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1 Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe, 4 Flours to Choose From, 0 Gluten

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September 15, 2016

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!)

From left to right: buckwheat, teff, mesquite, and oat. Photo by Alanna Taylor-Tobin

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).

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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.

Photo by Alanna Taylor-Tobin

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.

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Top Comment:
“If I already have a chocolate chip cookie recipe that I like, do you have any recommendations for how much oat flour and tapioca flour to use for every 1 cup (125 gm) all purpose four? Thanks!”
— Anabel
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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.

Can you identify the flours by look alone? Photo by Alanna Taylor-Tobin

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.

Photo by Alanna Taylor-Tobin

Recipe tips:

  • 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.

What's your favorite (or least favorite) gluten-free flour to work with? Tell us in the comments!

22 Comments

Nanda G. September 29, 2016
First off, I'm very appreciative of this piece. I have many alternative flours and sometimes don't understand how they behave differently...you saved me having to bake and eat so many batches of cookies!<br /><br />Question: my experience with Teff hasn't been great to date, and I've been using recipes (vs. winging it on my own). The texture comes out sandy. The only time that didn't happen was with a brownie recipe. Do these really avoid the sandy texture, and if so, how?
 
Author Comment
Alanna October 3, 2016
Hi Nanda! What brand of teff flour are you using? Sometimes the grind varies by brand (I use Bob's Red Mill). I didn't find these teff cookies sandy at all, so maybe it has to do with the ratio of liquid in the dough. Letting the dough stand also allows the flour to absorb moisture and soften. The tapioca probably helps smooth things out, too!
 
Anabel October 12, 2016
I made this recipe as written twice using a scale to make sure all the measurements would be accurate. The first time I used oat flour, and the second time I used teff flour. I, like you, found the texture of the teff cookies to be pretty sandy (I used Bob's Red Mill brand of teff flour).<br /><br />Another issue I had with both types of cookies was that they kept spreading too much while baking. Freezing the dough and then baking at a higher temperature helped a little, but the cookies did not have a uniform texture (ie edges were super crispy and centers were gooey), and the centers of the cookies sank.
 
Author Comment
Alanna March 2, 2017
Hi Anabel, I think I know the answer! I recently bought a new bag of Bob's teff flour, which is now certified GF, and noticed it had a more coarse texture than their previous, non-certified-GF bag. I baked the teff cookies from my book, and sure enough, they spread a ton. I think the mystery is solved - they must have different facilities that grind the grain differently. The more coarse grind doesn't absorb moisture as well or have as much surface area, and baked goods made with it bake up with a sandier texture. So frustrating! Anyway, I'm planning to reformulate these to work with their coarser grind - I'll try adding 2 T more tapioca flour and see if it helps. Fingers crossed. <br /><br />When I first started working on Alternative Baker, I was using the teff flour from the bulk bin of my co-op, which is made by The Teff Company and ground powder fine. It was a dream to work with, but hard to find, which is why I switched to Bob's. But if you wanted to order some Teff Company flour to play with, I bet you'd love it!
 
Anabel March 8, 2017
Hi Alanna, Thanks so much for this information! I will see if I can track down Teff Company teff flour at my co-op. I think for now I will make my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe, and substitute some of the AP flour with teff to get some of that teff flavor. Thanks again!!
 
nycnomad September 21, 2016
Perhaps I missed it but how long did you bake at 375?
 
Sarah M. September 21, 2016
If you click the "recipe" link it'll explain the entire process. Looks like she says to "Bake the cookies until the edges are golden and set and the tops are pale golden but still soft and underbaked, 8 to 12 minutes, rotating the pans back to front and top to bottom after 8 minutes for even baking." Hope this helps!
 
Sarah M. September 16, 2016
Much to my surprise, mesquite was my choice! Though it was hard because I loved them all!
 
Author Comment
Alanna September 19, 2016
Thanks for being my taste-tester! <3
 
RENEE September 16, 2016
WOW THIS IS A GAME CHANGER!!! I can't believe how detailed this is. I love the section all about how using different flours changed the flavor quality in the recipe. Obviously TEFF RULES. Teff is life. So stoked to try this out in all of the variations.
 
Author Comment
Alanna September 19, 2016
Yes, teff is amazing stuff. Teff cookies 4ever! <3
 
Vero K. September 16, 2016
Congratulations, Alanna! I can't wait to try some of these recipes!
 
Author Comment
Alanna September 19, 2016
Thanks, Vero! Let me know how you like them. :)
 
Valentina |. September 16, 2016
Oh Alanna, you really made an amazing job! Can't wait to Sunday!
 
Author Comment
Alanna September 16, 2016
Aw, thanks Valentina! Can't wait to see you. :)
 
Anabel September 16, 2016
This is such a wonderful and helpful post, and I can't wait to try making some oat flour cookies. If I already have a chocolate chip cookie recipe that I like, do you have any recommendations for how much oat flour and tapioca flour to use for every 1 cup (125 gm) all purpose four? Thanks!
 
Author Comment
Alanna September 19, 2016
Hi Anabel, that's a good question. It's a bit tricky since the flours have to match up by weight as well, but it's pretty close to my recipe here: 3/4 c + 3 T oat flour and 6 T tapioca, for 145 grams. I'd just us a bit less than this to equal 125 g in your recipe. Let me know how it goes!
 
Two T. September 16, 2016
What a great post! I have to ask-- is subbing tapioca flour a possibility? Would cornstarch work? (I am guessing no!)
 
Author Comment
Alanna September 16, 2016
Hi there! Hm, I'm not sure about cornstarch, as it tends to make things crispy rather than chewy. Potato starch could potentially work, though it tends to make baked goods soggy since it's hygroscopic (meaning it likes to grab water molecules out of the air). You might also try sweet white rice flour (Mochiko). Please let us know if you experiment!
 
Author Comment
Alanna March 2, 2017
Another reader commented that they used cornstarch and it worked well for her!
 
Jamie D. September 15, 2016
You just saved me a bunch of work!!! I've been wanting to do this for a while since I quite eating wheat. Thank you so much!!!
 
Author Comment
Alanna September 16, 2016
Fabulous! :)