Pandemic baking and feeling like yourself (plus a GF cookie recipe that’ll knock your socks off)
Updated: Sep 9, 2021
Remember at the beginning of the pandemic when everyone started posting pictures of their banana bread and sourdough on the internet? At that moment, I felt like the world had finally come around to seeing things my way. Baking has always been a stress response to me, an effective method for distracting my conscious brain from the problems at hand and letting my subconscious do some background processing.
Naturally, when the world shut down (while we were in the midst of selling a condo and moving), I started baking more. I even combined the two popular pandemic baking projects and made sourdough banana bread. The activity carried me through those beginning stages of lockdown and kept my hands busy while my mind processed.
But eventually, we moved into a new apartment and things got busy again. Between work, adjusting to new virtual projects, and finding a rhythm of safely being in community again, baking went by the wayside for months. And I didn’t notice it, honestly. I just kept living my life.
Lately, however, I’ve been noticing that time is flying by without my consent or much notice. When that happens, I try to stop and notice things, take stock of what’s filling my hours, days, weeks, and months, and make adjustments incrementally where needed. In these seasons, it’s helpful to lean into the activities that make me feel more like myself. Here are three things I noticed and how I addressed them:
My body began hurting (former gymnast/dancer joint problems are no joke, guys) and I noticed I wasn’t moving enough. To remedy this, I started taking adult musical theater jazz classes and it has made all the difference.
My phone screen time was creeping up to levels I wasn’t comfortable with and my mind felt restless. To remedy this, I began working a regular writing routine back into my schedule and made goals to keep myself accountable.
My thoughts were increasingly drawn down unhelpful and distracted rabbit holes (usually as a result of the dumpster fire of the internet). To remedy this, I started baking and cooking more complex meals again.
Now, I can’t say dancing, writing, and baking will cure all your ails. They won’t. But the point is that I want to encourage you to do the things that ground you, the things that help you process the events of the world, the things that make you feel like yourself.
This weekend, I spent time revisiting the gluten-free (GF) chocolate chunk cookie recipe I tweaked during the early days of COVID and, I’m happy to report, it holds up. Most GF cookies are dry, cakey, and sad. These are not. They are everything I want in a cookie, regardless of its gluten content.
So, in an attempt to encourage you to do some baking this weekend, I give you this recipe. I hope it helps clear your mind and makes you feel like yourself again.
Gluten-free browned butter tahini chocolate chunk cookies
These cookies are based on the excellent recipe for Smoked Tahini Dark Chocolate Chunk Cookies from Butter & Brioche, but modified heavily to create the perfect GF cookie that you won’t even know is GF.
150 g butter
250 g light brown sugar
80 g white sugar
2 large eggs (see notes)
1.5 tbs vanilla extract
150 g tahini (the runnier, the better)
180 g GF flour blend (see notes for blend instructions)
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp baking soda
½ tsp salt
200-225 g dark chocolate
Coarse salt for topping
Preheat the oven to 350° F with racks adjusted to the middle section of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Melt your butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and brown until it’s a light caramel color and smells nutty (almost like hazelnuts). Set aside.
Chop the chocolate bars into smallish chunks (you want them big enough that they won’t melt into the dough). Set aside.
Whisk the sugars together with the browned butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the eggs and whisk until smooth before adding the vanilla extract and tahini. Whisk until very smooth.
In a separate medium sized bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add half the dry ingredients into the sugar mixture and mix until combined. Add the remaining dry ingredients and mix until well combined. Add in the chocolate and fold it in until evenly distributed.
Using a medium or large cookie scoop (I have the OXO large cookie scoop), arrange dough on the cookie sheets with about 1.5 inches between each blob of dough. The dough will be loose and it will spread out while baking. Top each cookie with coarse salt.
Transfer cookie sheets immediately to the oven (see notes). At the 5 minute mark, remove trays and bang on the counter three times each to flatten them out. Return to the oven and continue baking in 2-minute intervals, banging on the counter any time the cookies begin to puff up in the middle, until the edges are set and the middle wiggles ever so slightly. In my oven, they took about 12 minutes, but keep an eye on them. Ideally, you want them to be slightly underdone when you remove them as they continue to bake on the sheets.
Leave them on the sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling racks.
My GF 1-to-1 flour mix has no aftertaste and it works wonderfully. You can easily scale it up or down to make a batch that suits your baking needs:
1,020 g white rice flour
455 g sorghum flour
225 g tapioca flour/starch
225 g potato starch
40 g xanthan gum
Any GF blend that includes rice flour (whether homemade or store bought) will absorb liquid quickly and result in dense, cakey desserts if you’re not careful. Because of this, my modified recipe includes an additional egg from the original and requires runny tahini.
Because rice flour absorbs liquid the longer it sits, DO NOT refrigerate GF cookie dough before baking. If you do that, the cookies will become cakey and dry out because the moisture will have been absorbed by the time you bake them. Once you combine the wet and dry ingredients, try to get the cookies into the oven quickly. I also suggest that, if you’re going to do more than one batch, don’t combine all the wet and dry ingredients at once because your second batch of trays will end up cakey.
If you try these cookies, tell me what you think! What activities make you feel like yourself?