The ultimate guide to gluten-free and vegan cookie troubleshooting and baking plus 10 recipes for gluten-free, vegan cookies
The most common issues with gluten-free cookies are excess spreading, a gritty texture or a tendency for them to crumble and fall apart. Luckily there are some simple solutions to all of these issues and there’s no reason why your gluten-free, vegan cookies can’t be perfection. Stop your cookies from spreading by placing the dough in the fridge to rest before baking, your choice of flour is most likely the culprit for a gritty texture and adding a little xanthan gum to your dough can prevent crumbling.
Despite any trouble you may have had with your cookies, when it comes to gluten-free baking, cookies are a great place to start. The smaller the bake the easier they are to troubleshoot. To help you get the most out of your gluten-free, vegan cookies, I’ve put together an ingredients guide, some general tips and some simple solutions to any problems you may encounter.
Ingredients Guide For Gluten-free and Vegan Cookies
Perfect cookies start with your ingredients and without gluten, eggs or dairy the ingredients you choose for your free-from cookies are very important.
There’s a lot to learn about gluten-free flour and the type or brand you choose will have a big impact on your results. One of the most common mistakes people make is using a single gluten-free flour rather than a mixture. Wheat flour is a combination of protein and starches and the gluten-free flour you use needs to replicate that. Replacing all-purpose flour at a one to one ratio with ground almonds is not going to cut it. Instead, invest a little time in finding a brand of gluten-free all-purpose flour that works for you.
I’m based in the UK and I use Dove’s Farm gluten-free flour and I love the way it performs. If you’re in the US try Bob’s Red Mill One for One gluten-free flour or King Arthurs all-purpose gluten-free flour.
For more control over your gluten-free cookies always choose a flour that has no xanthan gum or raising agents added to it.
While we’re on the topic of flour lets talk about grittiness. A gritty texture in your bakes is likely coming from rice flour, either in your store-bought gluten-free flour or one you’ve mixed yourself. Superfine brown rice and white rice flour will improve your bakes significantly (although they can be hard to find and pricey). Alternatively, try a different brand of gluten-free all-purpose or try blending your flour mix for one minute in a high-speed blender.
Allowing your dough to rest overnight in the fridge can also help negate grittiness in cookies. This extra time will allow any excess moisture to be absorbed by the flour and ultimately soften the flour and improve texture.
If you’re struggling to find a gluten-free flour that you like try this recipe by Minimalist Baker. Definitely add the optional xanthan gum and, if possible, go the extra step of blending the flour mix in a high-speed blender to make it finer (which will help prevent grittiness).
Xanthan gum is a long-chain carbohydrate made by fermenting simple sugars. In gluten-free baking, xanthan gum is used as a binder and stabiliser and mimics gluten by providing structure.
Essentially xanthan gum will hold your bakes together and is especially important in vegan baking in the absence of eggs. If you find your cookies are crumbling and falling apart, xanthan gum could be the solution. Try adding a ¼ teaspoon of xanthan gum for every 100g of flour.
Beat your non-dairy marg with the sugar for 3 minutes to give you a better bake overall.
Baking soda is the most commonly used raising agent in cookies but in the gluten-free versions, I prefer to use both baking soda and baking powder.
Gluten-free bakes always need a little more help. Both raising agents together have a greater leavening ability and when used in combination balance spread, colour and texture in gluten-free cookies.
The sugar you use will have a massive impact on the flavour and texture of your cookies.
A mix of white and brown sugar is the norm in cookies baked with wheat flour but when it comes to gluten-free cookies I recommend using 100% light muscovado sugar.
White sugar is attributed to crisp cookies and helps with spreading but we’re baking gluten-free! In gluten-free cookies, we want to prevent as much spread as possible and avoid any ingredients that contribute to dryness.
Brown sugar and more specifically, light muscovado sugar, will add moisture and keep your cookies more compact plus it’s more acidic and will help your cookies puff up instead of flattening out.
Overall light brown sugar will add moisture, texture, colour and flavour to your gluten-free cookies.
Try and keep additional ingredients like chocolate chips, nuts and dried fruit to a minimum.
Including too many additions in too high a quantity can disrupt the structure of your dough. Without enough structure, your cookies may overly spread in the oven or turn out flat.
5 Baking Tips For Gluten-free and Vegan Cookies
1. Swap cup measures for electric scales
I can not emphasise enough how important accurate measurements are for GF baking. Gluten-free bakes are very temperamental and careful measurements will help you minimise the chance of a failed bake. The most accurate way to measure your ingredients is with digital scales and to measure by weight (grams or ounces) rather than volume (cups).
As an example, gluten-free flour absorbs more moisture than wheat flour and if you pack your cup measurements to the brim you may end up with dry cookies. Weighing your flour to the gram will help prevent this.
