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What happens when your favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe gets a new flour base?
I conducted just that experiment using the (quite delicious!) chocolate chip cookie recipe from my new book Alternative Baker: Reinventing Dessert with Gluten-Free Grains and Flours, testing and comparing oat, teff, buckwheat, and mesquite flours in four separate batches.
The result: four different cookie “personalities” with distinctive colors, flavors, and textures. (Spoiler alert: All are great!)
My cookie recipe starts with a base of butter browned with vanilla bean, a good dose of salt, and loads of toasty nuts and bittersweet chocolate. Tapioca flour lends a soft chew without the use of any gums, allowing the flavor of the hero flour to star (the original flour was chestnut, which is also gluten-free).
Since most gluten-free flours have different protein and starch contents, they often react differently from one another in recipes, requiring a bit of tinkering. Cookies are particularly sensitive to slight changes in ingredients. Thus, I expected each variation to need multiple tests to achieve the proper spread. I was prepared to eat a lot of cookies.
I started with oat flour. Since it’s less absorbent than starchy, powder-fine chestnut flour, I increased the amount from 80 to 100 grams, and upped the tapioca flour from 4 to 6 tablespoons. The batter was promising—as thick and firm as the original—and the cookies baked up beautifully, achieving just the right amount of spread, crispy edges, and soft middles.
To my surprise, teff and buckwheat flour worked just as well when swapped in by weight (100 grams), no tweaking needed. The buckwheat dough had a similar consistency to the oat flour dough, while the teff dough had a slightly greasy look, though the end result was equally delicious, if a bit richer on the palate.
Mesquite flour proved the most unique. Dough made with 100 grams of mesquite flour spread into too-thin cookies and ended up needing 30 percent more flour to bake up thick and chewy. Like the teff flour dough, the mesquite dough looked a bit richer than the oat and buckwheat doughs, and the cookies baked up more chewy than the rest. Mesquite flour has a higher sugar content than the other flours, making it more prone to burning. When baked at 375° F like the others, the mesquite cookies ended up with a slightly burnt flavor, a problem easily solved by decreasing the temperature by 25 degrees.
Like all chocolate chip cookies, all four versions are at their peak when still warm from the oven. But when properly underbaked, they all keep well, airtight at room temperature, for up to 3 days, with the mesquite cookies retaining the most chew over time, followed closely by the teff cookies.
In the end, I did eat a lot of cookies (and I got pretty popular with my friends and neighbors, who helped!). But I couldn’t pick a favorite; I love each variation for its differences. My taste-testers all had their individual preferences, but there was no cookie that was unanimously preferred above the rest. So pour yourself a glass of milk and read on to discover which alternative cookie is right for you; and, please, let me know!
Oat Flour: Close to Classic
Sweet and mild, oat flour has a soft, cakey texture and lactic flavor. Perfect for those dipping a little toe into the world of alternative flours, these cookies have a classic taste with an open crumb, brittle edges, and chewy centers.
Hints of whole grain flavor meld with vanilla, butter, and brown sugar. And on the texture front, these cookies have a tenderness that wheat-based cookies can only dream of.
Teff Flour: The Game Changer
Teff cookies are like chocolate chip cookies on the next level. The malty teff flour accentuates the butterscotch notes of brown sugar and butter, baking into thick, chewy cookies with notes of burnt caramel.
The high protein content of teff creates hefty cookies with a smooth, dense texture and good structure: Crisp edges give way to soft middles. You may never look at chocolate chip cookies the same after trying these bad boys.
Buckwheat Flour: The Dark Horse
Buckwheat flour makes for deep and dark, almost smoky-tasting cookies with notes of coffee and spice. These bake up thick, charcoal-hued, with brittle edges and tender middles. More crumbly and less sweet than the other varieties, these beg for a glass of milk to round out the rough edges. They’re not for the faint of heart.
Make these with a sweeter semi-sweet or dark milk chocolate if you want to balance the earthy taste of the buckwheat. Or if you’re a bit of a dark horse yourself and crave robust flavors, try a bittersweet chocolate with 70 to 75% cacao mass and wash them down with black coffee.
Mesquite Flour: The Wild Card
No one will be able to guess what gives these extra-chewy cookies their red hue and wild flavor that smacks of warm graham crackers and baked earth.
Mesquite flour is the only flour that doesn’t substitute evenly by weight here: It took 30% more flour to create a cookie that didn’t spread too much, and the sweet flour is more prone to burning, which means it needed a lower oven temperature than the other batches. Look for mesquite flour at health food stores and bake up a batch of these cookies that your taste testers (that is, friends and family members) will go wild for.
- If you have a kitchen scale, use it to measure here, as alternative flours can vary in volume. Otherwise, use the dip-and-sweep method.
- Be sure to sift clumpy flours such as oat and mesquite.
- Pull the baked cookies from the oven when they still seem underdone; they will continue cooking from residual heat.
- For fresh-baked cookies on the fly, scoop the dough into balls and store, refrigerated in an airtight container, for up to 1 week. When ready to bake, place the dough balls on sheet pans, sprinkle with flaky salt, and bake.
- Cookies from dough that has chilled bake up extra thick and chewy (shown here); baking the freshly made dough results in thinner cookies with crispier edges.
- See tips on how to brown butter.
- If you're forgoing the flaky salt topping, you can increase the salt in the dough to 3/4 teaspoon; just don't use iodized table salt: I find it has a harsh flavor.
- 3/4 cup raw pecan or walnut halves
- 8 tablespoons (113 grams) unsalted butter
- 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise and scraped
- 1/2 cup (110 grams) packed light brown sugar (I prefer organic)
- 1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated cane sugar (I prefer organic)
- 3/4 cup plus 3 tablespoons (100 grams) gluten-free oat flour
- 1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (45 grams) tapioca flour
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 large egg
- 6 ounces (170 grams) bittersweet chocolate (60 to 75% cacao mass), coarsely chopped (11⁄4 cups)
- Flaky salt such as Maldon for the tops
What's your favorite (or least favorite) gluten-free flour to work with? Tell us in the comments!