Thursday, January 19, 2012

Banana Chocolate Chunk Cookies (Gluten-Free, Refined Sugar-Free, Vegan)

What does the New Year mean to you? To many, it means a chance to reflect on where they've been and where they would like to go. It is an opportunity to make meaningful changes and identify those areas in their lives where they are ready to commit to something new. My friend, Hallie, author of The Pure Kitchen, understands that desire to use this time of year as a stepping off point. A bridge, not to a "better" you, but to a happier you. Because ultimately, that is the goal in life, isn't it? I asked a client recently how she wanted to live her life, and she told me, "I just want to be happy." Isn't that all any of us wants in the end?

How are cookies going to help you be happier? As part of a "New Year, New You" January event (hosted by Hallie and Lexie), I'm sharing a recipe with you today that focuses on healthier sweeteners. I want to help you step away from anything refined or chemical (e.g. regular old table sugar, splenda, equal) and find your way to working comfortably with unrefined sweeteners. What are we talking about then? I like to use sugar alternatives like sucanat, turbinado sugar, maple syrup, raw honey, coconut palm sugar, stevia and more. Sucanat and turbinado sugar are both less processed forms of table sugar, while the other sweeteners are made from different plants or trees (or bees). Today we're going to be using coconut palm sugar, a low-glycemic alternative to refined cane sugar.

Here's the basic story of what happens when you eat refined cane sugar. Sugar is released quickly into your bloodstream, causing your blood-glucose levels to rise (glucose is a type of sugar). This stimulates your pancreas to secrete insulin. You know what insulin is, right? It's that thing they talk about in relation to diabetes. Basically, insulin is your body's way of regulating your blood sugar levels. When insulin levels rise (like after eating a batch of banana chocolate chunk cookies made with regular sugar), it tells your body to get rid of all that sugar circulating around. It's sent into your fat tissues for storage, which can then lead to hypoglycemia or low blood glucose. The result is that you end up tired and craving that very thing that sent you into a tailspin in the first place: more sugar. Because your blood sugar is now way too low, your body wants a quick dose of sugar to bring it back up. You end up going back and eating more of those cookies that didn't make you feel good in the first place and then wondering once again why your cravings got so out of control.

How can you regulate your blood sugar so that you don't vacillate between high and low blood glucose levels?
  • Include a source of protein and/or healthy fats at each meal or snack. Protein and fat counteract the effects of insulin and slow down the absorption of sugar into your cells. These cookies contain coconut oil, a healthier fat than you'll find in most commercial cookies.
  • Choose foods that are low on the glycemic index. The glycemic index is a measure of a food's effect on your blood glucose levels. Refined sugar rates an 80 on that scale. Coconut palm sugar rates a 35. When I bake goodies with coconut palm sugar, my housemates tell me they feel much better afterward. On the other hand, when I bake those same recipes with refined sugar, I notice my housemates going back for seconds and thirds more often. It's that insidious nature of sugar to spike your blood sugar, drop it down, and make you want more. Coconut palm sugar won't do that. 
  • Eat every 2-3 hours to keep your blood sugar from dropping too low. No matter what you're eating, if you go long hours in between meals and snacks, your blood glucose levels are going to drop. Once they get too low, you go from being a nice, normal person to being a crazy lunatic who will eat anything in sight. Because sugar is the fastest way to get your blood sugar up, that's what you're going to want. This isn't about willpower. This is about your body's chemistry. Give your body a steady source of energy so that it doesn't start screaming for a quick fix that you'll regret later.
  • Finally, keep in mind that baked goods (unless they're made with low-glycemic flours like almond flour and coconut flour) are going to raise your blood sugar levels regardless of how you sweeten them. That's because the flour itself is high in carbohydrates, which will break down to sugar in your body. Luckily, sorghum flour (which is the flour I use in these cookies) is a good source of both protein and fiber.
My recipe for Banana Chocolate Chunk Cookies is included below, but be sure to also read my guidelines under that. I've added instructions for how to make lots of substitutions to these cookies, including what to use if you don't want to make them with bananas, how to add extra protein to your cookies, and how to substitute other flours. I've played around with this recipe a lot and it's very adaptable, so don't be shy. Get in your kitchen and experiment!
Banana Chocolate Chunk Cookies
(Print-Friendly Option)

These cookies are a crowd pleaser. When I asked my friend for his honest opinion, he told me they were addictive. I believe his exact words were, "I would get sick eating these. I would eat them until I vomited." Maybe I shouldn't be quoting him on that, but I couldn't help myself. I took it as a compliment.

