The Cookie Chronicles: final volume—Dark chocolate tahini sea salt (vegan)

“They just weren’t ready for you yet Mom.” –Adoring 16-year-old

Well, I lost my bet. I am ok with that because I know these cookies are good. Just not the sugar sweet type of cookie most people are used to.

I have learned a lot through this process of perfecting vegan chocolate chip cookies–everything from how to make a flax egg to the importance of precision when it comes to baking. Every detail matters.

Even in this last round of final tweaks, I made a couple of inadvertent missteps. I got a phone call while measuring the flour and lost track, adding an extra 1/4 cup.

That’s kind of a big deal. While they were good, they weren’t great as it changed the texture. I also used a different brand of tahini. That too seemed to change the flavor just slightly. I had to make a whole new batch.

Man I could really keep going on this testing variables thing indefinitely. Kind of exhausting. So in the interest of moving forward, here is the best I can do for now.

Over the course of the tests, the main things that I learned matter most:

  • A blend of wet ingredients creates a depth of sophisticated flavors, coconut oil gave them a nice crunchy exterior–better than just vegan butter on its own
  • Use really good chocolate. Dark is our favorite (70% cocoa), chopped finely. The other benefit is that most good chocolate (70% or greater) is vegan. Read the label for whey when in doubt. Combined with the sea salt, it’s a nice 1-2 pop.
  • Double down on vanilla
  • Read the previous attempts for all tips:
  • One
  • Two
  • Three
  • I haven’t baked this much in years–There’s a teenage boy who really hopes there are more contests in the near future. They’re winners in his book, which is the one that matters most to me.

    Dark chocolate tahini sea salt cookies

    • 4oz vegan butter
    • 1/2c brown sugar
    • 1/2c cane sugar
    • 1 flax egg (1 tbsp ground flax seed to 3 tbsp water)
    • 2 tsp vanilla
    • 1/4c coconut oil
    • 3 tbsp tahini
    • 1 1/8c flour
    • 3/4 tsp baking soda
    • 3.5 oz dark chocolate, finely chopped
    • Coarse sea salt

    Grind flax seed in spice grinder and mix with water. Let sit at least 10 minutes. Beat butter until soft, add sugars and beat until fluffy. Add “egg” and again beat until soft. Add vanilla, coconut oil and tahini. Mix thoroughly. Add flour and baking soda slowly. Finely chop chocolate and mix into dough. Chill at least 30 minutes. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 13 minutes on parchment paper. Allow to cool on pan for at least 5 minutes (they will be very soft) and then move to cooling rack.

    Makes 2 dozen.

    ❤️❤️At least one boy loves these!

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    The cookie chronicles, vol. 3

    We’re almost there folks. Two dozen cookies gone in less than 24hours. I ate 3 purely for “data validation purposes” 😉, but the other 2 humans living in my household refused to admit that they each had about 10. In one day. I count that as success!

    The main changes this time around were to improve the texture. The tahini is a great flavor but it can make them a bit gritty. So I cut that in half and substituted coconut oil (solid).

    The dough was a lot moister and I realized after putting the first dozen in the oven and watching them spread….and spread….and spread, that I better chill the dough. Remember people there are no raw eggs in this so eating the dough is perfectly acceptable 😇

    Both rounds were fantastic with a crispy outside crunch and soft chew on the interior. The flavor was less nutty but still noticeable.

    I also ran out of flour. Yes, this is the kind of baker that I am. Normally I would have just said “close enough”. But I figured I better try to be precise. So I rounded it out with pancake mix. Yup. Close enough. 😉

    The only thing left to fix is the chocolate. Because the dough spreads quite a bit, any big chunks kinda settled into a giant mess. A chocolate mess. So no one complained. But I need to chop it more finely and go back to bittersweet. The fine little shards melted throughout are really yummy.

    Ironically I tried a super dark chocolate (85% cacao) when my Amazon Prime substituted it for bittersweet. Sidenote: Have you tried online grocery delivery? On a below zero Sunday morning, the convenience is winning me over.

    After these adjustments, I think I am ready to publish the recipe and hopefully win my contest. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

    The cookie chronicles, vol. 2

    My confidence in my vegan baking skills is growing.

    There are definitely some differences. The texture is different, not different in a bad way, just different. It’s harder to get the wet and dry ingredients to combine, resulting in a cookie that tastes somewhat unfinished. I am determined to keep playing.

    In this round, I tweaked:

    • Chocolate, chopped instead of chips (yes!)–stayed with bittersweet
    • Brown sugar&granulated sugar (yes!) instead of just granulated
    • Tripled the vanilla (yes!)
    • Did not chill the dough (maybe)

    When it came time for taste testing, my teenage judge took half a cookie (he was skeptical after round 1)….”Can I have the other half?” Victory 😊

    The texture still needs work, it’s a bit gritty, which I think might be the sugar/tahini combo. Am going to play with an alternate for some of the tahini. I don’t want more vegan butter but something else. Have some ideas.

