Ask most run of the mill omnivores what they think of vegan foods in general, and most responses from the unenlightened are undoubtedly less than enthusiastic. Even as new vegan products gain popularity in mainstream supermarkets, it is still largely mistaken as a very spartan, restrictive path to follow. Ask again about a gluten-free diet, and any previous weariness is likely to transform into firm disapproval. Now, a gluten-free vegan…? It would seem incomprehensible, if not completely impossible. I won’t lie – I still often see a diet without any gluten as being a challenge to follow, and since it’s not a medical necessity for me to do so, it is really not a high priority to choose specifically gluten-free products. Many baked goods that exclude wheat flour rely more heavily on eggs, so I can see why vegans like myself might have trouble committing to such a diet. However, thanks to a growing number of innovative companies, it is becoming a more realistic, not to mention tastier, possibility by the day.
Awareness of Celiac’s Disease is still fairly new to me. While I’ve successfully created a handful of wheat-less desserts myself, I still can’t help but be impressed when experiments in this field actually produce not only edible, but delicious foods that are no compromise over their glutinous counterparts. Who would have thought that ground beans and legumes could be reconstituted into a cookie that might rival any containing traditional and non-nutritive white flour? Before trying to accommodate those with allergies, I would have banished the thought! I know many people who become reluctant to sample such goods upon hearing these unusual ingredients, but there’s no way to prove their culinary value without taking the plunge. Now companies like Sun Flour Baking Company are helping the unadventurous swallow their fears along with their allergen-free cookies, brownies, and donuts, and proving that even the most unexpected but natural materials can create one hell of a treat.
Unabashedly declaring on the front of every box “made without wheat, gluten, eggs, dairy…”, it’s clear from first glance that the producers take pride in not only what they put into their cookies, but also what they leave out. Having received many accolades and awards for their traditional vegan treats, they have dozens of animal-free cookies available for direct shipment at a moment’s notice. More recently, they have also been increasing their sugar- and gluten- free offerings with which to treat people from all walks of life. My sampling of six varieties only scratched the surface in terms of their whole product line. For any garden-variety vegan, picking and choosing any cookie out there must make them look like a kid in a candy shop!
Although my selection was a bit one-sided, I was intrigued and curious to see what you could do with such a limited number of ingredients.
Overwhelmed by the number of choices, I decided to start by comparing the shortbread options in my possession. First up was the Vanilla, as I hoped to get a good base line of how this traditional, basic cookie would be translated without its usual staple ingredients. If this was any indication of things to come… Then color me disappointed. Admittedly, shortbread tends to be quite dry and crumbly under any circumstances, but once you bit off a chunk, it dissolved into this powdery dust that stuck to my teeth slightly as I tried to chew. The taste was… Vanilla, I suppose, but in some terrible irony it tasted completely unnatural, like those awful protein powders that try to pass themselves off as “vanilla” flavored. Maybe if they were dipped in chocolate they would be more palatable… But honestly, what wouldn’t?
Not exactly the culinary epiphany I had hoped for after hearing so many other rave reviews, but still I soldiered on. It’s a good thing that I hadn’t given up after this lack-luster biscuit, because things started looking up from here.
More crumbly than any other cookie I would sample in this whole bunch, the Peanut Butter Shortbread looked like someone had taken a hammer to them! It may be partially the fault of rough shipping, but the pieces pictured were the only full cookies in the box. No matter, I don’t take issue with it because that means you can pretend that you’re eating twice as many!
Sporting a yellow-ish hue, this shortbread exuded a nice nutty aroma appropriate for its designated title. The same textural issues were still present, but it was easier to ignore as these had much more flavor to distract the palate with. I found that they were actually quite pleasant – Sweet and salty, It had the best of both sides of the snack food spectrum. In fact, as I munched thoughtfully, I found that it really grows on you, and it was hard to take just one cookie at a time. The quality that I had expected finally manifested itself in these, because if you look very hard, you can see tiny pieces of the actual peanuts that contribute such great flavor and even a nice crunch every now and then.
