Anne Horrigan Geary: New year, new food
If anyone told me five years ago that I could make cookies without using butter, sugar or white flour, I would have laughed incredulously; but that is exactly what I did recently. Welcome to the future in baking.
With all the confusing terminology in the food world, it’s hard to know which end is up. Beyond vegetarian, vegan and lactose intolerant, there are now folks whose food orientation can be gluten-free, dairy-free, non GMO or paleo. I’m attempting to learn about healthier ingredient choices; but I’m overwhelmed by the choices.
To make these "new-fangled" treats, called pistachio-crusted chewy chocolate chip cranberry cookies, I literally had to start from scratch. Of all the ingredients called for, the only ones I had in the pantry were the dried cranberries, maple syrup, and pure vanilla extract. So off I went -- like Alice through the looking glass -- to shop for the following: almond flour, coconut flour, garbanzo bean flour, chia seeds, flax seeds, pepitas (pumpkin seeds), pistachios, coconut oil, blackstrap molasses, and 85 percent cacao chocolate.
You can’t buy just a tablespoon of chia seeds, so I purchased a one-pound package. Ditto for the flax seeds and flours (the cost of one pound of coconut flour is 5.99). The jar of coconut oil contained more than the four tablespoons required; but it is also a beauty oil so maybe I’ll get a facial while I’m learning to bake healthy cookies.
Substitutions for missing ingredients have been a long-time necessity among cooks, but I was startled to learn that I could substitute chia seeds and ground flax seeds, soaked in six tablespoons of filtered water, for the binding power of an egg. Why filtered water? I have no idea, but that’s what the directions said, so I used bottled water in hopes that the bottling company had filtered out whatever chemicals we didn’t want.
Incidentally, this recipe came from a website on healthy living -- Nutrition Stripped -- which I found by following links on Facebook. Social media connections should be the topic for another day; but suffice it to say, I have spent hundreds of hours roaming the blogosphere looking for information about food.
Back to baking. I assembled all the ingredients and began. Grinding the flax seed was the first challenge. The hard little seeds -- each the size of a flea -- flew merrily around inside the food grinder without being harmed.
Next, I put them in a mortar and pestle with only marginally better results, so I cheated a little and put a bit of flax seed meal into the mix. Having heard from my son that chia seeds alone will provide the gel I needed, I wasn’t too worried about the flax seed fiasco.
Shelling and chopping the $8 pistachio nuts was not difficult, just time consuming; but I had a half hour to wait for the gel to form. Next I chopped the pepitas, measured out the dry ingredients, chopped the chocolate, and melted the coconut oil. Eureka, the gel had formed as promised, and I could get on with the actual making of the cookies.
Being an old hand at baking, I had no further problems with assembling the cookie dough. It was a little sticky, so rolling it out into one-inch balls was a bit tricky. The pistachio crusting was the next step, easily accomplished because of said stickiness.
The cookies were then pressed flat and baked. The directions said to bake until golden; but since the batter was already brown, I wasn’t sure how to tell and I had to rely on my old-fashioned baking skills again.
I’m not sure these cookies are the best I ever made; but they certainly were the healthiest and most expensive. I look forward to finding creative ways of using up the rest of the seeds, flours and coconut oil. Suggestions?
Anne Horrigan Geary is a regular Eagle contributor.