Tollhouse Ginger Cookies

Yesterday as I pondered over what ginger-inspired dessert I might concoct for my own birthday treat, I kept coming back to my favorite pair, ginger and chocolate.  That being said, cookies really are the unanimous sweet of choice in our house.  While it may not be an extremely daring venture, I must say that a dairy-free version of those good old tollhouse cookies, with a generous amount of gooey chocolate chip morsels and spiked with bits of sugary ginger is a winner! 

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My typical chocolate chip cookie version uses oil, but since it was my birthday, I splurged and used Earth Balance buttery sticks.  You can use any dairy-free margarine you like.

Now, I can’t say exactly how much ginger to use in the whole batch, as I divided up the batch leaving some ginger-free for my cookie-loving, ginger-averse husband. 

Chocolate Chip Cookies with a Ginger Surprise

  • 2-1/4 Cups Flour (All-Purpose, White-Wheat, or a Gluten-Free blend with xanthan gum – I successfully tried one from Authentic Foods in this recipe)
  • 1 Teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 1/2 Teaspoon Salt
  • 3/4 Cup White Sugar
  • 3/4 Cup Light Brown Sugar or Evaporated Cane Juice
  • 3/4 Cup Margarine (Really, those Earth Balance Buttery Sticks are the best… and no trans fat!)
  • 1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
  • 2 Eggs
  • 12 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips (I love the ones from Trader Joe’s that are rather generous in size, but those are subject to cross-contamination.  Check with the Enjoy Life or Tropical Source brands for severe allergies)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 Cup Finely Diced Ginger (I diced it very fine to keep the ginger from overpowering the cookies, see the picture below of a whole cube next to a diced one.  However, I love ginger, so I may double the size of my bits next time).

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Preheat oven to 350º

Combine the flour, baking soda, and salt in a bowl, and set aside.  In a mixing bowl, cream together the margarine, sugars, and vanilla.  Add the eggs, and mix them in to make a nice creamy dough.  Slowly incorporate the flour mixture until everything is well combined.  Fold in the chocolate chips and as many ginger bits as you would like, by hand.  [If you have some ginger-averse taste buds in your house, just divide up the dough and make a ginger loaded batch for yourself.]  Drop globs of the dough by the tablespoonful onto a cookie sheet.

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 Bake for 9 to 10 minutes, or until they are no longer doughy in the center and are just turning golden around the edges.  Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Inhale while warm as the gooey melting chocolate coats the ginger bits with each bite… yum!

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I have some Ginger-Spiked Molasses Cookie Dough chilling in the fridge, to be baked up tomorrow. That one is even vegan (egg-free), we shall see how it works out!  I will keep you posted.

Vegan Baking Take 2: Banana Coconut Loaf

They had an awesome sale on bananas this past weekend at a Grand Opening Albertson’s sale, just 25 cents per pound, so it was time to stock up!  Bananas are a mainstay in my smoothies, which gives me an excuse to buy … oh … about eight pounds of them.  I sliced them up, flash froze them on a cookie sheet (in batches of course) for about an hour at a time, and then put them into baggies in the freezer for later use. 

Of course, I left a bunch out to enjoy fresh, and a few extras for banana bread. Undeterred from my first vegan baking attempt at brownies, I jumped into the opportunity to remake my favorite banana bread sans eggs.  Sure, there were many vegan banana breads on the net, but not a one compared to my hearty version.  I have never been a fan of dry and cakey.  My desserts must be moist and dense (crumb topping always helps too), and quick breads should have enough in them to make a good breakfast. 

While my recipe still needs a bit of refining, it was really pretty good.  The loaf was moist, with a light sweetness that my husband really enjoyed (he snuck back for seconds, and thirds, and… well you get the picture). It didn’t rise too much, but just enough.  To get a taller loaf, I think just a bit more flour would do.  Oh yes, and I did sway a bit from my old recipe, which is a banana whole wheat bread.  I used coconut rather than flaxseed for a lighter more dessert like taste (I will pursue a heartier loaf on the next batch).  Anyway, without further ado, here it is…

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Banana Coconut Loaf

  • 2 cups flour (whole wheat, white whole wheat – for a lighter bread) or all-purpose)
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened coconut
  • 1/4 cup oil (I used coconut)
  • 1/2 cup pure maple syrup (may use honey for non-vegan or agave nectar)
  • 1 teaspoon real vanilla extract
  • 3 ripe bananas (about 1 1/2 cups mashed)

Preheat oven to 350º and lightly grease a loaf pan (I used a 9 x5, though a smaller one will likely create a taller bread)

Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and coconut (see notes below) in a large bowl.  Set aside.  In a small bowl, combine the oil, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Mash up those bananas, and add them to the small bowl of liquids.  Going back to the large flour bowl, make a well in the dry mixture and pour your liquid mixture in.  Gently fold the batter until everything is well combined, but be careful not to overmix.  A few lumps are okay.