Best intact of all were the Lemon Shortbread, shedding fewer crumbs but still a bit powdery around the outside. Looking similar to the vanilla, it’s no surprise that once again, that off-putting mouth-feel was still present, but this time it was accompanied by an almost buttery taste and feel. Paired with a bright citrus tang and only a vague sweetness, I truly enjoyed these alongside a nice cup of green tea. Perhaps not something I would seek out again if given the choice of anything made by Sun Flour Baking Company, but certainly not something I would turn down if it were offered to me.
After the initial disappointment, things seemed to be looking up. Maybe shortbread just isn’t my thing to begin with, so perhaps a different palate would enjoy these more anyways. Moving on to the softer varieties, I could scarcely imagine what might await my ready taste buds.
Upon opening the box of Brownie Babies, I was slightly taken aback by how small each cookie was! No larger than a silver dollar, they certainly fit the title of “babies,” not to mention the almost laughably microscopic fragments of walnuts visible on the surface. No matter, their chocolaty scent quickly wafted through the air and reassured me that size was no indication of quality here here.
Soft, dense, and chewy, the mouth-feel is ideal for any brownie. Only moderately sweet, I felt that the amount of sugar balanced out perfectly with the cocoa so that neither were overwhelming, but instead played together harmoniously inside my mouth. Suitable for a wide range of tastes, these aren’t so decadent that you can barely finish two bites on your own, but they are also still chocolaty enough to satisfy even a real chocolate lover. It turns out that those tiny pieces of walnut really are appropriate for the size of the cookie, too – Any larger and they would dominate the dough, but instead they provide a lovely crunch every now and then.
One of America’s favorite cookies and perhaps the single type most stereotypically “American,” it’s no surprise that the Chocolate Chip Cookie makes yet another appearance in the market. Dotted with dark chocolate chips, the cream-colored dough looks just like any of the other interpretations of this classic treat. Easily yielding to the teeth, it definitely fit into my preferred style – Some like theirs crisp, others cakey, but this would fall into the chewy category. As the dough alone is usually my favorite part of chocolate chip cookies, I began by sampling a chunk without any chips. If anything, I found that it was perhaps lacking a little in the flavor department… It had no distinct flavor in particular, and at times I could have sworn there was some sort of medicinal after taste… But eaten with the chocolate pieces as it was intended, these drawbacks were completely unnoticeable. The healthy sprinkling of chocolate was just the right amount to make it a very tasty snack overall.
Last but not least, I tore into my package of Cinnamon Cookies, expecting nothing more unique than your standard snicker-doodle. What I placed on my tongue, however, couldn’t have been further from my assumption – These weren’t just sugar and a little spice, these were actually spicy! Intensely cinnamon like a red-hot candy, these ended up being my favorite of all six varieties. Quite aromatic as soon as they were freed from their cellophane cell, I had to be careful as I removed my prey, or else the excess coating of sugar and cinnamon would end up all over the floor. Messy as they were, this exterior dusting added a lovely extra crunch, bumping up the standard chewy and delicious dough to an even higher level. Such intense heat from the spice might get to you after a few cookies though, so I must warn you to keep a tall glass of soymilk on hand when eating these! Unabashed cinnamon addict that I am, these may in fact be too hot for those who aren’t keen on this seasoning, but I highly suggest you give them a try anyway. Once you start eating these, it’s hard to stop!
On the whole, I would have to say that Sun Flour Baking Company really knows what they’re doing when they try to make favorite childhood treats into gluten-free fare. Sure, it might seem weird to eat a cookie made primarily of pinto bean flour, but don’t let that turn you away from something that is this delicious. Change is difficult, as anyone adjusting to a gluten-free diet might tell you, but it isn’t difficult to occasionally step out of your comfort zone and try new things. It’s really a small risk for those not limited by any allergies to take, and who knows, you might just find more sweet treasures like these.
[Written for Go Dairy Free]