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Article updated: 6/12/2013 12:35 PM

Baking secrets: Chocolate chip cookies get a gluten-free makeover

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When I headed down to the National Restaurant Association show at Chicago's McCormick Place last month, I had one goal in mind: to learn more about new baking alternatives, specifically gluten-free and other allergen options.

My plan focused on finding ingredients that do more for a recipe than just give it gluten-free status. Among aisles upon aisles of vendors, I set out to discover ingredients that exceed expectations by creating a finished recipe worthy of the effort.

After meeting with numerous vendors that offered gluten-free flours and other allergen-free products, I came away with a deeper understanding of this growing market. Before I reveal my secrets behind today's recipe, here are a few insights I gleaned from the food show:

Ÿ Gluten-free flour is multipurpose, not all-purpose. This means most gluten-free flour bakes well in cakes, muffins, brownies and some cookies. Bread dough relies upon gluten for chewy texture and achieving this without wheat flour requires special mixes of gluten-free ingredients to achieve a quality similar to bread texture. Read labels carefully.

Ÿ Some gluten-free flour mixes contain ingredients that in some recipes, distract the taste buds. Garbanzo and fava bean flours boost structure by infusing fiber and protein into batters, but they leave noticeable off flavors and mealy texture. Cocoa can effectively mask this in cakes and brownies.

Ÿ Check expiration dates before purchase, and store all gluten-free flours in the refrigerator, especially any mix containing garbanzo or fava beans. These bean flours tend to go rancid more quickly than other varieties.

Ÿ Xanthan gum, a by-product from fermentation, gets lots of press in the gluten-free market as a food thickener and stabilizer. You can also use ground flaxseed to achieve desired textures.

Sampling gluten-free chocolate chip cookies at the show left me wanting to try my hand at turning the tried-and-true Toll House recipe into a gluten-free treat. I chose readily available gluten-free flours: King Arthur's gluten free multipurpose flour and Bob's Red Mill baking flour. In place of xanthan gum, I decided to use ground flaxseeds.

While I liked the texture boost from Bob's Red Mill flour, garbanzo and fava beans in the mix did leave a distinct off flavor in chocolate chips cookies. Website suggestions on cookie makeovers ranged from reducing butter content to changing up the sugar. I held fast to my plan of keeping as much of the original recipe intact as possible.

Surprisingly, my husband offered what turned out to be the secret to success -- coconut flour, an ingredient he remembered his mother using when his family lived for a time in Morocco. This high fiber alternative brings the structure provided by the bean flours without the off-putting flavor. It took a few tests to hit on the right amount of coconut flour to bake great texture and not allow the coconut taste to control the cookie's flavor. I used Bob's Red Mill gluten-free coconut flour.

As a bonus, this cookie dough does not require chilling before baking as many gluten-free recipes suggest, so enjoyment of these treats comes that much sooner.

Ÿ Annie Overboe, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, lives in Villa Park. Contact her at food@dailyherald.com.

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