Gluten-free Vegan Banana-Zucchini Chocolate Chip Cookies

My mom visited us in New York for the week of her birthday, and I baked her gluten-free brownies for her birthday cake as she likes to limit her gluten intake. My sister also limits her gluten intake, my grandmother has a gluten allergy as do several of our friends, and I know that dairy allergies are a common issue for breastfed babies. All of these things led me to the idea of coming up with my own twist on a gluten-free vegan chocolate chip cookie recipe. I'm not vegan and don't typically bake gluten-free, but I enjoy doing it for friends and family, and I always enjoy a good baking challenge. One of my favorite cookie recipes are these Quinoa-Coconut Chocolate Chip ones, so I started with that recipe and went from there.

The first two rounds of cookies, I jumped right in with little research. I bought some gluten-free flour (mix of brown and white rice), the first batch of cookies were sweetened only with honey, and I added 1 banana and 2 cups of shredded zucchini to make them even healthier. I used coconut oil in place of butter and applesauce as the egg substitute. I bought vegan dark chocolate chip cookies at the corner grocer. Baked 1/2 a dozen of those, then 1/2 a dozen generally the same, but I added 1 tsp of chia and sweetened with 1/4 cup of white sugar and 1/4 cup of honey. I think the vegan chocolate chips were the worst part, but the honey was wrong too. The chocolate chips were sweetened with Splenda and left a strange aftertaste. I've used honey as a healthier sweetener in other baked goods, but in these cookies, it was just too strong and overpowered the other ingredients.

The second two batches of cookies, I started implementing more research. I read about the best and worst sugars, types of gluten-free flours, and taste tested three different types of vegan chocolate. I added an extra banana to both batches, decreased the zucchini to 1 3/4 cups, made one batch with the original gluten-free flour and one with 1/3 coconut and 2/3 rice flour. One batch had semisweet vegan chocolate chips and one had vegan carob chips. I used coconut oil in one and avocado in place of butter in the other. The sweetness improved, and they no longer had a weird aftertaste, but because of the extra banana and applesauce combination, they were super cake-y and kind of just fell apart in your hands. Thankfully, Keith and I both agreed the mix of gluten-free flours had a better taste and the semisweet chips were by far the best of all the vegan chocolates we tried.

I made it to the last two batches and we finally found a winner! For a cakier cookie, you can certainly try this recipe with two bananas or one banana and 1/4 cup of applesauce, but for the crisper texture I was going for, I recommend either banana or applesauce as an egg substitute. I've previously used applesauce in baked goods as an egg substitute, but didn't realize bananas can also serve that purpose for vegan baking, so the banana and applesauce together were kind of overkill. The last two batches I tried coconut cream in place of butter for one and vegan butter for the other. I read a lot of information online about butter substitution, and in cookies especially, found that oils actually result in cakier cookies. Since I was going for a crisper texture, I decided to try some vegan options closer to actual butter. I also found out that it helps enormously to pat-dry your shredded zucchini before adding it to the other ingredients. Yes yes, you can all shake your heads and laugh at me now. So finally, after taste testing way too many cookies and vegan chocolate last week, here is the winning recipe for my Gluten-free Vegan Banana-Zucchini Quinoa Coconut Chocolate Chip Cookies. Enjoy!

Winning cookie pictured on the right!

Winning cookie pictured on the right!

Makes 1 dozen cookies
1 cup Gluten-free All-purpose Flour (I used King Arthur)
1/2 cup Coconut Flour (I used Bob's Red Mill)
1 tsp Baking Soda
1/2 cup Vegan Butter (I like the soy-free Earth Balance)
1/4 cup Coconut Sugar
1/4 cup Granulated or Cane Sugar
1 tsp Vanilla
1 (very ripe) Banana
1 3/4 cup Shredded Zucchini (pat-dry with paper towels)
1 1/2 cup cooked Quinoa (room temperature)
1/2 cup desiccated Coconut (unsweetened)
1 cup Vegan Semisweet Chocolate Chips (our favorite brand was Pascha)

Preheat oven to 375° and line baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Whisk together flours and baking soda in smaller bowl. Cream butter and sugars in larger bowl until light and fluffy. Add vanilla, banana, and zucchini to butter, mix about 2 more minutes. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredients, 1/2 cup at a time. Lastly stir in quinoa, coconut, and chocolate. Scoop spoon size balls of dough onto sheets an inch or so apart, and bake for 15 minutes on middle rack. Once removed from oven, keep cookies on baking sheet for 5 additional minutes before moving to wire rack to cool (crisping trick!).

Alternative Options: For a gluten, non-vegan option, use a mix of whole-wheat and white flours in place of the gluten-free flour and add 1 egg. Also, if you're not a coconut fan, skip the coconut and add dried cranberries or nuts instead. Let me know how yours turn out in the comments below!