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
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1/3 cup agave nectar
1/3 cup virgin coconut oil
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.