Spoon the batter into your prepared loaf pan.  It is a bit thick, so you may have to coax it into place a bit.  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of the loaf comes out clean.

Notes: For the quick bread pictured, I used white whole wheat flour (King Arthur brand) since I was out of whole wheat bread flour.  I also whizzed 3/4 of the coconut (6 Tablespoons) in my spice grinder for a few quick whirls.  I wanted to have a denser loaf with more of an infused coconut taste, which it seemed to do.  The remaining 2 Tablespoons I threw in as is, in shredded fashion.

Internet Potluck – My Favorite Bread Recipe

With the hot weather of our new locale, my summer was depressingly low on barbecue events, so it was impossible for me to resist a good Internet potluck.  Sarah over at No Whey, Mama put out the invite and posted her recipe offering for Aunt Ruth’s Stew.  She is even offering bonus points for dairy-free recipes!  Perfect for me, though I have no idea what I could actually cash in those bonus points for.

 Anywho, when I took on a strict dairy-free diet, I was amazed by the number of breads that contained milk ingredients.  From whey to caseinates to nonfat milk in all its foresaken glory, milk was certainly present in portions of the bakery that I had not anticipated.  Yet this is really what initiated my true love for baking.  My first mission became that loaf of bread.  I trialed many French bread recipes, but was elated to come across a good wheat bread recipe that I could use for everything from sandwich bread to a hearty slice of toast.  Really, there is nothing better than making a loaf of bread from scratch (kneading dough is a great way to get out some aggression!) and tasting how much more wonderful it is than store bought. 

I have often made a loaf of this go-to bread on a Sunday (halving the recipe) to last us the week.

Whole Wheat Bread 

Yield: 2 loaves

(Can be Vegan, Dairy-Free, Egg-Free, Nut-free, and/or Soy-Free)

1 ½ T active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1 ½ cups tepid plain or unsweetened milk alternative
¼ cup honey, maple syrup, agave nectar, or brown sugar
¼ cup olive oil plus extra for greasing
2 t salt
3 cups whole-wheat flour
¼ – ½ cup flaxseeds (ground or whole) or 7-grain mix (in the bulk department)
3 ½ – 4 cups whole wheat bread flour (plus extra as needed)

In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast over the water and stir to dissolve.  Let stand until foamy, about 5 to 10 minutes. 

In a large bowl, combine the milk alternative, honey or maple syrup, oil, salt, and 2 cups of the whole-wheat flour.  Mix until creamy.  Add in the yeast mixture and remaining 1 cup of whole wheat flour, and mix until creamy.  Stir in the flaxseeds and/or 7 grain blend.  Add the whole wheat bread flour ½ cup at a time, until the dough pulls away from the bowl sides.  Knead, and continue adding bread flour 1 Tablespoon at a time if the dough sticks, until smooth but slightly sticky when pressed, about 5 minutes. 

Transfer the dough to an oiled deep bowl and turn the dough once to coat it.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1-1 ½ hours.
Lightly grease two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.  Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Divide in half and pat each half into a long rectangle.  Fold 1 rectangle like a letter, overlapping the short sides in the middle; press to flatten.  Beginning at a narrow end, tightly roll up the dough into a thick log.  Roll the log back and forth with your palms until it is the same length as the pan.  Pinch the ends and the long seam to seal.  Place the loaf seam side down, in a prepared pan, tucking the end under to make a neat, snug fit.  Repeat with the second portion.  Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until about 1 inch above the rim of each pan, about 1 hour. 

Preheat the oven to 350.  Bake until the loaves are golden brown and pull away from the pan sides, 35 – 40 minutes.  Turn out onto racks and let cool completely.

This is a very versatile recipe.  Soy, almond, or rice milk will work great, depending on your dietary preferences, and your favorite cooking oil can be used in place of the olive oil.  Also, you may add raisins, dried blueberries, sunflower seeds, cinnamon, nutmeg, or other bonus add-ins of choice.

Last Call for “Ice Cream”

Okay, if you are like me, “ice cream” could make the menu when the snow is falling… but as summer unofficially comes to a close after labor day weekend, the hype for frozen dessert also winds down.  Before it escapes completely, I thought I would do a very quick dairy-free frozen dessert round-up just for fun!

