cranberry Cake:

1 1/2 cups sorghum flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup agave nectar

3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons light coconut milk

1/3 cup grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup apple, peeled and chopped

1/2 cup frozen cranberries

 Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Add agave, coconut milk, oil and vanilla and whisk until batter is smooth. Fold in apple, cranberries and walnuts (if desired). Pour batter into a greased, 8-inch square baking dish.

3. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean.

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Chocolate Banana Cupcakes with “Sour Cream” Frosting

Frosting is one of the most difficult feats to pull off when cooking for a dairy and sugar-free diet. When it’s done right, though, it can be just as satisfying as the powdered sugar kind. But the first time I tried a cupcake with the unique addition of a sour cream frosting, I was hooked, and I didn’t know if a dairy-free sour cream frosting of the same caliber could ever be pulled off.

Well, this frosting is not an exact match, but it’s pretty darn close. The spirit of sour cream is completely there. It’s tart and sweet, and a great fit with the fluffy chocolate banana combination beneath it. To create a thick and fluffy texture for the frosting, I used coconut butter. It has great coconut flavor and hardens up really nicely in the refrigerator. One potential problem with this product, however, is that it is not available everywhere. A very good alternative would be coconut cream, which is inexpensive and somewhat more upiquitous. Can’t find coconut cream, either? Well, you could try coconut oil, but I would reduce the amount of coconut milk in the frosting. Play around with it, and make sure the final product is really well chilled. Notice how the sweetness of the coconut and agave go surprisingly well with the secret “sour” ingredient — apple cider vinegar.

Yield: 12 large or 14 regular sized cupcakes

Ingredients:

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon xanthan gum

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 cup light coconut milk, shaken

3/4 cup agave nectar

1/4 cup grapeseed oil

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup mashed ripe banana

Frosting:

1/4 cup coconut butter

1/3 cup coconut cream from the top of a full-fat can of coconut milk (do not shake or stir)*

1/3 cup agave nectar

2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar

1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Directions:

1. Prepare frosting by blending all ingredients in a blender or food processor (blender is preferable). Chill in refrigerator for at least 3 hours.

2. Preheat oven to 350.

3. In a small bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, using an electric mixer, beat coconut milk, agave, oil and vanilla until combined. Add banana and beat until smooth. Slowly add dry ingredients to mixture and beat slowly until everything is smooth.

4. Add cupcake liners to cupcake tin. Fill cups with batter about 3/4 of the way up. Bake for 22 minutes. Let cupcakes cool on a wire wrack.

* Note: if you get a can of coconut milk that, for some reason, does not have the layer of cream on top, you can thiken your coconut milk with cornstarch or arrowroot in a saucepan over medium heat. Whisk 1/3 cup milk with a tablespoon of starch until thick like a paste and add to blender. This will change the texture of the frosting, but should do the trick.

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Low Fat Pumpkin Mousse Pie

pumpkin mousse pie 2My mom commented on the amount of buttery spread I had used in my lemon coconut pie crust. But pie crusts by definition contain butter, I thought. Then I thought some more. Was that really the case? After putting the dates I had been saving to make muffins to experimental use, I discovered pie crust can be more than a butter-ladden treat, and so much less fattening as a result. Then, the healthy pie crust  idea inspired a  health-conscious filling to match. I read somewhere that pumpkin is one of those super healthy things that people don’t eat enough of. In keeping with the theme, I added a whole can, along with silken tofu, to the filling. Healthy crust? Healthy filling? Before you run for your lives, I offer you this: I made this for a recent family party and even some of the non allergy-plagued guests counted this dessert among their favorites. If that doesn’t convince, I offer this: I don’t actually like pumpkin pie. In fact, I usually despise it. I loved this one.

If you avoid oats for fear of cross-contamination, try Bob’s Red Mill rolled oats. They test all of their oats to make sure they don’t have a trace of gluten, and process them using completely gluten free facilites. If you simply can’t tolerate oats altogether, well, I’m still working on a good, cripsy crust that’s gluten-free, vegan, and still tasty. It may take awhile, but I’m determined to do it, so check back in often!

Ingredients:

Crust:

2 cups Bob’s Red Mill dry rolled oats

1 cup dates

1/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons unsweetened soy milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

Filling:

1 12-oz. package Mori Nu extra firm silken tofu

1 15-oz. can pumpkin

1/2 cup agave nectar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon allspice

1/2 teaspoon orange zest

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350.

2. Place all ingredients for crust in a food processor and blend until a large clump forms. Using fingers, press evenly into a 9″ pie pan. Bake for 22 minutes. After crust has baked, set aside to cool.

3. Meanwhile, using a blender or food processor, blend all ingredients for filling. When crust has cooled, pour in filling and chill in refrigerator overnight.

