Friday, October 25, 2013

Recipe Review: King Arthur's Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies

I've been putting off doing some true, from-scratch, gluten free baking for a while now. I've been baking for a long time and I have always loved it but this entire world of gluten free baking scares me. Have you seen some of the ingredients? Therefore, I've mostly only baked from mixes up to this point. 

As I've mentioned in past posts, among other things, I've made some brownie and cake mixes with mixed results. I've used gluten free Bisquick with very mixed results. And, more recently, have played around with Pamela's flour blends and mixes with better results. The Pamela's baking has been as close to from-scratch baking as I've gotten up until now.

Enter King Arthur's Gluten Free All Purpose Flour. I bought a box of this shortly after I was diagnosed, way back in June. I used it recently in my mac & cheese but I've really been wanting to get into some of that baking I miss. Ya know, the "throw a couple sticks of butter on the counter to soften and make sure you have enough eggs and brown sugar" kind of baking. At least that's how it goes in my house as I'm always running out of brown sugar and eggs. Why hadn't I dug right into this box of flour? What was I afraid of? King Arthur ruled my baking world prior to my diagnosis. Their catalog comes to my mailbox. I've been to their store a couple times. I only bought King Arthur brand flour. I always referenced their website and cookbooks for recipes. Why did I think they would not come through in my new, gluten free world?

Well, I decided it was time to find out if the King would continue to rule. I knew the brownie mix was amazing. Like, "is this really gluten free?" amazing. Would the chocolate chip cookie recipe be as amazing?

For the most part, yes. It's pretty darn good. 

I read through the recipe and also, the reviews. King Arthur's site is great as they have their staff respond to some of the negative reviews. Usually it's with offers of troubleshooting via their 1-800 number but sometimes they reply with troubleshooting tips right there on the review and that, to me, is invaluable advice. Especially to a new baker or to like me, a new-to-gluten-free baking-baker.

In reading the reviews, I learned that a couple reviewers were having issues with an ever present problem with gluten free baked goods, grittiness. What I loved was one of the descriptions of the residue that the cookies left in your mouth that was described as "microsand". Yes, gluten free food is so much fun to eat and describe. The King Arthur staff left some feedback about the xanthan gum and I had an "a-ha" moment. They're not only one of my favorite 80's band, a-ha moments are very helpful in gluten free baking too. 

The directions for these cookies instruct that you refrigerate them for at least an hour or up to 2 days. I get it, I can do that. However, I can see why some may be tempted to skip that step, we want cookies NOW. This does seem to be an integral part of keeping the cookies as grit-free as can be, as I learned from the staffer who commented on the review. I do love to know the reasons as to why I'm doing things and while I understand you can't explain EVERY single step in a recipe, things like this would be good to know. The staffer explained to the reviewer that refrigerating the dough helps to hydrate and activate the xanthan gum, reducing it's grittiness. A-ha. I don't know a lot about xanthan gum and I have a feeling I don't want to know about it. I will investigate that another day. But, now I know the longer I refrigerate the dough, the more I may reduce it's tendency to be gritty. 

The cookies were very typical to throw together. You beat the butter with the sugar, add the dry ingredients, add your chips. You have cookie dough. You refrigerate. You bake. You have cookies. The only two things I changed were that I used dark brown sugar and I added about 1/3 cup more of extra chocolate chips since I skipped the nuts. The light brown sugar I had was possibly cross contaminated since my husband had made apple crisp and I don't know if he double dipped with the flour measuring cup he used. 

I always have a rule when I bake cookies. You must taste them at every stage of warmth, right out of the oven and right through to room temperature. Here's how it went.

Out of the oven-
You could taste a bit of "microsand". Although, I would liken it more to a wheat germ texture. It almost tasted like a sneaky mom threw some wheat germ into the cookie dough to make this treat just a wee bit more healthy for her youngins. The cookies were good though. Very Toll House-ish. Homemade goodness was there, for sure.

Still warm-
The cookies continued to taste like mom was being sneaky with the wheat germ but now the cookie was firming up and it was really tasting so good. Woo-hoo. Baking from scratch can happen in a gluten free world and taste good. 

Room temp-
I'm definitely making these again and King Arthur is going to at least rule my gluten free chocolate chip cookie world. Wheat germ texture is minimized as it's cooled but still there towards the end of the cookie. The butter flavor is wonderful, it really shines through. I'm not sure these would completely fool anyone who isn't gluten free because of that bit of a wheat germ texture. In every other way they are the real deal though. Soft, chewy, chocolate very good! 

Making this recipe has given me hope. Every time I play in my new gluten free world and have a little success, I have hope. My world certainly didn't end when I got my diagnosis, not even close. However, for those who know me, they know how very much I loved my world of all things baking. Celiac disease felt like a pretty cruel diagnosis for someone who loved to play with flour as much as I did. I truly enjoyed baking and to know that my hobby was wrecking my insides kind of blows my mind at times. 

However, I am learning that I can still bake. This little experiment here is proof. It's certainly not the best chocolate chip cookie I've ever had and I'm definitely limited to what I can do with my mixer (that I bought at King Arthur, by the way) but time will certainly help me to develop my abilities just as it did with wheat flour baking. It took years for me to learn the basics there so that I could venture off on my own and get creative. I just have to be patient and learn all over again, one basic recipe at a time. One down, many more to go!

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