Monday, December 05, 2011

Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

My mother swears by the cheesecake recipe on the back of the cream cheese box. I once made an excellent coleslaw by tweaking a recipe on the bag of shredded cabbage. I'm sure I'm not the only one to shun the recipes on the back of packaged food, thinking they'd be inferior to ones I'd find on my favorite blog or in a glossy new cookbook. All food snobbery aside, sometimes those recipes that get thrown out without as much as a glance are worth exploring. After trying the recipe for chocolate chip cookies on the bag of almond flour, I will say that I am not above product sponsored recipes.

Elana of Elana's Pantry graced the back of my brand new 5 lb bag of almond flour. Since her blog often tempts me with gluten-free, paleo treats I thought I had to take this a little more seriously than I would a recipe on a bag of Tollhouse mix. But before I got started, I had to know a little about almonds.

Its important to note that almond meal and almond flour are not the same and will result in drastically different products when baked. Don't make the same mistake I did! Almond meal contains the outer skin of the nut giving it a different texture, making it better suited for breading. Almond flour, however, is made from blanched almonds, skins removed, giving it a finer texture ideal for baking. Apparently some almond flours can be processed with steam treatments, chemical agents, or mixed with filler that may make them not gluten-free and can change the texture of your baked goods. I will admit I haven't tried many brands of almond flour, but am happy with Honeyville so far based on these cookies and on Elana's high praise. Buy in bulk but store it in the refrigerator and here's why...

Refrigeration is necessary to protect the polyunsaturated fats almonds have in abundance. This includes both the omega 3's and the omega 6's fats. As opposed to the more stable saturated fats, polyunsaturated fats are quick to oxidize (become free radicals) which can potentially cause more harm than good in the body. While I definitely believe in the value of maintaining an optimal ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 (3:1) to dampen chronic inflammation in the body, I don't think these fats should be our primary dietary fat based on their fragility. Given all the environmental toxins we are exposed to daily and how easily some benign molecules turn into free radicals (e.g. Vitamin C), why add more fuel to the fire? But, abandoning polyunsaturated fats outright would leave us missing out on the other nutrients that these foods have to offer. Some of which may protect the fats themselves. For instance, the high vitamin E content of almonds and olive oil is thought to protect the fragile polyunsaturated fats from oxidation.

Almonds, as well as most other nuts seem like a perfect food with the right balance of nutrients—low in carbohydrate, high in fat and protein. But are they really?

For instance, 1 cup of whole almonds contains 8.6 mg of omega-3 fats and 17,253 mg omega-6 fats. That's a lot of linoleic acid and far from our ideal 3:1 ratio! Don't throw out those almonds in your desk drawer just yet. Let's compare this to 1 cup of corn oil which contains 2,531 mg of omega-3 fats and 116,651 mg of omega-6 fats! Whereas corn oil has little else to offer us nutrient-wise, nuts are the clear winner. A small amount as a snack or a spoonful of almond butter now and then should be fine as long as more problematic omega-6 fats are reduced, like grains and seed oils.

Now let's think about how many almonds went into those cookies you're about to bake. A mere 1/4 cup of nuts offers substantial nutrient density that should last throughout the day. I can't even begin to guess how many almonds went into the 2 1/2 cups of almond flour in these cookies but it is a reminder that even Paleo cookies should be eaten in moderation. I have heard more than once, "these are Paleo, so I can eat as many as I want."

Sorry.

These cookies are loaded with healthy ingredients and very low in fructose. I wish I could tell you to feel free to eat a half dozen with a tall glass of almond milk. Try to show some constraint with these treats in the same way you refrain from eating an entire jar of almond butter. I know its hard but its a lot better than the flour/sugar alternative.


Paleo Chocolate Chip Cookies

adapted from Elana's Pantry

I've tweaked the original recipe by using what I think are healthier oils and sugar substitutes. Feel free to experiment.


2 1/2 cup blanched almond flour

1/4 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/4 cup coconut oil

1/4 cup coconut syrup

1 tblsp vanilla extract

scant 1 cup dark chocolate chips

makes 18 cookies

Preheat the oven to 350. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Combine the dry ingredients. Stir in the wet ingredients and mix to form a dough. Fold in the chocolate chips. Using a melonballer or 2 spoons, form balls about 1 inch in diameter. The dough will spread as it cooks so leave at least 2 inches between cookies on the baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes or until just brown on the edges and they smell up your kitchen. Cool before serving since the cookies are quite fragile warm.

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