I know that may seem intimidating but once you start using electric scales you’ll never look back.
2. Fridge your dough before you bake
Gluten-free cookie dough should always go in the fridge before baking as it tends to spread excessively in the oven. In these small bakes, the butter/marg will melt quickly and without gluten, to reign, everything in you can end up with one giant cookie instead of one dozen.
Place your cookie dough in the fridge for 30mins – 1 hour before baking. This will solidify the source of fat and temper spreading. An overnight fridge step will also soften the flour and help prevent grittiness in cookies.
3. Low & slow
In general gluten-free cookies are baked should be baked at a lower temperature and therefore need longer in the oven. A lower temperature means your cookies won’t burn or dry out in the oven and a longer bake time aids in the development of crumb structure in the absence of gluten and prevents crumbling.
160C/320F for 18-20 minutes is a good place to start.
4. Bake one tray at a time
Baking one tray of cookies at a time may seem like a nuisance but it can be helpful in more than one way.
Firstly baking more than one tray at a time will mean that one tray will cook faster than the other and you’ll end up with one batch of overbaked cookies (dry and brittle) and one batch of underbaked cookies (doughy and pale).
Baking one tray of cookies at a time also means that if something has gone wrong with your dough, you’ll have the chance to fix it before baking the second batch. For example, if your cookies spread too much, you can send the second batch of cookie dough back to the fridge for 30 minutes before baking.
5. Let them cool!
Your gluten-free cookies should be STONE COLD before you handle them. The gluten-free crumb structure is very delicate and will continue to form while your cookies are cooling.
Always leave your cookies on the tray to cool completely before moving them otherwise you will end up with crumbs!
Gluten-free and Vegan Cookie Troubleshooting
If you’ve done any gluten-free baking you know that a successful bake can often be elusive. With no gluten, eggs or dairy you might think the perfect cookies are beyond you. I can assure you incredible gluten-free cookies are within reach. Let’s tackle some of the most frequently asked questions for troubleshooting gluten-free cookies.
Do gluten-free cookies take longer to bake?
Yes. Baking at a lower temperature is the best practice when baking gluten-free cookies. A lower temperature means your cookies will therefore need longer in the oven. See the Low & Slow tip for more.
Why are my gluten-free cookies falling apart?
You didn’t use a binder. Xanthan gum is an excellent stand-in for gluten and eggs as a binder, without it, free-from cookies tend to crumble. If you’re opposed to xanthan gum you can try a flax egg (1 Tbsp. ground flax with 2.5 Tbsp. water) but the results are not as fail-safe.
You didn’t let your cookies cool completely before removing them from the tray. Gluten-free cookies are a little more fragile than their gluten-containing counterparts. Allowing them to cool on the tray, allows them to fully set. If you skip this step you may find they completely crumble when moved.
Why are my gluten-free cookies dry?
There are several reasons your cookies are turning out too dry.
Gluten-free flour absorbs more moisture than wheat flour and as a result, gluten-free cookie dough should be very soft when it’s just been mixed. The flour in the dough will continue to absorb moisture and the dough will stiffen as it rests. When measuring out your flour, accuracy is key and if you pack flour into cup measurements, you may end up with dry, crumbly cookies. Invest in electric scales and start using weight measurements rather than volume. Weighing to the gram will ensure you don’t add too much flour and stop cookies from turning out dry.
If you’ve already baked a tray of cookies and they turned out too dry add 1-2 tablespoons of non-dairy milk to your remaining cookie dough before baking your second tray.
Dry cookies can also be the result of leaving them in the oven too long. 18 – 20 minutes at 160C is usually the sweet spot.
Can I use oats in my gluten-free cookies?
Oats are naturally gluten-free but are often grow and processed alongside gluten-containing grains and can be easily contaminated. As long as your oats are certified gluten-free you can use them in your cookies.
How to make gluten-free cookies less gritty?
A gritty texture in your bakes is likely coming from rice flour, either in your store-bought gluten-free flour or one you’ve mixed yourself. Sourcing a super fine brown and white rice flour will significantly improve the texture of your bakes or have a go at baking your cookies with a different brand of gluten-free all-purpose flour.
Jump to the flour section for more on how to prevent this from happening.
Why did my cookies spread so much in the oven?
In small bakes like cookies, the butter/margarine in the dough will melt quickly and without gluten to hold everything together, excessive spreading can occur.
Fridge your cookie dough for 30mins – 1 hour before baking to solidify the source of fat and prevent spreading. An overnight fridge step will also soften the flour and help prevent grittiness in cookies.
Adding too much white sugar to your dough or using oil instead of butter/margarine can also cause the cookies to spread.
That’s a wrap!
Whether you’re new to gluten-free, vegan baking or have years of experience I’d love to hear from you! Comment below and let me know if try any of these tips or if you have any of your own.
Thanks for visiting!