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Gluten Free Vegan Carob Cupcakes

carob cupcakes 3These cupcakes are a new favorite. In the words of The Moosewood Cookbook: “Carob is carob.  Chocolate is chocolate…Let carob be itself — its genuine, sweet, subtle self. You will discover it to have a charm and character of its own.” Since Moosewood has been in my family for years — given to me by my mom, pages curdled and stained from from spills,  others stuck together — I trust that Moosewood is probably right. Carob deserves to stand on its own as a worthy ingredient, and not just as a chocolate substitute. Personally, I love it. And I love chocolate as well. But since this is a site for people with food allergies, if you can’t have chocolate, these are an indulgence worthy of taking the chocolate cupcake’s place — even if carob is carob, and chocolate is chocolate.  

A quick note on coconut cream (used in the frosting): You can find it in the baking aisle of health food stores (I bought mine at Whole Foods), usually next to the shredded coconut. It’s kind of like natural peanut butter in the sense that, at room temperature, the solid separates from the liquid. When it’s cold, it completely hardens. I suggest warming the package in a bowl of warm water before using, if the cream is completely solid. When using in this recipe, you want to use, for the most part, the solid part of the coconut cream. This is what will allow the frosting to harden and form a nice glaze over the cupcakes.

Yield: 12 cupcakes

Gluten Free Vegan Carob Cupcakes:

1/2 cup brown rice flour

1/2 cup garbanzo bean flour

1/4 cup tapioca flour

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon carob powder (not sweetened)

1/4 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup light coconut milk

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon agave nectar

1/4 cup canola oil

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 banana, mashed

Sugar Free, Dairy Free Carob Frosting:

1/2 cup light coconut milk

1/3 cup agave nectar

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon coconut cream (the solid part)

1/4 cup carob powder (not sweetened)

1/4 teaspoon vanilla

3 tablespoons cornstarch

Directions:

1. Prepare frosting at least an hour or two before using so that frosting can chill and harden. To prepare, blend all ingredients in a blender. Cover and chill in refrigerator.

2. Preheat oven to 325.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk together dry ingredients. Set aside. In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat coconut milk, agave, canola oil, vanilla and banana on high. Slowly add dry ingredients and mix on a low speed until incorporated.

4. Fill cupcake tins with liners and add batter a little more than 3/4 of the way to the top of each liner. Bake for 12 minutes, rotate cupcake tin 180 degrees, and bake for another ten minutes. Cupcakes may be a little soft to the touch when you take them out, but they will harden a little more as they cool. Allow to cool five minutes in tins, then on a rack. When cupcakes have completely cooled, frost using about a tablespoon of frosting at first. Add more as needed and spread evenly over the top of the cupcake. This is not a fluffly frosting, but more of a glaze.

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Gluten Free Carrot Orange Cupcakes

006When I was younger, one of my favorite desserts was my grandma’s — which then became my mom’s — famous carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. It was dense and sweet and tasty, yet incredibly loaded with vitamin packed carrots. My take on the dessert is a little less carrot-heavy, but the absence of sugar and butter and the addition of whole grains makes these cupcakes a not-so-guilty pleasure nonetheless.

I know it may seem like a lot of ingredients, but if you already do a lot of gluten-free cooking or baking, you will likely have many of the items already on hand. Plus, many of the ingredients for the cake are used in the frosting as well. As a final note, I really like to use Bob’s Red Mill Brown Rice Flour for baking because it tends to produce a less gritty final product. If you are working with what seems like a grittier flour, try throwing it in the food processor for about 30 seconds for a finer texture.

Cake Ingredients:

1 cup Bob’s Red Mill brown rice flour

3/4 cup white rice flour

1/3 cup tapioca flour

1 tsp baking soda

2 tsp baking powder

1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp ground cinnamon

3 tbsp flax seed meal

1 tsp xanthan gum

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 tsp orange zest

1 cup agave nectar

1/3 cup canola oil

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup hot water

1 medium apple, peeled and grated

1 cup shredded carrot

1/2 cup shredded coconut, unsweetened

Preheat oven to 325. In a large bowl, sift together the dry ingredients. In a separate bowl, whisk the orange juice and zest, agave nectar, canola oil and vanilla extract. Add to the dry ingredients and mix until incorporated. Add the hot water. Fold in the apple, carrot and coconut. Do not overmix.

Line muffin tins with baking cups and fill each cup about halfway with the batter. Bake at 325 for about 25 minutes, or until an inserted toothpick comes out clean.

Let cool. Then top with vanilla orange frosting. Recipe follows.

Vanilla orange frosting:

2/3 cup light coconut milk

1/4 cup white rice flour

2 tbsp orange juice

1/3 cup canola oil

1/3 cup agave nectar

1 tbsp arrowroot

2 tsp orange zest

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp xanthan gum

Whisk rice flour and coconut milk and heat in a small saucepan over medium heat. Slowly stir until milk has thickened, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a blender or food processor and blend with remaining ingredients. If using coconut oil and your oil has hardened, place it in a bowl of warm water for about 5 minutes until it liquifies before adding to the blender. Chill for at least an hour.

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