Yield: 16 cookies

1 cup sorghum flour (136 grams)
1/3 cup arrowroot starch (40 grams)
2/3 cup coconut palm sugar (104 grams)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
6 tablespoons pureed banana (92 grams)
6 tablespoons melted coconut oil (68 grams)
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2/3 cup chocolate chunks (104 grams)

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Set out 2 cookie sheets. You can grease them, but I find it's generally not necessary with these cookies.
  2. Whisk together the sorghum flour, arrowroot starch, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Add the banana, oil, and vanilla extract. Stir until completely mixed. 
  3. Stir in the chocolate chunks. I used a dark chocolate bar and just broke it up. Of course, chocolate chips would work just as well.
  4. Roll heaping tablespoons of dough into balls and flatten slightly. If you use some of the substitutions below, your dough may be stickier and you will not be able to roll it into balls. In that case, just drop the dough onto the cookie sheets as you would any other drop cookies. Those will spread slightly. 
  5. Bake for 12 minutes. Let cool on the cookie sheet for a few minutes before transferring to a cooling rack. 
Now for the fun part! I have made about ten different variations on these cookies, and I've included everything I've tried below. I found it was almost impossible to mess them up! Not completely impossible though...I did try one variation that resulted in a giant brittle cookie that required an overnight soaking of the cookie sheet to unstick it. Obviously, that variation is not included!

Note: With all of my substitutions, I substituted by volume (cups), not weight. I found substituting by weight often resulted in flatter cookies that spread. If you want to use weight, just keep in mind the consistency of the original batter and add small amounts of flour, if needed, to thicken it. If it's too thin, the cookies will spread more than you might want.

How to replace:
Bananas: Use an equal amount of unsweetened applesauce.
Arrowroot starch: Use an equal amount of tapioca or potato starch.
Sorghum flour: Use an equal amount of buckwheat, teff, garbanzo bean, millet, brown rice, white rice, or quinoa flour. Keep in mind that your cookies will take on the flavor of whatever flour you choose, so pick one that you like! This recipe does NOT work with coconut flour. I am pretty sure the recipe could work with almond flour, but I have not yet figured out the exact proportions. Once I have that down, I'll post the recipe for you. If you want to start playing around with almond flour, here's a tip: skip the oil completely, use more almond flour, and chill the dough for an hour in the fridge before baking.
Chocolate: Commercial chocolate bars are hard to find without refined sugar. You can make your own stevia-sweetened chocolate bars, or you can use an equal amount of something else. Try chopped walnuts, pecans, raisins, or even sesame seeds! 
Coconut Oil: Use an equal amount of any type of mild-flavored oil, such as canola oil, extra light olive oil, or grapeseed oil.
Coconut Palm Sugar: Use an equal amount of sucanat or turbinado sugar. If your sugar is particularly coarse (the crystals are large), run it through your blender quickly to make the crystals smaller. If all you have is regular table sugar, you can use that too. Just don't eat too many!

How to use an all-purpose mix: Choose a mix that does not contain xanthan or guar gum. I tested mine with Bob's Red Mill All-Purpose Mix. Take out the sorghum flour and arrowroot starch and substitute in 1 1/3 cups of the all-purpose mix.

How to add more protein:
As I mentioned above, having protein with your carbs will lead to a steadier blood sugar level throughout the day. For vegans, you can add chopped nuts or seeds to your batter with the chocolate chips. For non-vegans, eggs are a great way to increase the protein in your cookies:
  • Add 1 large egg with your wet ingredients. Cut the banana puree down from 6 tablespoons to 2 tablespoons. Cut the baking powder down from 1 teaspoon to 1/2 teaspoon.
To help you get started with natural sweeteners, Hallie is hosting a giveaway this week for a gift pack of natural sweeteners from Wholesome Sweeteners. Stop by to enter for your chance to win!

Other bloggers swapping out their sugar for natural sweeteners:
Amy from Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free shares her point of view on swapping sweeteners.
Diet, Dessert, and Dogs made a Low-Fat Cinnamon-Walnut Loaf using stevia powder.
Daily Bites made Soft Island Bliss Cookies using honey.
Lexie’s Kitchen made some Candied Walnuts using coconut sugar.
Maggie of She Let Them Eat Cake made Cookie Dough Milkshake using molasses and dates.

