Cook’s Illustrated, Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookies
Firstly, a giggling me photoshopped the picture above… but it is not that far off an idea that Cook’s Illustrated, my favorite print magazine, would soon contain a vegan or “plant-based” feature. To this point, the latest issue had write-up on the coconut whip, the well-loved easy-peasy pantry tip, in the Kitchen Notes section. And last year they had a quick ditty on aquafaba meringues, calling the bean protein concoction “weird but good.” (Though protein from bean is far less “weird” than protein from a chicken’s ova in my view.) The food industry, including popular print magazines, is so cute when they try to be experts in plant-based… but really, they just don’t have the experience. They need a true vegan consultant, one with 20+ years experience being, buying, baking and cooking vegan. Like me! Additionally, they need to stop trying to not say the word “vegan” and embrace the fact that if they care about a more just and sustainable food system (at the very least), they should help break the stigma and negative connotations of “vegan.” Not to mention they’d be offering a better service to their customers. Using the coconut milk whipped cream note as an example, I would have included the best brand of coconut milk to use for this purpose (Thai Kitchen); how coconut milk whipped cream compares with whipped coconut cream, which is also available in the can aisle; as well the great tip of flipping can and opening from the bottom to more easily avoid the non-fatty, watery coconut milk and some suggestions for using that separated liquid. Hire me, Cook’s Illustrated!
Anyway, these vegan growing pains are a good thing. Cook’s Illustrated is the real deal. Like its affiliated television show America’s Test Kitchen, it’s the PBS of magazines–smart, thoughtful, quality-driven. Though I am vegan, there is plenty in that magazine that helps my “practice” every month. With no advertisements, well-informed opinions, and a wealth of practical tips, I savor each page. The vegan food world needs the tools and resources Cook’s Illustrated offers conventional cooks. For one, as vegan food grows in leaps and bounds there is a need for a resource to differentiate the good, the bad, and the ugly. Because there is really bad vegan food out there that gets celebrated just because of it being vegan. But not by me. And not by tons of non-vegans who still shudder upon its mention.
In homage to Cook’s Illustrated, America’s Test Kitchen, and all those, vegan and non-vegan, who like how quality tastes, the recipe for Perfect Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies… with my notes since I have been making these for many years.
Notes on ingredients:
I use 1/2 cup all-purpose flour & 1/2 cup whole wheat flour. I keep a container of these mixed flours (1:1) in my pantry. Our industrialized food system does weird things to grain crops. I use organic flour because there is less weird stuff going on in organic farming. Or you can use King Arthur who has clear labeling about GMO’s used in their products. Since flour is the largest part of the recipe, at least going organic or non-GMO with the flour helps cookies be… better.
I use whatever I have in the pantry, which is usually organic granulated sugar. But when I use a large crystal sugar, like Sugar in the Raw, an old flame from my early days of vegan when it was hard to find any sugar but the yellow bag of bone char-processed Domino, the cookies have a noticeable and pleasing gritty texture. Pair large crystal sugar with a pinch more large crystal salt (more on salt later) and you have got a delicious cookies with little pops of flavor intensity. There are so many sweeteners now available in even a conventional super market that it is worth some experimentation.
Experimentation with salt is also fun. Salt is a huge part of the pleasing taste of a chocolate chip cookie. Though old school Morton’s salt could do the trick, my most favorite salt for chocolate chip cookies is Red Hawaiian sea salt. Or if you have $15 burning a whole in your pocket, the hand-harvested Fleur de Sel is my overall biggest salt crush.
Please don’t use carob chips. I repeat, please don’t use carob chips. They taste like 90’s vegan, which is not a good thing. (Trust me, I was there.) Real, deep, rich chocolate is vegan. And there are plenty of vegan chocolate chips out there, though most conventional supermarkets, who sell to conventional consumers who have bad taste and don’t care about quality, have chips what all contain dairy. (Look for milk fat.) Dairy helps lessen that rich, dark chocolatey flavor. My go-to is Enjoy Life!‘s morsels.
Vanilla is a very important ingredient to consider. And as with most ingredients, you get what you pay for. Does using the expensive vanilla make a difference? It certainly does… if you have taste. If you still have the palate of a 10 year old, you may opt for crap. Crap sugar, crap salt, crap flour, crap imitation vanilla, processed, genetically modified, corn syrup, enriched, bleached, white, white, white. But if you care about real food and good taste, and have enough discretionary income to do so, opt for the good stuff. Always. My favorite: Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract.
Real maple syrup. Not corn syrup with coloring. Even sophisticated 10 year olds know the difference these days. Since the The International Maple Syrup Institute has switched from having a Grade A/B specification, I would go for Grade A: Amber color and rich taste. Maple syrup can be expensive, yes, so that discretionary income thing comes up again. There are certain pantry staples I get at wholesale clubs. Maple syrup is one of them. Agave Nectar is another. It is great to see organic items like this at the wholesale market. (Also, quinoa and nuts) And on the agave tip, I often half-n-half Agave nectar and maple syrup. Agave is sweeter, so I’ll usually lessen the granulated sugar when I do this. Or not. Even though I know a good recipe should create consistent results, I often fiddle a bit with these cookies depending on my mood. Sometimes I’ll do heaping measurements, sometimes I’ll add more salt or sprinkle some salt on top, and sometimes I’ll mix things.
The recipe calls for Blackstrap molasses. This is different than regular molasses. It is more intense, denser, and darker. It nuances the flavor of the cookie in a wonderful way. It also contains iron. You like iron. (I said that like the mom in Better Off Dead.)
Perfect Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 cup flour
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1/3 cup chocolate chips
1&1/2 tsp. vanilla
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 tsp. blackstrap molasses
1/4 cup canola oil
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350. Roll out some parchment paper on two baking sheets.
Step 2: In a large bowl combine all the dry ingredients. Stir them all together.
Step 3: Combine all wet in a small bowl or measuring cup. I usually measure out the syrup in a glass measuring cup and combine the rest right into the cup. When adding blackstrap molasses, coat the measuring spoon with an oiled finger. This way it all runs off the spoon. Mix all wet well with a rubber spatula.
Step 4: Pour wet into dry and stir well. The liquids have different viscosities, so use the rubber spatula to scrape cup clean as some of the syrup and molasses try to stay along the wall. The dough should be shiny and thick, like below. Add more flour if it’s too wet. Give it a small splash of water if it’s too dry.
Step 5: Drop a heaping teaspoon or so of dough spaciously on the two baking sheets and bake for only 10-11 minutes. You may think they are not ready at this time, but resist the urge to keep them in any longer.
Step 6: Let them sit untouched for 2 minutes. Meantime, get the cooling racks ready.
Step 7: Carefully transfer them to the cooling racks. I use a frosting knife (not a spatula) to do this. And I wipe it with a rag or paper towel as it encounters melty chocolate chips. Using a spatula can alter the beautiful bottoms of the cookies and smear them sloppily with melted chocolate.
Step 8: Cool them for only 10 minutes. Put this on the timer. If they cool to long, they’ll get harder and crunchier. After 10 minutes, carefully place them in a airtight container and store at room temperature. Though they are spectacular right out of the oven, once store, cookies texture and flavor develop wonderfully.
There they are, Perfect Vegan Chocolate Chip cookies.