Friday, November 6, 2009

The Vegan Holiday Cookie Journey Begins

As promised, it didn't take long for me to start thinking about holiday baking! Of course I'm not already baking the final product that will be served during the holidays. It's just that I don't have any vegan cookies already in my arsenal. Every year I probably make any where from 10-15 batches of cookies, which I love, and I'd like to branch out and try to make some pies and different cakes as well this year. I'm feeling ambitious, but up to it - but if I want to make these desserts vegan, I need to start playing around with recipes now so I can be more confident later in the season.

The first cookie I took a crack at was the cookie least like to be amenable to veganizing - the macaroon. I wasn't that familiar with macaroons until I started Greg; they are his favorite holiday cookie. The ingredients in macaroons? Egg whites whipped into meringue, sweetened condensed milk, and coconut. You can see how 2/3 of this recipe was a problem. There are recipes out there for turning soy milk into condensed milk, but I had no clue what to do about the egg whites.

Making macaroons also became more of a mission because about a month ago, Greg officially gave up eggs. This is huge, because formerly, Greg was a big eater of omelets and pad thai with scrambled eggs, and macaroons were a fave, but now, he has left eggs behind. I support his decision (not shocking, given this blog, I know!) but I can't stand the thought of him having to give up so many things that he loves. I knew I had to make the macaroons work; just because Greg gave up eggs shouldn't mean that he has to give up all of his favorite things to eat.

I have been collecting from the internet for vegan macaroons; they all looked okay, but there wasn't anything that I felt would really mimic classic macaroons. I wasn't exactly sure how to proceed. And then, my new cookbook came: yes, the book I've been hyping, Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar. I cracked open my new copy, and what did I find - a cookie for macaroons with chocolate bottoms. Hooray! Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero have never led me astray before, and I felt good that I could figure something out.

And I'm pleased to say, I feel like we do have a winner! The surprising ingredient here: tofu. (I will pause a moment so the anti-tofu crowd can gag.) Using tofu instead of egg whites makes sense; tofu and eggs structure functionally the same way, and flavored the right way, they definitely can taste very similar. That is the key with this recipe; although many recipes can skip the extracts, in this one they are necessary to make sure the tofu melds into the rest of the eggs. I have suggested some variations, though, to please different palates. You can also dip these macaroons in melted chocolate for an extra kick.

And Greg's reaction? Let's just say he's sitting next to me on the couch now, snacking on a classic macaroon, with a smile on his face and intermittently asking "Really, there's tofu in this?" I think we can add this cookie to the holiday baking list.

Macaroons (adapted from Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar)
Yields: 2 1/2 - 3 dozen

3 ounces extra firm tofu (1/4 package), pressed*
1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil
1/4 c. soy milk
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 tsp. almond extract
vanilla extract (1-1 1/2 tsp. if you prefer the almond flavor, 2-3 tsp. if you prefer a vanilla-y flavor)
1 c. flour
3/4 tsp. baking powder
1 1/2 c. unsweetened shredded coconut**
1/2 c. vegan semisweet chocolate chips (optional)

1) Puree the tofu, oil, and soy milk in a food processor until smooth.
2) Transfer tofu to a bowl and mix in sugar and extracts. Mix in flour and baking powder. Finally, mix in coconut until well incorporated. (It will look like too much, but it's not - I promise!)
3) Drop cookies by the tablespoonful or with a cookie scoop onto cookie sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake for 12-14 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven, until the bottoms and tops are just beginning to brown.
4) Remove from oven; cool on sheets for two minutes, and then cool completely on cookie racks.
5) If you prefer, melt chocolate chips in the microwave (Put in microwave for 30 second intervals and mix in between. Chocolate will probably be melted after one minute.) Dip the cookie bottoms into the chocolate, or dip half the cookie into the chocolate; dry on parchment paper in the fridge for 30-40 minutes.

*Part of the trick with tofu is to prepare it properly before you even start cooking. Whenever you'd like to cook with tofu, put the tofu between two plates with a can on top for 30 minutes. This will press out the extra liquid and make it ready for further cooking.
**Most people can easily find sweetened coconut flakes at their grocery store; honestly, I'm not sure if it will make a difference or not. The original recipe called for unsweetened, which Whole Foods sells, so I picked up a bag, gave it a try, and liked it a ton. I find that unsweetened is drier than sweetened and gave the cookie a nice crunchiness while keeping the center soft, so it might be worth it to pick it up and give it a try.

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