I should start by saying that I do not eat a gluten-free diet. I do not have an allergy to gluten. I don’t even have a gluten sensitivity. I got wrapped up in the craze when it first exploded because I was absolutely fascinated with the fact that people were making versions of baked goods, pastas, and breads with no gluten. I was amazed that it was even possible…and some of it actually tasted good!
For hundreds of years, it was thought that such a thing couldn’t be done. Or, at least, if something was made without gluten, it wasn’t on purpose or anything. It probably wasn’t even on anyone’s radar to try to take gluten out of recipes that relied on it to be successful. I mean, why would they?
I now have a fairly sizable handful of friends and family members who have an honest-to-goodness gluten allergy. These people have tested positive for a condition called Celiac disease. Celiac is an autoimmune disorder which affects the small intestine, and occurs in people who are genetically predisposed. Symptoms include GI problems, distention, malabsorption, loss of appetite, and in children, failure to grow normally.
As a chef, I feel like when there’s a new cooking method that comes to light, or there is new information on how to cook with (or without) an ingredient, it’s my responsibility to at least learn the basics. I feel a need to understand the basic science and methods for making it work. So, a few years ago, I bought a handful of the best gluten-free (GF) books and a few really good magazines. I studied the science and methods, and started experimenting. I really want to get some more practice under my belt, but until then, I’ll leave you with this recipe.
I brought these cookies to about 30 friends and asked for their honest opinions. The majority couldn’t tell the difference between these and cookies with gluten in them. All of them enjoyed these little gems enough to request them again. Trust me. Make these cookies. I promise you’ll love them. They really are the best gluten-free chocolate-chip cookies in the world.
A few notes about the flour blend: it’s altogether possible to make these with a store-bought gluten-free flour blend – but I cannot promise they will turn out as yummy. Every gluten-free flour blend is not equal. Some work better for cookies than cake, or better for bread than pastry. There’s all kinds of science behind this. Just believe me when I say that, if you eat gluten-free, it’s worth a little of your time to make a huge batch of this flour blend recipe and just have it on hand whenever you need it. If you get the items in bulk, it’s also cheaper.
I tried different recipes, but the recipe from America’s Test Kitchen was always superior. They get to the nitty-gritty science of the matter. For instance, the chefs at ATK discovered that gluten-free flour blends cannot absorb as much fat as all-purpose flour can, so it’s necessary to cut back on the butter to minimize greasiness. Less butter, along with some xanthan gum, also helped alleviate the spread issue, so the cookies didn’t bake up as flat.
Sandiness is an issue with a lot of GF baked goods. Fixing this required a two-step approach. The starches in the ATK flour blend needed more liquid as well as more time to hydrate and soften, so they added a couple of tablespoons of milk and let the dough rest for 30 minutes. This resting time also had a secondary benefit: It gave the sugar time to dissolve, which led to faster caramelization in the oven. And that meant a cookie not just wth deeper flavor, but also with a chewier center and crisper edges.
These cookies are less cakey and more chewy – just how I like them. Creaming the butter aerates the butter too much. Melting the butter instead, and changing the ratio of brown sugar to granulated sugar, gives the cookies the right chewy texture. The extra brown sugar also gives the cookies a more complex, toffee-like flavor. This cookie rivals the best versions of this classic.
We chefs are always tinkering with methods, techniques, and recipes. We change things around and make them our own. I’ve done that thousands of times with every sort of food imaginable. This is a recipe I will not change. In the inimitable words of my great-aunt, Mable, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
From the ATK website: “Do not omit the xanthan gum; it is crucial to the structure of the cookies. Do not shortchange the 30-minute rest for the dough; if you do, the cookies will spread too much. [Please note that] not all brands of chocolate chips are processed in a gluten-free facility, so read labels carefully.”