Sunday, September 9, 2012

Chocolate Magic Cookies (gluten & dairy-free)

One of my early jobs in education was as a paraprofessional in an intensive special needs program. A number of the students with autism were on the gluten- and dairy-free Autism Diet, which purportedly ameliorated some of the regressive behaviors associated with the Autism Spectrum. I had—and continue to have—reservations about the effectiveness of this approach, but I'm neither an autism specialist nor a nutritionist, so it's not really up to me, and I don't think it's going to exacerbate the issue. However, I had one co-worker who insisted on calling it
the "fun-free" diet in a way that I found aggravating. The "fun-free" description seemed to riff on the infuriating, pervasive illusion that if something is good for you, there's no way it will taste good and its equally problematic corollary that if food tastes good, then there's no way it's good for you.

Similarly, there's this illusion about teachers that they can either be nice or demanding, and that only one of these qualities is effective. I remember reading one article which contrasted "the kind of teacher who brings in brownies" with "the kind of teacher that demands results." Seriously, who comes up with this festering load of flapdoodle? I bet it's the same people that think tasty and healthy are mutually exclusive. This isn't to say that there aren't teachers who mistake being liked for being respected, and end up foregoing academic rigor for fear of not being liked, but let me tell you this: brownies—or any other kind of food—have nothing to do with it. On the other side of it, there are also teachers who mistake being disliked for being respected, and brownies have nothing to do with that either.

Any time you share food with someone, it's an acknowledgement of your shared humanity. Even if it's just passing around a tin of Altoids, as a couple teachers I've had were fond of doing, you are demonstrating a simple need and enjoyment that you have in common. Beyond demonstrating that you're not a robot who sleeps standing up in the broom closet, you are breaking down the perceived otherness that keeps students from becoming invested in a subject. Even in a fairly concrete, objective topic like math, a student's ability to invest themselves in a topic, to work hard and internalize it is linked to their sense of being seen as a person. So yes, I am one of those teachers who brings edible treats in for my students on occasion. I am also one of those teachers who demands a lot of hard work. I see no conflict between these.

This year, I have several students with dietary restrictions, so most of my go-to treats leave someone out. Enter these mouthwatering, crackly-topped, fudgy cookies, which happen, by my old co-worker's definition, to be totally "fun-free." No dairy, no gluten, no flour at all in fact. No need: the sugar, cocoa and egg whites around which they're built contain none of those things.

My sister's been making this one where she works, and scrawled down the recipe for me. As long as I leave the nuts out, this addresses all of the dietary restrictions I face at school, without any weird ingredient replacements. Even better, it is an incredibly simple recipe. A little Googling tracks this recipe back to one by Fran├žois Payard in Gourmet's April 2002 issue, as digitized by Molly Wizenburg at Orangette, though I'm not sure where specifically my sister got hold of it. Wizenburg calls them "Featherweight Cookies"; a very similar recipe circulates as "Chocolate Puddle Cookies." I'm going with "Magic Cookies" because they are pretty damn magical. Besides, who needs "fun" when you have magic?

    Chocolate Magic Cookies

    gluten-free, dairy-free, nuts optional
    25 minutes, start to finish, makes about 32 three-inch cookies

    Dry Mix:

  • 3 cups (12 oz) confectioner's sugar
  • ¾ c. cocoa powder
  • ¼ tsp. salt
  • 2 c. mix-ins (toasted nuts, chocolate chips, cacao nibs, etc)

  • Wet mix

  • 4 large egg whites (~1/2 cup), preferably at room temperature
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
Preheat oven to 350°. Mix dry ingredients together until well blended. Separate eggs and add vanilla. Add egg and vanilla to dry mix and stir until well-blended. Scoop about a tablespoon at a time onto parchment-lined sheet pans with plenty of room to spread (which they will start to do immediately) and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until cookies are puffed up and cracked on top. It possibly goes without saying that to keep these gluten and dairy free, your mix-ins must also be, and that label reading is up to you (especially on chocolate chips!). You also may not care. I actually wonder how salted pretzel bits would work in here.

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