Birthdays and holidays in the daycare classroom involve some culinary creativity. Most schools are nut-free these days, and a lot of our son’s friends also have egg allergies or gluten sensitivities.
So recently I decided to develop a recipe for chocolate chip cookies that everyone could eat.
My secret ingredient? Sunflower butter! It imparts a nutty flavor similar to peanut butter, but is much more allergy-friendly.
A COOKIE EVERYONE CAN EAT—AND WILL LOVE
I love these cookies for a few reasons:
First, they straddle the line between super chewy and crispy, which I feel is always something to celebrate in a chocolate chip cookie. While there’s a time and a place for soft, pillowy cookies, I don’t think that place is this type of cookie.
Second, I use coconut oil, which adds a subtle sweetness that pairs nicely with the caramelly brown sugar and the dark chocolate chips.
- Note that the FDA does list coconut as a tree nut, though many people with tree nut allergies are fine with coconut. If you’re not sure if the person or people eating your cookies has a tree nut allergy that includes coconut, check with them before making this recipe, or substitute another fat in place of the coconut oil (we recommend butter if there are no dairy allergies, or vegan EarthBalance if there are).
Third, they’re made with homemade sunflower seed butter, although you could use any seed or nut butter you’d like. Here’s my favorite recipe for homemade sunflower butter!
Last but not least, these cookies are even better the second day!
MY FAVORITE GLUTEN-FREE FLOUR BLEND
There are dozens of gluten-free flour blends to choose from these days and many are great; I happen to like Bob’s Red Mill’s Gluten-Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour blend.
It’s a great all-purpose choice and doesn’t contain chickpea or legume flours, which impart a savory flavor to baked goods that I don’t always love.
MAKE SURE IT HAS XANTHAN GUM
Bob’s blend contains xanthan gum, which acts as a binder in gluten-free baking recipes like this one.
Before baking, check the ingredients in your own gluten-free flour blend and if it doesn’t contain xanthan gum (or another binding ingredient such as guar gum or psyllium husks), I recommend adding 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum to ensure success.
HOW TO MAKE THESE CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
In terms of method, this cookie dough is slightly finicky—not in the sense that you’re going to be banging your head against your hands while mixing up your dough, but you may feel like something’s slightly amiss.
I’m here to assure you that everything is just fine. This dough just takes a little extra love before you can form it into balls on your cookie sheet.
This instruction will feel counter-intuitive to anyone used to baking with regular flour, but it’s important to knead the dough at the very end of mixing and then also knead in the chocolate chips. Because the dough doesn’t contain butter or eggs, it won’t be sticky or creamy like traditional cookie dough. Instead, it’s more on the crumbly side, so kneading it will help incorporate all the ingredients, including the chocolate chips, and form them into a ball.
So get in there, and trust me that all will be well.
After kneading, be sure to chill the dough after mixing. This will help it firm up and prevent the cookies from spreading too much, and it allows time the flours to fully absorb the liquids in the dough. The cookies will still spread a little, but without the chilling, they end up flatter than I like.
Finally, the dough will be a bit crumbly after chilling, so when it’s time to form the cookies into balls, let the dough warm up a bit first—much like you would do with a pie dough. Even so, you may have to really press the dough to form it into balls.
BAKE AND SERVE!
After all that kneading and finessing, these babies bake relatively quickly in the oven. They will fill the kitchen with the smell of fresh-baked (allergen-free!) sunflower butter chocolate chip cookies in no time.
They taste much like a peanut butter cookie but with slightly savory undertones—imagine a classic peanut butter cookie with a hint of tahini (I find sunflower butter reminds me a bit of tahini in flavor). They’re not too sweet, and are great as an afternoon pick-me-up or a simple evening dessert.
Slightly Green Cookies? Don’t Panic!
If you notice a slightly green tinge to your cookies after baking, don’t panic! There’s some science here: the chlorophyl in the sunflower seeds can react with the baking soda or powder in the recipe and cause a green color once the cookies cool. You can read more about it here on the official Sun Butter FAQ page.
