If you're wondering why I spend so much time thinking about and trying to bake cookies, well, it's because I love love love cookies. Love them. So yesterday, after a long and labored conversation with a fellow cookie baker, I decided to try a different tack.
Instead of whole-wheat flour, which, I learned last week, creates a cookie with the density of a steel ball, I used the finer ground whole-wheat pastry variety. Pastry flour, like cake flour, works well in pastries but can't be substituted for things like bread and pizza dough. It's too light and airy to be substantial.
This time, my cookies came out much better. I substituted all of the flour in the Toll House recipe for pastry flour. I used half of the butter required and substituted the rest with unsweetened applesauce. Dark agave nectar, twice as sweet as regular refined sugar, did the job of both white and brown sugars, cutting the sweetening agent down by half. I did add, for consistency's sake, a teaspoon of evaporated cane sugar, an unprocessed natural sugar found at health food stores everywhere. Note to bakers: when you cream together butter and agave nectar, it does not reach that buttery consistency you're accustomed to seeing in regular cookies. Even when you add the eggs, the dough can look off. But as soon as you add in the dry ingredients (flour, salt, baking powder), the dough comes together like any other dough.
Chips go in last. I eliminated walnuts this time around. This dough was looser than the last two doughs I've made, a good thing. When spooned onto the baking sheet (when you're using less butter, you'll want to spray your sheet first with a non-cooking spray), they begin to spread out a little, a harbinger of more normal cookiedom.
This version cooked on the lower end of the 9-11 minute suggested Toll House time (375), browning at just about nine minutes. They aren't exactly chewy, but they do have an airy quality that I like. As for the sugar, flavor would never cue that it's missing. Texturally, they're a little softer than normal cookies, but you'd never know that most of the bad stuff had been eliminated.
My friend wrote about her peanut butter oatmeal cookies the other day and added a disclaimer to her post. She wrote that although her cookies were a healthier version, "they do not fight the flu, they do not help you lose inches from your waistline, they will not improve your digestion... but they do taste damn good. So eat 2 or 3 of them, not 12 or 13."
I'm going to have to agree with that philosophy. These cookies, though less evil than most, are still 130 calories a pop, so you don't want to eat all 32 in a sitting, unless you're looking to fit into those pants you relegated to the back of the closet five years ago (yes, your fat pants). Refined sugars cause cravings, diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. The sugar in refined versions converts to fat because it's an immediate kick without long-lasting energy potential, not far off from the white bread/wheat bread equivalent. In the 1900s, sugar cane farmers noted that island natives who chewed on sugar cane daily did not develop diabetes, whereas cane farmers who ate the processed result daily developed diabetes almost 80 percent of the time. Diabetes is one of the great preventable diseases and it's also a disease that afflicts more--and not fewer--Americans every year, despite our knowledge of what causes it and how to keep from developing it.
So no, eating my cookies will not make you skinny and if you're sick they aren't the equivalent to bed rest and Vitamin C. But if you're the type of person who can't imagine a world without cookies (me, me, me!), these cookies could help you live a little healthier.
And just one more note about refined sugar, before I hit the trails for the Bronx Half-Marathon. Ever since I decided to eliminate most refined sugars from my diet, I've been having strange dreams. Two in particular have found me in homes with stockpiles of candies and chocolates, unable to control myself. I have always had vivid dreams, ever since I was a little girl, but usually they point to something going on in my life. When I prepared to go to Belize in 2000, I took a six-week regimen of Malaria pills, which provoked psychedelic dreams. Before a major race, I generally dream that I've slept through my alarm clock. But this week, my dreams have centered on sugar binges, the kind one can only justify around Halloween. Internet research provided a somewhat questionable answer to why my dreams had changed: according to some, sugar withdrawal can create effects similar to opiate withdrawal, causing headaches, muscle pains, debilitating cravings, and strange dreams.
Basically, if the Internet holds any validity, I was addicted to heroin and didn't even know it. Food for thought.