Can a healthy, vegan chocolate chip cookie taste great? Three simple, seductive recipes prove the answer is yes, yes, yes.

Who doesn’t love a homemade chocolate chip cookie? As a child I enjoyed eating them just out of the oven, still warm, with the chips melting and gooey. As an adult, however, I wondered if a vegan chocolate chip could possibly compare. Could there be a magic combination of ingredients that could replace the white flour, sugar, butter, and eggs? And what about those heavenly chocolate chips? To find the answers, I approached some experts.

My first stop was The Natural Gurmet Cookery School in New York City. According to Jenny Matthau, director of the chef’s training program, “It’s much easier to make cookies without butter and eggs than it is to make cakes because a light, fluffy texture is what’s lost without those ingredients. You want cookies to be dense and chewy.” Deborah Gavito, chef/owner of Body & Soul in New York City, advised me to go for excess. “Even a vegan should be able to eat a really decadent chocolate chip cookie,” she said. She likes to use an abundance of nuts and chips, rice syrup for a gooey texture, maple syrup for flavor, and Sucanat (granulated cane juice) for extra sweetness.

With these insights in mind, I began experimenting. The trick, I discovered, was in making the right substitutions.

What to Substitute

White Flour: As I tested replacements for white flour, I quickly discovered that using all whole wheat pastry flour resulted in a cookie that was a little hard and heavy. Then I remembered a tip from Uprisings: The Whole Grain Bakers’ Book by the Cooperative Whole Grain Educational Association to use ground rolled oats in place of some of the flour in order to lighten the dough and add texture.

White Sugar: Maple syrup appealed to me most as a sweetener, but I felt I should compare it with rice syrup, maple sprinkles, and Sucanat before I made any final decisions. Rice syrup alone wasn’t sweet enough, and it made the cookies a bit sticky. In combination with either maple sprinkles or Sucanat, the flavor was very good, but the texture was still too sticky for my taste. I decided to go with my original instincts and work with maple syrup. In one instance, when I needed extra sweetness without more liquid, I added date sugar and found the two sweeteners worked very well together

Butter: Many vegan bakers, including Sasha Weiss, pastry chef at Millennium in San Francisco, told me they use canola oil. Another option is Spectrum Spread, a buttery-tasting canola oil-based “margarine” that is nonhydrogenated and dairy-free. Canola oil and Spectrum Spread both produce good-tasting cookies, but quantities cannot be used interchangeably. For a recipe in which rd use a half cup of oil, I found I needed two-thirds of a cup of Spectrum to achieve the desired taste. I attribute this to the fact that Spectrum Spread has fewer grams of fat per tablespoon. In the end, I went with canola oil because the cookies made with the spread didn’t retain their flavor as long as those made with the oil.

Eggs: There are several options for replacing eggs in vegan baking. Traditionally, eggs are used to add lightness, richness, leavening, and liquid or to provide binding. Depending on their function in a traditional recipe, it’s possible to leave out the eggs and not miss them. The cookie recipes that follow are a good example. They all use ground oats to lighten the dough, nuts for a rich flavor as well as some crunch, a touch of baking soda for leavening, and a liquid sweetener in combination with a liquid fat. Binding is not an issue in any of the recipes.

The Chips: Traditional chocolate chips were the easiest ingredient to replace. Nondairy, malt-sweetened chips with excellent flavor are readily available in most health foods stores. Look for Chatfield or Sunspire chips. Another brand, Tropical Source, is sweetened with unrefined cane juice crystals and comes in an espresso roast flavor.

The three versions of chocolate chip cookies that follow were created to please a variety of tastes. Which is the ultimate? For me, the Old-Fashioned Chocolate Chip Cookies, with their abundance of oats and chips, come the closest to the cookies of my childhood. For those who can never get enough chocolate, however, the Hazelnut Double Chocolate Chip recipe may fit the bill better. And then there’s the Coconut Macadamia Chocolate Chip recipe, which has the allure of exotic macadamia nuts and the subtle surprise of coconut. Crunchy and chock-full of goodies, they all make surprisingly good rivals for the classics we so fondly remember.

OLD-FASHIONED CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 30 cookies

My mother used to make the best oatmeal chocolate chip cookies I’ve ever tasted. A traditional baker, she naturally used butter, sugar, and eggs. I think she would have been impressed by how close this vegan version comes to her recipe in both taste and texture. The idea for toasting the oats came from Susan Baldassano, former chef at Whole Foods in New York. This technique really maxizes their flavor.