The slight green color didn’t bother me, but as the website notes, you could always reduce the baking soda here (I’d go ahead and try 1/2 teaspoon) and it sounds like that may help.
More Allergy-Friendly Treats!
Nut-Free “Peanut Butter” Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
If you've never baked gluten-free before, we highly recommend using Bob's Red Mill 1:1 Gluten Free Baking Flour Blend for this recipe. If you're using a different blend, double check the ingredients. If it doesn’t contain xanthan gum (or another binding ingredient like guar gum or psyllium husks), we recommend adding 1/2 teaspoon of xanthan gum to ensure success.
Note that the FDA does list coconut as a tree nut, though many people with tree nut allergies are fine with coconut. If you're not sure if the person or people eating your cookies has a tree nut allergy that includes coconut, check with them before making this recipe, or substitute another fat in place of the coconut oil (we recommend butter if there are no dairy allergies, or vegan EarthBalance if there are).
- 1 tablespoon flaxseed meal (or ground flaxseed)
- 1/2 cup coconut oil, softened at room temperature (but not melted or liquidy; see Recipe Note for allergy info)
- 1/3 cup (72g) brown sugar
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (104g) sunflower butter, store-bought or homemade (or another favorite nut or seed butter)
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cup (170g) all-purpose gluten-free flour blend (such as Bob's Red Mill Gluten Free 1-to-1 Baking Flour Blend)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 3/4 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup (165g) allergen-free chocolate chips (such as Enjoy Life brand)
1 Prepare the flax "egg": Combine the flax meal with 2 1/2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl. Let stand for 7 to 10 minutes to thicken. This will be used as an egg replacer in this recipe.
2 Combine the oil and sugars: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or using electric hand beaters), beat the coconut oil, brown sugar, and sugar until smooth and combined.
The mixture will be a little grainy and will flatten to cover the bottom of the bowl in a uniform layer; it won’t be light and creamy like more traditional cookie batters. Scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times and continue mixing until the sugar is well incorporated.
3 Add the sunflower butter, flax egg and vanilla and beat until combined. Use a rubber spatula to scrape down the sides as needed. Beat for 1 to 2 minutes—it’ll start to soften and look much more creamy at this point.
4 Whisk together the dry ingredients: In a small, separate mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, cornstarch, and salt.
5 Beat in the dry ingredients: Slowly add the dry ingredients into the mixing bowl and beat on medium until smooth. Scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. The dough will look like large pebbles at first, but keep beating and it will eventually become smooth and more uniform in about 2 minutes.
Turn off the mixer and knead the dough a few times with your hands to ensure all the dry bits come up from the bottom of the bowl and are incorporated.
6 Work in the chocolate chips: Incorporate chocolate chips with your hands by kneading and mixing them gently into the dough.
This dough isn’t sticky and creamy like some traditional cookie doughs, so hand-mixing like this is the best method to incorporate the chips. Don’t worry if a few chips are loose; they’ll make their way into the cookies when you scoop out the dough.
7 Chill the dough: Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator for 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
8 Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
9 Warm the dough slightly: After chilling, remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 10 minutes. Because the dough is a bit crumbly, letting it sit out on the counter before forming it into balls will help ensure you have nice, smooth cookie dough balls to work with versus ones that may crack a bit if they’re too cool.
10 Roll into cookies: Using 2 heaping tablespoons (about 45g) of dough per cookie, roll the dough in between your hands until it forms a ball. It doesn’t need to be perfect—if the dough crumbles a little, just press it back together.
Place each ball on a parchment-lined baking sheet spaced about 1 1/2 inches apart (they'll spread a bit). Using the palm of your hand, flatten each cookie slightly to about 1/2-inch thickness. If the cookies start to crack or break as you flatten them, just use your hands to form them back together.
11 Bake cookies: Bake for 9 to 11 minutes, or until the edges just begin to turn golden brown. The cookies will still feel soft but will firm up as they cool.
12 Cool and serve: Allow to cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
13 Store leftovers: Keep the cookies covered at room temperature for up to 5 days. Freeze in an airtight freezer bag or container for up to 3 months.
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