Sunday, January 25, 2015

Coconut Oil & Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Coconut Almond Cranberry Cookies (Vegan)

I'm not going to lie - these aren't the healthiest cookies. 

But, they are delicious and have some redeeming health qualities!

Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Almond Coconut Cranberry Cookies

These cookies are golden, craggy, crunchy on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, filled with big chunks of almonds, chocolate and dried cranberries, and accentuated with crispy bits of shaved coconut.

Drooling yet?

Now that I have your attention, there are a few healthy attributes:
  • Half of the flour is whole wheat
  • Cholesterol-free
  • Omega-3's from flax seeds
  • Heart-healthy fiber from old-fashioned oatmeal & almonds
  • Dark chocolate
  • Not necessarily healthier, but meet the following diet requirements: egg-free, dairy-free, vegan.

Reality: these cookies may be better for you than the alternative without the healthy attributes, but they still have plenty of sugar and calories. They are a treat, not a health food.

What about coconut oil? 

One of the nutrition questions I get asked most is whether coconut oil is healthful or harmful. There answer is complicated. In the 1980's highly processed tropical oils (palm and coconut) got a bad rap due to their high saturated fat content. Since then, science has guided us away (rightfully so!) from the "all fat is bad" mantra. We then went through a phase that accepted oils that are liquid at room temperature - monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAs) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) - as healthy but saturated fat as evil. More recently, there have been an increasing number of studies to show that all saturated fats (SFAs) are not created equal. For example, virgin coconut oil increases HDL (good) cholesterol more than it increases LDL (bad) cholesterol and therefore has a favorable effect on the overall cholesterol profile. There is no evidence that coconut oil increases heart disease. In fact, the countries in the world that have the highest intakes of virgin coconut oil, and have not yet turned to the Western Diet, have very low rates of heart disease.

Choosing coconut oil:
My recommendations are based on available information. There are many unknowns when it comes to coconut oil, however, so sometimes I just have to make an educated guess.
  • I use virgin (aka. pure) organic coconut oil. This has a distinctly coconutty flavor, but lacks the processing with hexane and hydrogenation of many of the non-organic, refined coconut oils.
  • Look for the terms "cold-pressed," "expeller-pressed," and "centrifuged" as this means that the extraction of the oil from the coconut was likely not done with chemicals.
  • Look for extra virgin, virgin or pure coconut oil.
  • Avoid "refined" coconut oil unless it's organic. Refined coconut oil has very little coconut taste, but if it's not organic, it likely went through chemical extraction, hydrogenation and bleaching.
    • Bleaching is often used to help hide the color and taste of rancid oil.
    • Hydrogenation is what is definitely bad for you and increases risk of heart disease.
    • Hexane and other organic solvents used in chemical extraction can be safe if regulated and handled properly, however, hexane is a known neurotoxin, so I tend to avoid it in food when possible.

Back to cookies!

Oatmeal Almond Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies - Recipe

Just out of the oven (on a silicone baking mat on a 1/2 sheet pan)

2 Tablespoon ground flax seed (can substitute 2 medium eggs for flax and water)
4 Tablespoons boiling water
½ cup Earth Balance (1 stick), or unsalted butter
1/3 c + 1 Tablespoon virgin coconut oil (can substitute 1 more stick of Earth Balance, but omit salt)
1 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour (can use regular whole wheat flour, but it will taste "wheatier")
1 cup old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup roasted almonds, roughly chopped (leave some nearly whole)
¾ cup shaved coconut, unsweetened
¾ cup dried cranberries
1 cup chocolate chips
1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Stir together flax seed and hot water, set aside and cool to near room temperature before using. Alternatively, you can omit flax and water and replace with 2 medium eggs.
  3. In mixer, beat together Earth Balance, coconut oil, brown sugar and granulated sugar for 3 minutes.
  4. In a separate mixing bowl, whisk together both flours, oats, baking powder, baking soda and salt until thoroughly combined. Stir in almonds, coconut, cranberries and chocolate chips.
  5. In mixer, beat in vanilla extract until thoroughly incorporated. Scrape down sides of mixer, then add flax/water mixture and beat just for 20-30 seconds just until well combined.
  6. Add half of the dry mixture to the mixer and mix for 5 seconds, just to somewhat combined. Then, add remaining half of the dry mixture and mix 5-10 seconds, just until you no longer see dry flour.
  7. On baking sheet lined with parchment or silicone mat, drop by 2 Tablespoon (or 1 heaping Tablespoon) size balls with at least 3 inches between cookies and press down to flatten slightly.
  8. Bake on bottom rack of oven for 6 minutes, then rotate pan and move to top rack for an additional 6-8 minutes. Remove from oven with edges are just beginning to turn golden.
  9. Let rest on pan set on a cooling rack for 2 minutes, then transfer cookies to cooling rack to finish cooling to room temperature before storing in an airtight container.

Makes: 2.5-3 dozen cookies

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