This post is linked to Munchie Mondays


Hallie @ Daily Bites said...

Mega yum! These look delicious, Iris. Thank you so much for participating in NYNY! :)

Ricki said...

Love the sound of these, Iris! And gorgeous (tantalizing) photo. I'm sure I could easily go overboard on these, like your friend (well, maybe not quite as overboard). ;)

Stephanie said...

These look fabulous- and I love how simple and delicious they are too! Yum- thanks for sharing!

Kim-Cook It Allergy Free said...

Iris, I LOVE all of the variations you offer for these. It is like 15 different recipes in one! Such a great idea! These cookies sound amazing! And the photo is just beautiful!!

Lexie said...

Super post, Iris!! Thank you for participating. Really like how flexible you've made this recipe and for the education you've provided. xoLexie

Haley said...

I have an over abundance of bananas, so this is perfect! I don't know if I miss it but ne question though, how come no xanthan gum?

Iris said...

Good question Haley! When I first developed this recipe, I used xanthan gum. But I decided to try it without and realized it didn't even need it! With the bananas or applesauce to bind it all together, the gum becomes unnecessary.

hunterslyonesse said...

All I can say right now, Iris, is I LOVE YOU!

Pure2raw twins said...

these cookies look fantastic! thanks!!! love chocolate chip cookies and even better with some bananas!

Amy @ Simply Sugar and Gluten-Free said...

I just made some banana carob bars...the cool weather must have us thinking winter fruit. Love your cookie recipe, Iris. They look incredible - fabulous pics!!


Jonathan said...

Bananas, chocolate, coconut oil, and palm sugar? Sold. :) This is a wonderful post, not just for the recipe and its many permutations, but for the easily digestible information on blood sugar, the glycemic index, and the impact of using unrefined sugar alternatives. Thank you so much for sharing, Iris!

Charis said...

amazing looking Iris! I can't wait to try these!

Anonymous said...

love it! Could I use sucant sugar instead of the coconut palm sugar, that is what I currently have.

Iris said...

Anon, yep! Sucanat is fine. Check out the substitution tips under the recipe for more ideas. :)


Anonymous said...

Thanks! Lol, I saw that note a few mins after, I just made these and they are delightful and a mouthful of flavor! The house smells amazing.. Cranberry, chocolate chips and walnuts.. I love the substitution lists you have and that you have tried them out, it's fun and liberating!

Iris said...

So glad you enjoyed them! Cranberries, choc chips and walnuts sounds delightful!

gluten free gift said...

Thanks so much for the great info on the substitutions. I prefer recipes that don't need to be treated like your preparing medicine.... rather something that I can "use what I have" or what I'm craving. I make a lot of muffins for this reason - they are forgiving. All this said, I'm off to shop for a couple of your ingredients today. Awesome post!

Heather @Gluten-Free Cat said...

Oooh, ooh, ooh, these look amazing!!! Thanks so much for such a great explanation as to why we feel so crappy when we eat certain sweeteners and grains. This is great motivation to clean up some of my favorite recipes to make them healthier. LOVE all of the options you gave. Thank you!

GF Gidget said...

Holy deliciousness!

Laura said...

YUM a thousand times over! I have to to make these cookies!

MK said...

In the ingredients you list baking powder, but in the recipe you refer only to baking soda. Which should I use?

Iris said...

Thanks for catching that, MK! It's baking powder, not baking soda...

Julie Lynn said...

Umm, yes please! ;-)

Katy said...

OK, I experimented with the almond flour, and they turned out awesome. With your wise guidance, I made the following substitutions:

1.5 cups almond flour
3 Tablespoons coconut flour
1/3 cup potato starch
2/3 cup coconut sugar (same)
1 teaspoon baking powder (same)
1/2 teaspoon salt (same)

92 g unsweetened applesauce
NO coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (same)
1 Theo's Coconut Dark Chocolate bar all chopped up

I refrigerated the batter for about an hour before dropping them onto the sheet. Also, grease the sheet b/c there's no coconut oil in the cookies! They took 16 min in my oven at 350, but I guess that varies... I imagine banana would work just fine, too -- just didn't have any.

Delicious! Thanks Iris! You're amazing...

Iris said...

Love how you adapted this Katy! Thanks for letting us know how they turned out...I will definitely try your variation at some point~



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