    The chopped chocolate was brilliant and made up for less sugar by having it melt in small flecks throughout the cookie. I am going to chop even finer.

    Both the chocolate and the brown sugar gave the cookies a more natural appearance–golden brown. This is important because we will be using the Minnesota State Fair baked goods entry and judging criteria for the contest. The components are:

      Appearance, color
      Flavor, aroma
      Texture, internal appearance

    I think I am making progress across all. I know from my experience in working at the State Fair in Marketing/PR that to win I must also demonstrate exceptional consistency (ie same size cookies, same amount of chocolate etc). Am determined to get there through devoted practice 😇

    The Cookie Chronicles, vol. I

    Do you prefer cooking or baking? The answer tells me how to talk to you 😉

    It’s a way of classifying personality in my brain.

    The cooks are creative, free-flowing, use a recipe as inspiration and general guidance. Bakers are more rule followers, precise and careful.

    I have the mind of a chef. Baking has never really been my thing, as I prefer to just throw things together, which doesn’t generally deliver great results in baking.

    So I have stayed away from vegan baking, as it is particularly intimidating. The ratios are even more important and the ingredients more difficult to find.

    There is nowhere to hide. No escaping the results of sloppy “measuring”. No buttery richness to distract the palate. It requires greater skill.

    But I am curious. And so started experimenting with a classic baked good: chocolate chip cookies. I mean most people will eat even a crappy chocolate chip cookie. Lots of room for forgiveness.

    I researched several blog posts and found a range of methods to cover off the substitutes I wanted to try first for butter and egg. I decided to start with a vegan butter and flax egg.

    Avery and I also ate at a new vegan restaurant– Seed Cafe. We love the chocolate chip tahini cookies. The tahini is a substitute for some of the butter and I added a vegan butter as the remainder.

    I then tried out the binder: flax egg.

    So 1 tbsp of ground flax seed to 3 tbsp water is the recommended ratio. Mix it and let it sit for 30 minutes or so. It definitely looks and behaves a bit like glue that’s partially set but materially flavorless. 😉

    But then I added the tahini. Yum. It’s nutty but not overwhelming. I used dark chocolate chips. The combo was definitely for a more refined palate. It was not sweet.

    The technique called for chilling the dough overnight (really, who does that?) This was a test of my rule following, so I did it. I don’t think it mattered. But technically I didn’t test it without chilling.

    I baked 2 rounds for different lengths, one in a ball and one smashed slightly. And topped with coarse sea salt.

    The texture was good if not a little gritty. The color being a bit dull since there’s no butter browning.

    This first round was good but not great. An A- from my adult taste tester, and a C from the teenager. Somewhere in between was my self-assessment. I could do better.

    More work to do, but keep:

      Tahini gives a nice nutty flavor
      Flax egg makes a good substitute and isn’t as hard as I thought
      Salt flakes on top make for a nice punch in combination with the tahini. Vegan baking definitely requires some flavor pops.
      Dark chocolate over semisweet
      Underbake, hey no eggs means less risk

    Oh, I forgot to mention that I might have opened my big mouth and bet a baker friend that I could beat his traditional cookies. (A month of vegan eating being the bet.)

    If you’ve got tips for me I will take them! The bakeoff is in early February.

    More taste testing to come!

    Manicotti (vegan)

    I was really hesitant about going full vegan on this recipe for manicotti, which is a winter comfort food for us. Let’s face it, it’s hard to substitute something that has as its main ingredient ooey gooey goodness with “feeze”. (All substitutes in our house now begin with F, as in “fake”. Ficken. Feeb. Feeze. We haven’t figured out what to do with Fish, except to say it wrong: Feesh. This is my first try with Feggs too).

    But gosh darnit, it’s Sunday and I feel like experimenting while listening to the same 12 Christmas carols on the radio. I mean just look at these ingredients, doesn’t that look like the makings of a fantastic Sunday supper?!

    Many thanks to Cathryn’s Kitchen for her recipe inspiration. The main uniqueness of this version is the crepes, which make the entire dish a silky texture, and how I have typically made manicotti. The crepes are a bit tedious to make but open some wine while singing to classic Dean Martin carols and it’ll go fast.

    I was more than pleasantly surprised by the creaminess of the “rinotta” filling that had a nice lightness to it.

    I added some chopped sautéed vegan Italian sausage to about half and would experiment with other additions next time too. I am trying out recipes for our Italian Christmas Eve dinner and now that I have a good substitute for ricotta, a whole new repertoire opened up!

    Feel free of course to use the real deals, but you too might be surprised by the vegan substitutes.

    Manicotti (vegan)

    Crepes

    • 1c flour
    • 2 “eggs”
    • 2/3c water (in addition to the water for the vegan eggs)

    Blend all together and let sit for 30 min.

    Filling

    In the meantime, mix up the filling.

