Cookies for the Lunchbox

When I was a little girl, my lunch was usually a sandwich, some carrot sticks, an apple or orange, and, when I was really lucky, homemade cookies.

I don’t recommend eating cookies every day, or giving them to your children regularly, but as a treat now and then, they’re pretty special.  They’re also a lot of fun to make with your kids or your friends.  The bonus when making vegan cookies is that you don’t have to worry about anyone getting sick from eating the raw dough.  To avoid overdosing, either give away the extras to friends and neighbors, or stash the extras in plastic zipper bags in the freezer.  As you might remember, I am on an anti-super-sizing campaign!  Even the bite-sized cookies average about 65 calories each, so be careful.

For this “homesick” batch of recipes, I wanted to recreate the cookies of my childhood as faithfully as possible.  The chocolate chip cookies are chewy.  The peanut butter cookies are crumbly (and very “short” – like shortbread), but if you prefer them chewy, check the recipe for that option.  The oatmeal-raisin cookies are crisp-chewy, and the ginger snaps can be either chewy or crisp, depending on the baking time you choose.

Some cookie baking basics:  Use Earth Balance.  I don’t have stock in the company, but I probably should.  I have tried making cookies with oil, and they’re just not as good.  Earth Balance “Buttery Spread” is non-hydrogenated margarine that comes in a tub, and their Shortening Sticks are also non-hydrogenated and work great.  I am not crazy about their “Buttery Sticks” – they have an “off” flavor to me.

Use shiny (aluminum) cookie sheets for best results.  Dark cookie sheets will cause your cookies to get too dark on the bottom before they’re properly baked.  Those “air insulated” cookie sheets usually yield cookies that are too pale on the bottom.  (If your cookies tend to burn, check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer.  It’s probably too hot.)

You can bake all of these cookies on greased cookie sheets, or you can bake them on parchment paper, which is much neater.  If you need to re-use a cookie sheet, it’s easy to lift the sheet of parchment paper with the cookies on it and slide it onto a cooling rack, freeing up your cookie sheet to use again quickly.

You should let the cookie sheet cool down a bit before re-using it, or your cookie dough will spread too much.  If you’re using parchment paper there’s no need to wash the cookie sheet – just slap on a new piece of parchment paper and continue.  In a hurry?  Spray the back of the cookie sheet with cold water, flip it over, put in new parchment paper, and away you go!

Don’t bake more than two sheets of cookies at a time in a standard oven.  Rotate the sheets (top to bottom, and vice-versa) half-way through the baking time for more even baking.

I use a #40 cookie scoop to make small, bite-size cookies.  You can get ice-cream scoops (“portion scoops”) at restaurant supply houses, or you can just use your teaspoon measure as a scoop.  A heaping teaspoon makes a bite-size cookie.  Use a tablespoon measure for larger, 2-bite cookies.  Using some sort of measure will keep your cookies a consistent size, which not only looks prettier, but helps them bake more evenly.

For all of these recipes, I used whole wheat pastry flour.  OK, they’re cookies, but we might as well sneak in some additional fiber and anti-oxidants if it doesn’t affect the cookies’ texture or flavor, and I don’t find that it does.  Make sure that your flour is whole wheat pastry flour, not bread flour.  If it just says “whole wheat flour”, it’s bread flour and will make tough cookies.  If you prefer, you can make any of these cookies with unbleached all-purpose flour instead.  You might find you need a bit less flour in that case.

Since it’s back-to -school time, feel free to experiment with spelt flour or any non-wheat flour that you like.  Some of them work well in cookies, but you’ll need to do some kitchen science experiments to find which works best in each recipe.  The great thing about this kind of chemistry experiment is that they’ll never  blow up, and you get to eat your results.  Take notes, and let me know if you have any fabulous successes, especially with gluten-free flour.

Classic Peanut Butter Cookies

The cookies will be tender and more brittle than their non-vegan counterparts.  Treat them with care, and they will melt in your mouth!  The “Chewy” option is a bit sturdier.

Recipe By:  Lisa T. Bennett
Makes about 40 bite-size cookies, or 24 medium.

1/2  cup  (4 ounces) Earth Balance Buttery Spread
or 1 Earth Balance Shortening Stick
1  cup natural peanut butter
1  teaspoon  vanilla
1 1/4  cups  flour
3/4  teaspoon  baking soda
1/2  teaspoon  salt  (omit if using Earth Balance Buttery Spread)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.

2.  Prepare cookie sheet(s) with pan spray or parchment paper.

3.  Cream Earth Balance Buttery Spread or Shortening Stick with unbleached sugar, Sucanat, peanut butter, and vanilla extract until light and fluffy.

4.  In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt.

5.  Add the dry ingredients a little at a time to the wet ingredients.  Mix until a fairly crumbly dough forms.   The dough should stick together when pressed.  If not, add water, one teaspoon at a time, until dough holds together when pressed into a ball.  Don’t add too much water, however, or the cookies will be tough.

6.  Using a heaping teaspoon or #40 cookie scoop, portion out dough into small balls on baking sheet.  These cookies don’t spread much, so you only need to leave about one inch between them.  Press each cookie down with the tines of a fork to make the classic “criss-cross” pattern on top.

7.  Bake at 350 F for 8 – 9 minutes, or until beginning to color on top.  Let cookies cool on cookie sheet for a few minutes, then remove to a cooling rack.
Notes:  For larger cookies, use a tablespoon as a measure, and bake cookies for 10 – 12 minutes.

