Mitch Lillie—when not saying terrible or wonderful things about area theater and restaurants, making our movie pages look pretty and collating music listings from sources too diverse to be imagined—is apparently a hell of a cookie chef. And he somehow fooled a roomful of people with diverse digestive capabilities into voting a gluten-free cookie better than any other goddam chocolate chip cookie made by a WW staffer in a blind tasting. We felt this fabled recipe, and the story behind it, is worth sharing. If Mitch seems proud of himself, it's because he deserves to be. —Ed.
When I eat gluten, I do not have bloating, pain or diarrhea. I don't feel any better or worse eating shredded wheat or oatmeal. No, like many a vicarious vegetarian, I'm selectively gluten-free because my girlfriend has celiac disease. Which is why for our annual chocolate chip cookie contest at the Willamette Week office, I figured out how to make the best damn chocolate chip cookie possible, gluten be damned.
After scouring the wheatless Internet, I decided on Alton Brown's The Chewy Gluten Free recipe as a starting point. I made a test batch back in November. They were good. Pretty good.
My mom is really good at baking, and every time I'm back at home, I try to cook and bake with her. I can only remember two pieces of advice she's given me over the years: Baking is not cooking, so measure carefully. And if your recipe fails, tweak it and try again.
I've always been okay with the measuring part, but I hate trying again. I keep imagining Sisyphus telling himself that if he could just roll the boulder a little to the right, he'd get it up the hill. Whether it was the braggadocio I was spreading around the office in anticipation of the taste-off or the fact that I intended on keeping my cookie's wheatlessness a secret until the end, something in me changed.
I tried again.
I added a little more tapioca flour, a little less brown rice flour. I tried white rice flour, and a little more xanthan powder. I only made one more test batch before the final tasting, but it made all the difference in making the perfect chewy cookie. Xanthan powder is the gluten free baker's miracle. A bacterial byproduct, tiny amounts cause liquids to thicken on an order of magnitude. The other chewy secret is the tapioca flour, made from the same root as the chewy balls in your bubble tea.
A few secret ingredients may not be available, like my old, broke-ass oven. Older ovens are poorly insulated, so the leaking moisture tends to make baked goods crisper. If you've got a newer oven, try Alton's original recipe first, or try mine (below) with only half of an egg yolk. As for my bent-up bake pans, they definitely weren't intended for cookie use, though if they hold any secrets I can't see them. In general, I've de-gadgetified Brown's recipe and added the volumetric measurements, because who has a kitchen scale?
So, without further ado, WW's Third Cookie Open's winning recipe for a delicious, slightly salty and soft gluten-free chocolate chip cookie:
- 8 ounces salted butter
- A little less than 2 cups brown rice flour
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 2 Â½ tablespoons tapioca flour
- 1 Â½ teaspoon xanthan gum
- 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 cup white sugar
- 1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk (Â½ if using a newer oven)
- 2 tablespoons whole milk
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips (I used Ghirardelli)
Thank you to Mom, for your advice and persistence; to Steph, Kathleen, Martin and Carrie for making some pretty bomb cookies; and to Brian, for sparking our competitive spirit.