February 17, 2010

Vegan Chocolate Mint Chip Cookies

I've been hearing more about Celiac Disease and gluten-free diets lately.  I've also been doing a bit of my own research on the subject because I think my cousin may be "non-Celiac gluten intolerant."  Long story short, all this information has made me realize that wheat/gluten may be hard on our systems and that I want to experiment with wheat-free/gluten-free baking.  

I have no intention of going gluten-free.  I love wheat and all the delicious bread-y, cake-y confections it produces, but alternative flours do have their merits.  These cookies are made with a combination of whole spelt flour, which is slightly higher in protein and lower in calories than wheat flour, and brown rice flour, which is completely gluten-free.  Spelt flour has a small amount of gluten but can often be tolerated by people with gluten sensitivities.   
Another ingredient I experimented with in this recipe is sucanat, which is pure dehydrated cane juice.  Since I've also been reading and hearing a lot about the "evils" of processed sugars, I thought it would be fun to try out some new natural sugars.  I've already tried a fair amount of recipes using agave, maple syrup, or brown rice syrup to sweeten, but all of those sweeteners are liquid and I've been looking for a decent dry natural sugar.  The sucanat seemed to work well here, although the texture is a bit dusty and the grains aren't quite uniform so it may not be the best substitute in every recipe.

These cookies turned out wonderfully though-- they even came out resembling crinkle cookies!  The flavor is spot-on (mmm chocolate mint) and they're sweet but not overly so.  More importantly, they held together nicely when baked and weren't soft to the point of being formless (a problem I've had with spelt flour in the past).  The texture is slightly grainy from the brown rice flour (though I've read about something called "superfine brown rice flour," which may alleviate this problem) and they are just the tiniest bit crumbly when you bite into them.  All in all, I'm extremely satisfied with the results.  Go natural ingredients!

Vegan Mint Chocolate Chip Cookies
Loosely adapted from Vive le Vegan!

1 cup whole spelt flour
1/4 cup brown rice flour
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup sucant
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 cup grade B maple syrup
1 tablespoon agave nectar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon mint extract
3 tablespoons canola oil
~ 1 tablespoon "milk" of choice, if batter is dry [I used unsweetened vanilla hemp milk]
optional: 1.5 oz dark chocolate, chopped (or vegan dark chocolate chips) [I used 85% dark chocolate]

In a large bowl, mix all the dry ingredients (excluding the chopped chocolate).  In a medium bowl, mix together the wet ingredients.  Pour the wet ingredients into the dry, along with the chopped chocolate.  Mix until just combined (be careful not to over-mix).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and spoon the batter onto the sheet, spacing evenly (I used my hands to lightly shape the dough into balls).  Bake for 11 minutes (don't over-bake or they will dry out!).  Let cool on baking sheet for 1 minute and then transfer to a cooling rack.

February 10, 2010

Crispy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

Sometimes when I'm at work I don't have much time to eat, or I don't have the opportunity to take a break when I'm hungry.  I'm not the kind of person who can go without food for too long and keep a smile on my face, so having something quick, nutritious, and easy to sneak a bite of when no one's looking has become key.

I used to be kind of a bar-junkie.  I'd tried a good amount of the bars you see at Whole Foods and other grocery stores.  From Odwalla bars to Lara bars to Pure bars to Luna bars to Raw Revolution bars, you name it, I've probably tried it.  While I still enjoy trying new products and buying some old favorites, it can get kind of expensive, especially with some of the newest bars running $2.99 each (Amazing Grass bars ::cough:: cough::).

Since I love baking, I thought making my own granola bars would be the perfect solution; I could tailor them to my tastes, know exactly what was in them, and save some money in the process.  The only problem was that a lot of "granola bar" recipes I've seen are laden with sugar and fat-- more like bar cookies than satisfying, energy-sustaining, granola bars.

So I set out to make up my own.  It took a couple of tries but I think the recipe below is nearly perfect.  The syrup that binds the bars is made from natural sugars (dates and brown rice syrup) and protein (peanut butter), but neither in copious amounts so the end result isn't too calorie heavy or sugary.

I'm sure you could play with the ratios a bit after trying the original recipe.  As usual, what's so great about these is that they can be catered to your tastes.  The recipe for my first batch is below but in the second batch, I made a chocolate granola bar with almond butter, pistachios (a great addition) and coconut.  As long as you keep the general amount of dry ingredients similar to the original recipe, you should have no problem with the bars holding together.

Let me know if you try any good combinations.  I'm think a cinnamon raisin almond butter variety will be next for me!

Crispy Peanut Butter Granola Bars

1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 cup crisp brown rice cereal
1/3 cup sunflower seeds
1/3 cup raw almonds, chopped
1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut
1/2 cup dried fruit of choice [I used a mix of cherries and raisins]
5 dates
1/4 cup natural peanut butter
scant 1/3 cup brown rice syrup
1 tablespoon coconut oil (unrefined and virgin is best)

Line an 8x8 brownie pan with parchment paper.  Make sure to leave some hanging over the side so you can easily pull out the bars.

In a large bowl, mix oats, cereal, sunflower seeds, almonds, coconut and dried fruit.  Set aside.

Add the dates to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until they form a nearly smooth paste.  Add the peanut butter, brown rice syrup, and coconut oil to the food processor and pulse until the mixture is uniform.

Scrape the syrup mixture into a small saucepan and heat over medium-low until it is slightly more liquidy.

Pour warm syrup over the dry ingredients and mix until combined (this will not be easy because the syrup is so thick but it will happen).  Once everything is combined pour the mixture into prepared brownie pan and press down very firmly and evenly until the whole pan is coated.

Place pan in the refrigerator for at least 40 minutes until the bars are cold and hardened (alternatively, you could place them in the freezer for a shorter amount of time but I haven't tried this).  Pull the bars out of the pan using the sides of the parchment and transfer to a cutting board.  Using a VERY sharp knife, cut into 10 granola bars.

Wrap each bar in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator until ready to eat. (They hold up fine out of the fridge, but the cold helps them stay slightly more solid.)