Monday, September 7, 2009

Veg Baker, J.D.'s Back To School Week Special

Happy Labor Day, everyone! I am actually a fan of Labor Day because, even though it means summer is over and white shoes and purses must return to the closet, to me it is a nice long relaxing weekend that captures the best of the transition of the seasons. In Chicago, Labor Day also means back to school on Tuesday. In that spirit, I bring you Back to School Week here on the blog. I will post three cookie recipes this week, to honor the ages-old tradition of having an after school snack of cookies with milk (soy milk or rice milk, of course!).

I really wanted to get into the groove of the back to school special, so I tracked down three recipes that I thought would be good candidates for veganizing and would be a good fit for my school theme. I experimented with the ingredients, and I brought the results to my sister Alison's and her fiance Dave's house over the weekend, where they graciously hosted my parents, Greg, and me for dinner on their awesome rooftop deck. I brought the test cookies out, the game faces went on, and the cookie tasting began. By munching's end, there was a clear winner of a recipe that needed no more tinkering, and that would be the recipe below.

I originally got this recipe from my college roommate, Katie R, who has this amazing capacity to be sweet, supportive, and all around incredible, while also being able to tell me what I need to hear when times are good or tough (which means she can call me on my antics, but she does it in her sweet Katie way, so she can get away with it!).

Katie gave me this recipe at my wedding shower. Her oatmeal raisin cookies continue to be well-loved by Greg, and this recipe is a great evolution of that tastiness. It mixes all kinds of good things in one spot that should always be together, including oatmeal, cranberries, and white chocolate - yum!

I decided when I was going to veganize this recipe that the trick would be the eggs (although do see my note below about how to make these cookies totally vegan); I was torn whether I should use applesauce or bananas. In the end, I made two small batches for two big reasons. I had made cookies in the past with bananas and they turned out great, and I thought the banana accent would be great in the cookie. However, I thought the cookies would also benefit from the more subtle sweetness of the applesauce and be a hit with the anti-banana crowd.

I am pleased to report that both versions are tasty! Everyone was pleasantly surprised that the final product was a soft, chewy cookie. Alison, Dave, and my dad were huge fans of the version with bananas and thought the banana backdrop gave the cookies a great zing, whereas my mom, who avoids all thing banana, really enjoyed the applesauce version. The good news is, when making this recipe, you can use the same basic basic and just decide whether you want to go the banana route or the applesauce route, so just follow your tastebuds!

I also want to point out that the reason this recipe is not vegan is because of the white chocolate chunks. Try as I might, I was unable to track down white chocolate chips or chunks that did not have dairy in them. If anyone has a good suggestion for vegan white chocolate, please let me know! Otherwise, these cookies are easy to veganize. Either omit the white chocolate chunks completely or, if you feel like I do and taking chocolate out of anything is a travesty, substitute vegan semisweet chocolate chips like Ghirardelli, and you'll still have utter deliciousness.

RECIPE UPDATE: I've learned that vegan white chocolate does, in fact, exist! Please seek those out so the final product is vegan. Otherwise, you can sub in the Ghirardelli semisweet chips.

Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies
Yields: 2-3 dozen

5 Tbsp. non-dairy butter substitute, like Earth's Balance
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1 mashed banana OR 1/4 c. unsweetened applesauce
1/2 -1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 tsp. baking soda
3/4 c. flour
3/4 c. oats
3 oz. dried cranberries
1/3 c. vegan white chocolate chips or chunks (or vegan chocolate, if you're going that route)

1) Cream together butter substitute and brown sugar. Add vanilla extract and banana OR applesauce until well mixed.
2) Gradually add flour and baking soda and mixed until just combined.
3) Stir in oats, cranberries, and chocolate.
4) Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
5) Bake in 375 degree oven for 10-12 minutes, or until edges start to turn golden brown. Remove from cookie sheet and cool completely on wire rack.

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