Great Deal on Purely Decadent – I should have jumped on this one sooner (sorry about that!), as it is only good through Sept 4th.  But, if you live anywhere near a Wild Oats, head over quickly and stock up on Purely Decadent pints by Turtle Mountain.  Available in so many awesome flavors, this is the brand that saved me in my transition from ice cream addiction back to the dairy-free world.  Of course it is vegan and delicious.  Anywho, they are on buy one get one free, and in my Wild Oats that equates to just $1.75 per pint… take that Ben & Jerry’s!

“Ice Cream” Sandwiches on Trial – The people at the Vegetarian Site were kind enough to share their thorough review on the vegan “ice cream” novelty category.  Definitely worth a quick read.

Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert Rankings from Dairy-Free “Outsiders” – Of course, I had to put in my 2 cents on their rulings.  Another quick overall review for anyone who is curious about dairy-free “ice cream.”

Hannah’s Awesome “Ice Cream” Reviews – In the midst of creating recipes for her new vegan dessert cookbook, Hannah went on a vegan “ice cream” frenzy.  After a horrifying trial last year, she daringly jumped back into the reviews this year and fell in love with It’s Soy Delicious and Blackwell’s Soy Gelato and Sorbetto.  Really, the pictures alone are worth a peek.  Here’s just one of them (copyright Hannah Kaminsky on the photo) …

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My Top Picks – Hard to find, but tops on my list is Whole Soy & Co.’s Non-Dairy Frozen Yogurt.  Insanely low in fat (1g) yet the richest and creamiest of the soy ice cream bunch, this brand won over me, my family, and our Baskin Robbins going friends.  Second would be the massively tasty collection of Purely Decadent pints.  I like those “exciting” flavors, and they cover it well.  However, I am a sucker for “ice cream” sandwiches, and though it was a controversial brand (talk about a love-hate product!), something about Rice Dream’s Frozen Pies just worked for me.  You can pick up an individual one anytime at Wild Oats (and I presume Whole Foods) for just $.99 each (cheaper when on sale).  So they also slide in easily as a Frugal Foodie pick.  I haven’t trialed the Purely Decadent line of Sandwiches as of yet though.

Awesome Homemade Recipes – This summer has been packed full with great vegan “ice cream” recipes, but alas, I do not have an ice cream maker.  If you do, then try one of these out and tell me how they are, okay?:

My First Attempt at Vegan Brownies

Truthfully, I am by no means a chocoholic.  I can say with confidence that I have never actually purchased a purely chocolatey dessert myself.  However, I do love my very own homemade brownies.  Dense, fudgy, and topped with a generous sprinkling of chocolate chips they have been a comfort treat ever since I returned to a dairy-free lifestyle.  But lately, I have started experimenting with vegan cooking, and began to wonder, “Why not try some vegan baking? After all, who really needs eggs anyway?”

So, I eagerly set out to quickly modify my tried and true brownie recipe which housed two eggs in its original form.  I researched the replacements carefully, as I had no desire to create any sort of cake-y chocolate creation.  It had to remain moist, soft, dense, and chewy.  Based on what I read, and what I had on hand, I settled on some applesauce, and I think a sprinkling of baking powder if I remember correctly (it has been a few weeks, as I wasn’t quite ready to share my utter disaster right away).

I put the brownies in at the obligatory 350ºF, and set the timer for 20 min, just to check in.  When the timer went off, I turned on the oven light for a quick peak, and immediately thought, “Are those boiling?  Brownies aren’t supposed to boil are they?”  Thinking they just needed some more time to set up, I let them bake for another 5 to 10 minutes.  At that point, I knew they had to be done, but as I removed them from the oven they were still, completely, boiling!  A gooey chocolate mess to be certain, I had no idea how to salvage this strange bubbling chocolate brew.  I sulked off to the next room and thought that perhaps they would solidify…

… and solidify they did.  As a good friend I have would say, they were quite a toothsome treat, though the treat part would be a vast overstatement.  Sugar and chocolate attempted to salvage the overall flavor, but I could easily crack a molar on the insanely flat and chewy thing that emerged.  I can’t even call them bars or brownies as I had to use all the muscle I could muster just to rip these things apart into the shapes you see below…

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So, apparently, I still need eggs.  But, if anyone has a good idea for moist and dense vegan brownies (not those fluffy cake-like ones), I am all ears!  To avoid leaving you hanging (and craving) on a brownie post without an actual good idea, I just found a recipe for “The Best Vegan Brownies Ever” at the Vivacious Vegan blog.  I may be giving these a try soon.