    • 16 oz medium firm tofu
    • 3 tbsp nutritional yeast
    • 2 tbsp tahini
    • 6 oz “mozzarella” cheese
    • 2 oz grated “parmesan”
    • Juice of 1/2 lemon
    • Zest of 1 lemon
    • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    • Dash cayenne pepper
    • 1/4 cup chopped parsley
    • Salt and pepper
  • Mix ingredients together (and add other fillings as desired, such as vegan sausage).
  • Make the crepes by heating 1 tsp olive oil over low heat. Add 3 tbsp of batter and spread using the back of the ladle. Cook about 1 min and flip to finish another minute or so until the entire crepe takes on a translucent quality.
  • Fill with 3 tbsp of filling and repeat (this made about 18 crepes).
  • I used jar spicy marinara for the sauce, putting just enough to cover the pan before layering crepes on top and covering with remaining sauce. Bake covered for 35 minutes at 350 degrees.
  • Finish with chopped fresh basil.
  • Tomato soup (vegan)

    Potpourri. Growing up that’s what mom called leftover night. I hated potpourri night. So now, beloved readers, I give you a potpourri post. A recipe, yes. But some other random food stuff since it’s been awhile.

    Let’s start with something cool. I am trying out a new Twin Cities startup, Local Crate. It’s a food delivery concept involving ingredients from local farms and artisans. It’s not dissimilar to why I originally started blogging–to inspire people to explore what’s grown near them. It’s been an interesting and time-saving experience to have a couple meals pretty much prepped. I made vegan tikka masala this week!!

    It doesn’t quite look like the picture but it tasted good. This is ideal for people who love to cook but hate planning and shopping.

    In other food news, Alec is discovering how good he had it eating at home. “Why don’t they make spaghetti and meatballs?” The thrill of a cafeteria offering perpetual ice cream sundaes has worn off. He says he’s losing weight especially now that swim season has kicked in. He has 5:30am practice 3x a week. We look forward to feeding him at Thanksgiving!

    Avery has really embraced the vegan diet. He’s even doing a biology research project on how plant protein impacts athlete performance. It’s the first time he’s gotten truly curious about molecular structure 😉

    He’s also learning how to make vegan snacks for late night studying (nachos being a favorite). Yea for adaptability and learning!

    Finally, here’s the recipe. This is so simple it shouldn’t really count, but sometimes simple is good for the soul. It snowed this week. Yes people. Snow. I am perpetually cold and it’s only October.

    Tomato soup

    • 4tbsp olive oil
    • 3 carrots, sliced into halfmoons
    • 3 stalks celery, sliced
    • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
    • 4 cloves garlic minced
    • Celery leaves, fresh oregano and thymes stalks
    • 4c vegetable stock
    • 28oz can whole tomatoes
    • Salt, pepper, basil

    Simmer onion in oil until soft. Add celery, carrots and garlic and sauté another 3-5 minutes until onions are golden. Add tomatoes and vegetable stock. I added a few end pieces of the celery with leaves attached and some fresh oregano and thyme still attached to the stalk. This gave the flavor a bit more depth. Simmer covered for about 30 minutes. Remove the celery leaves and herb stalks (if you used them). Purée until smooth with hand blender, season to taste with salt pepper and basil (1/2 tsp is an estimate).

    Home cooking vegetarian meatloaf

    It’s week 2 with one less bird in the nest. We’re still getting used to it and I somehow expect Alec to walk through the door at any moment. Alas, he’s already enjoying college life, including the thrill of having so many food choices at any given moment.

    I am saving about $100 a week in groceries and figure Lake Forest is losing money on his meal plan 😉

    Avery is enjoying being an “only” child and not having to share the car with anyone.

    We look forward to seeing him at Thanksgiving and hearing all about he’s learning (History of Global Capitalism, anyone?)

    I figure the thrill of dorm food will have worn off by then and he’ll be grateful for anything cooked by Mom, including this vegetarian meatloaf. Maybe I will FedEx him some. I am sure his roommate would love it.

    Vegetarian meatloaf

    • 14oz vegetarian sausage
    • 10 oz vegetarian meat crumbles
    • 8 oz cremini mushrooms, sliced
    • 1/2 yellow onion diced
    • 4 cloves garlic, chopped
    • 1 tbsp fresh thyme
    • 1/4c fresh parsley, chopped
    • 2 eggs
    • 1/2c panko breadcrumbs
    • 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce
    • 3 tbsp tomato sauce or ketchup
    • 1 tbsp brown sugar
    • Salt and pepper

    Sauté onion in 1 tsp olive oil until soft, 3-5 min. Add garlic and mushrooms and cook another 3-5 min. Add Worcestershire sauce, herbs, salt and pepper. Mix in meats, eggs, breadcrumbs and combine gently. Put into loaf pan. Combine tomato sauce and brown sugar, cover meat in glaze. Bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for 1 hour.