My very first attempt at my own Paleo cookie recipe was the cranberry coconut chocolate chip cookie. The inspiration for this cookie came from a bakery in which I worked at the time.
The Sparrow Bakery here in Bend, Oregon is a local institution. They feature an amazing menu of classic French pastries as well as their signature Ocean Rolls. The Ocean Roll is truly unique. It starts with traditional croissant dough, which they make in their bread shop, and then it's sprinkled with cardamom and vanilla sugar. It's then rolled up in the shape of a cinnamon roll.
The flavor is absolutely amazing. And it's about as far from Paleo as you can get. :-) In addition to their Ocean Rolls, The Sparrow also makes a cookie that they call the C.O.C.C. cookie. It's made with cranberries, oats, coconut flakes, and dark chocolate chips. It has the perfect balance of tart, sweet, salty, and a touch of bitter from the dark chocolate. Given the number of flavors that make up this cookie, I figured it would be a relatively easy recipe with which to start.
Achieving Flavor Balance
One of the most obvious difficulties in Paleo baking is creating the proper flavor balance. Of course this is not unique to Paleo baking. But what IS unique to Paleo baking is that we must use ingredients that impart flavors that traditional baking ingredients do not.
One example would be almond flour. While it doesn't have a strong flavor, it does taste different from traditional wheat based flours. (One of the reasons I'm exploring macadamia nuts in my pecan chocolate chip cookies recipe)
Sweetness is another important characteristic of baked goods such as cookies. In Paleo baking we try to minimize or eliminate as many sources of sugar as possible while still producing a product that is comparable to a traditional cookie.
One way to do this is with salt. Salt naturally enhances many flavors, but is also the perfect compliment to sweet. The right amount of salt can make a recipe taste sweeter than it really is. Other ingredients, such as cinnamon can impart a warmth and subtle savory flavor that enhances sweetness as well.
While the reviews of my first Paleo cookie recipes were generally good, the most common feedback I got was that they were very rich. That was probably an understatement. If I had to hazard a guess, the calorie content on these first Paleo coconut cookies was probably off the charts.
About the size of a hockey puck, and probably coming in at about the same weight, a half dozen of those initial cookies would probably have sustained a small family through a long winter with little else to eat.
Part of this was a result of trying to give the cookies more body by adding shredded coconut and coconut flakes. For those familiar with coconut, you know it contains quite a bit of fiber. At this point, I was completely ignorant of this information. And so for a while I made the most amazing little fiber bomb you've ever tasted. Yummy AND cleansing. Quite a selling point.
Eventually I dialed down the coconut. As well as the obvious digestive benefits, this improved the flavor as well.
It's All About the Texture
Once I was happy with the flavor, I started working on the texture. Texture is key to any type of baking. While many basic cake, bread, and cookie recipes have been tweaked and perfected over the course of 100's of years, we Paleo bakers don't have the luxury of referring to classical baking science.
We're sort of blazing our own path, which can be lots of fun and incredibly frustrating. In traditional cookie recipes texture is derived from the interaction of the gluten, fats, and the sugars. Subtract the gluten and the processed sugars and you're left with something that feels very different from what people think of as a cookie.
So we have to get creative with our ingredients while at the same time ensuring they conform to the guidelines of the Paleo diet. I went through any number of recipes before finally settling on a mix of nut flour, nut butter, and dates as the base of the first cookie.
As with most cookie recipes, I originally used eggs in the recipe for both leavening and binding. However this made the cookies very cakey, almost like eating only the top part of a muffin.
I tried only using egg whites or yolks, but was never really satisfied with the results. Then while reading an article by Sarah Ballentyne of The Paleo Mom, I found out that applesauce can be used as a binder. Applesauce contains pectin's which help with binding, but don't provide any leavening. This is exactly what the recipe needed.
The applesauce also thinned out the recipe, allowing the cookies to spread on their own while baking. This provided for a more consistent size and shape. Before I was having to press each cookie into shape before baking. With a flour-based dough this may not be a big deal, but when dealing with dates, maple syrup, and molasses it can be an extremely sticky and time consuming step.
At this point, my cookie was actually looking and tasting like a cookie. It had a nice crunch on the outside, and a chewy center. To me, this is the ideal texture for a cookie. The addition of the coconut flakes adds some extra crunch to the overall flavor and the cinnamon, chocolate chips, an cranberries play very nicely together. All in all it's got to be my favorite Paleo coconut cookie.