  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats, toasted and ground to a coarse meal in a food processor (see note, below)
  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup whole raw almonds, toasted and chopped (see note, below), optional
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set them aside.
  2. Place ground oats, flour, salt, and baking soda in Large bowl. Stir well with wire whisk. Add nuts and chips and stir again.
  3. Combine oil, syrup, and vanilla in small bowl. Whisk vigorously until emulsified. Stir wet ingredients into dry just until oat mixture is absorbed. If dough seems too sticky to handle, refrigerate 15 minutes or so and then proceed.
  4. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Flatten dough with fingers to a thickness of 1/3 inch and smooth edges.
  5. Slide one sheet into oven and bake until cookies are lightly browned on bottom, 15 to 18 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Note: To toast oats, spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in middle of 350-degree oven until lightly colored, 5 to 6 minutes. To toast almonds, spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in middle of 350-degree oven until fragrant and lightly colored, 8 to 10 minutes.

COCONUT MACADAMIA CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 30 cookies

Macadamia nuts are outrageously rich and delicious. Here, they are teamed up with a touch of coconut, which adds a wonderful flavor and makes these cookies chewier than the others. Be sure to buy raw macadamia in a health foods store. The nuts sold in supermarkets are salted and roasted in partially hydrogenated oils.

  • 1 2/3 cups whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats, ground to a coarse meal in a food processor
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened shredded coconut
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup raw macadamia nuts, toasted and chopped (see note below)
  • 3/4 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  1. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place flour, ground oats, coconut, salt, and baking soda in large bowl. Stir well with wire whisk. Add nuts and chips and stir again.
  3. Combine oil, maple syrup, and vanilla in small bowl. Whisk vigorously until emulsified. Stir wet ingredients into dry just until flour mixture is absorbed.
  4. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Flatten with your fingers to a thickness of 1/3 inch and smooth edges (see illustrations, page 70).
  5. Slide one sheet into oven and bake until cookies are lightly browned on bottom, 13 to 15 minutes. Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Note: To toast macadamias, spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in middle of 350-degree oven until fragrant and lightly colored, 8 to 10 minutes.

HAZELNUT DOUBLE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

Makes about 30 cookies

Hazelnuts and chocolate were made for each other. In this recipe, some of the nuts are ground with the oats; the rest are coarsely chopped, resulting in a very pleasing texture. Since unsweetened cocoa powder is used to give the cookie dough a chocolate flavor, extra sweetening is in order. The combination of date sugar and maple syrup is delicious.

  • 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
  • 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 1/4 cups toasted, skinned hazelnuts (see note, below)
  • 1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/4 cup date sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 cup vegan chocolate chips
  • 1/2 cup canola oil
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  1. Position rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
  2. Place flour, oats, 1/2 cup hazelnuts, cocoa, date sugar, salt, and baking soda in workbowl of food processor. Pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Transfer dry ingredients to large mixing bowl.
  3. Coarsely chop remaining 3/4 Cup hazelnuts and stir into dry ingredients, along with chocolate chips.
  4. Combine oil, syrup, and vanilla in small bowl. Whisk vigorously until emulsified. Stir wet ingredients into dry just until flour mixture is absorbed.
  5. Drop rounded tablespoons of dough onto prepared baking sheets about 1 1/2 inches apart. Flatten dough with your fingers to a thickness of 1/3 inch and smooth edges.
  6. Slide one sheet into oven and bake until cookies are lightly browned on bottom, 12 to 14 minutes Transfer cookies to wire rack and cool completely. Repeat with remaining dough. Note: To toast and skin hazelnuts, spread them out over a baking sheet and bake in middle of 350-degree oven until fragrant and lightly colored, 10 to 12 minutes. Wrap hot nuts in a clean kitchen towel and rub vigorously to remove their bitter skins. Alternatively, look for toasted, skinned hazelnuts in Middle Eastern food shops.

Shaping Cookies

  1. Mix wet ingredients with dry just until blended.
  2. Scoop one rounded tablespoon of dough onto a measuring spoon.
  3. Drop dough onto parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving about 1 1/2 inches between pieces of dough.
  4. Gently flatten cookies with your hand to a thickness of about 1/3 inch. Each cookie should be approximately 2 1/2 inches in diameter.
  5. Smooth edges of each cookie with your fingers to make them as round as possible.

Baker’s Secrets

The following tips can make the difference between a good cookie and a great one.

Because they don’t contain butter, these cookies won’t spread in the oven. They must be pressed into shape by hand before baking. See the illustrations on page 70.

* Don’t be tempted to put two cookie sheets in the oven at the same time. For even baking, place one sheet at a time on the middle rack of your oven, and be sure to use an oven thermometer for heat accuracy.

* The type of baking sheets you use will affect the cooking time. Cookies will take about a minute or two faster on heavy-gauge dark steel sheets than on shiny light steel sheets.

* To best preserve the flavor and texture of your cookies, store them in the refrigerator in tightly sealed containers. They’ll keep for about one week.