For Chewy Peanut Butter Cookies, increase baking soda to 2 teaspoons, and add either 1 1/2 teaspoons of Ener-G Egg Replacer powder or 1 1/2  teaspoon ground flax seeds to 2 tablespoons of water.  Add this mixture to the wet ingredients.  Proceed as with regular recipe, but place cookies 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies

The classic!
Recipe By:  Lisa T. Bennett
Serving Size:  100 bite-sized cookies, or about 4 dozen 2-bite cookies
Preparation Time:  1 hour

8 ounces (1 cup, or 1/2 tub) Earth Balance Buttery Spread
2  cups  Sucanat
1/4  cup  maple syrup  or light molasses
3  teaspoons  vanilla
1 1/2  teaspoons  Ener-G Egg Replacer powder
2  tablespoons  water
3  cups  whole wheat pastry flour
1/2  teaspoon  baking powder
1/2  teaspoon  baking soda
1  cup  dairy-free chocolate chips
1  cup  walnuts or pecans, chopped  (optional)

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F.
2. Prepare cookie sheet(s) with pan spray or parchment paper.
3.  Cream together the Earth Balance and Sucanat.  Beat in maple syrup or molasses, vanilla, and the Ener-G egg replacer mixed with water.  Set aside.
4.  Sift together dry ingredients except chips and nuts (if using).
5.  Mix dry ingredients into wet ingredients quickly, just until mixed and no dry flour is visible.
6.  Using a heaping teaspoon or a  #40 cookie scoop, drop cookies 2 inches apart on cookie sheet.   Bake at 350 F for 8 – 9 minutes, reversing cookie sheets after 4 minutes if baking more than one sheet at a time.
Notes:  I got 112 bite-size cookies from one batch of dough.  You can halve this recipe easily, or freeze the leftovers.  Or make yourself popular with all of the neighborhood children or your co-workers.

For bigger cookies, use a tablespoon, and bake for about 12 minutes.

Ginger Snaps
The cookies have a beautiful color and sparkle, and smell divine!
Recipe By:  Lisa Bennett, adapted from VegWeb
Makes 60 small cookies
Preparation Time:  45 minutes

2 1/2  cups  whole wheat pastry flour
2  teaspoons  baking soda
1/2  teaspoon  salt
1  teaspoon  cinnamon
1  teaspoon  ground ginger
1/2  teaspoon  ground cloves
1  tablespoon  ground flax seeds
3  tablespoons  water
3/4  cup  Earth Balance Buttery Spread
1  cup  unbleached sugar
1/4  cup  molasses
a small bowl of unbleached sugar for dipping

1.  Preheat oven to 350 F. Prepare cookie sheet(s) with pan spray or parchment paper.

2.  Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon and cloves.

3.  If using whole flax seeds, grind fine in a coffee grinder first.  Mix ground flax seed with 3 tablespoons of water in a small bowl or measuring cup and let sit for a couple of minutes.

4.  In another bowl cream margarine and 1 cup of unbleached sugar until soft. Add flax seed mixture and molasses, mixing wet ingredients until they are fluffy.

5.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture a little at a time, mixing until a soft dough forms.

6.  Form into 3/4-inch balls, dip just the tops of each cookie into a bowl of unbleached sugar, then place on prepared cookie sheet, sugared side up. Place a few inches apart on sheet.  Press cookies down just a little to help them flatten while in the oven. Bake 2 sheets at a time at 350 F for 12 to 15 mins.

Note:  for soft, chewy cookies, use the shorter baking time.  For crunchy cookies, use the longer baking time.  The cookies will be soft while they are warm, but will set up crunchy as they cool.  In high humidity, they will become soft again upon standing.

Let cookies cool for a couple of minutes on the cookie sheets, then transfer cookies to a cooling rack.

Addendum to article:

It was recently brought to my attention that the oatmeal raisin cookies got left out of the September “cookies” article.  Whoops!  Sorry – here it is!  Try using dried cherries or cranberries instead of raisins for an excellent addition to a Thanksgiving buffet.

Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Recipe By:    Lisa T. Bennett
Makes 100 bite-size cookies, or about 4 dozen regular size
Preparation Time: about an hour

1    cup    Earth Balance Buttery Spread    (8 oz)
1    cup    Sucanat
1/4    cup    maple syrup or light molasses
1/2    cup    unbleached sugar
1/4    cup    water
1    tablespoon    Ener-G Egg Replacer powder
1    teaspoon    vanilla extract
1 1/2    cups    whole wheat pastry flour
1    teaspoon    baking soda
1    teaspoon    cinnamon
1/2    teaspoon    ground cloves
1/2    teaspoon    salt
3    cups    rolled oats
1    cup    raisins

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 F.
2.  Line cookie sheet(s) with parchment paper if you have it.  Otherwise, don’t bother — sheets don’t need to be greased for this recipe.
3.  Cream together Earth Balance, Sucanat, maple syrup or molasses, and  unbleached sugar until fluffy..
4.  Sift together all the remaining ingredients except the oats and raisins.
5.  Add the dry ingredients to the wet and mix until no dry streaks of flour appear.  Stir in oats and raisins.
6.  Using a heaping teaspoon or a #40 scoop, drop cookie dough onto  cookie sheets  about 2 inches apart.  Lightly press tops of cookie dough balls to help them to flatten and bake evenly.
7.  Bake at 350 F for about 10  minutes, or until set and beginning to turn golden around the edges.  Let cookies cool briefly on cookie sheets before moving them to a cooling rack.