Thick & Chewy Nutella Protein Cookies – A Guest Post by Erica
Today I bring you guys a guest post from one of my favorite food bloggers out there: Erica. She’s an animal, literally and metaphorically – a proper beast. I found her blog a couple of years ago and, since then, every time I log on to her blog I’m absolutely mesmerized by her food. It’s creative, exciting and always knee-weakeningly gorgeous. Erica is an amateur boxer, powerlifter, software developer, mastercook, and a wizard (or wizardness) at cooking with protein powder – beef protein that is. Please do bookmark her blog (click here to access it) and make her food. Your tastebuds, husband, wife, children, friends, neighbors, and whoever you share it with really, will greatly appreciate it. Oh and follow Erica on facebook too! Here’s her page; say hi! OK OK, enough from me. Here’s Erica! bringing you guys not only this crazy recipe but also some phenomenal protein intel:
Hey everyone. Erica here! I have some news: I discovered the secret to making low-carb gluten-free baked goods that are moist, seriously chewy, and hold together without crumbling. These cookies are sugar-free, grain-free, gluten-free, dairy-free, and taste like Nutella. Instead of using the commercial sugary spread, I based the cookies on hazelnut butter with some cocoa added. I just made the hazelnut butter myself in the food processor, it’s super easy to do. Though if you don’t have a food processor I included some variations at the end. These are thick and chewy; not soft, pasty, or crumbly like many gluten-free recipes. I’m sure you’ll love them as much as I did. Their secret lies in protein powder. Not whey, not hemp, not even a proprietary blend called “xtreme anabolic intra-workout matrix” (you know what I’m talking about, you read the labels). Nope, none of those will do. The magic ingredient? Beef protein isolate.
Beef protein?! “Wohohoa!!!”, you might be thinking. At least, that’s what Anna said (err, typed) when I told her that’s what I use. So that’s why I’m making this guest post. But let me back up a bit. What compelled me to start putting beef protein powder in my baked goods in the first place? It started out with a simple desire for lemon squares. I tried making a low-carb recipe for those with an almond flour crust. They were lemony, but they were NOT squares. It was more like crumbled up lemon almond dust. Knowing a little bit about protein, I thought that perhaps protein powder might be the solution.
To summarize, protein is often in the form of tightly-coiled little bundles. When they are somehow denatured, often by heating, they start to unwind. It’s as though you have lots of sticky little noodles that bump into each other, forming a net that holds together and traps in moisture. That’s why egg whites are liquid and clear when raw, but hard and opaque when cooked: they’re opaque because light can’t pass through the matrix of unbound tangled-up proteins. Protein might be the answer – after all, gluten is a type of wheat protein. So I tried adding some protein powder. I tried whey. I tried casein. I tried egg white powder. None of those worked! They were all sandy and still crumbly. I was sad, because I just wanted a low-carb lemon square dammit!! Is that so much to ask?? I cracked open my trusty ol’ copy of On Food And Cooking(Harold McGee is basically a black belt in food science). In a chapter about protein coagulation, he writes:
“The wheat proteins that form gluten when flour is mixed with water are a kind of protein that absorbs considerable amounts of water but doesn’t dissolve, because many fat-like groups along their molecules bond with each other, hold the proteins together, and exclude water. Similarly, the proteins that make up the contracting muscle fibers in meat are held together by ionic and other bonds. On the other hand, many of the proteins in milk and eggs are quite soluble.“
Wait a minute. So wheat protein = doesn’t dissolve in water. Egg and dairy protein = water soluble. But BEEF protein…water insoluble?! I’d seen this stuff for sale at True Nutrition. Maybe this could be my answer?
I kept reading, and formed a theory about replacing gluten with beef protein isolate (BPI) in baking:
1) Gluten continues to absorb water, and as it denatures, it forms thick juicy rope-y strands in your dough or batter. It holds together baked goods, keeping them from crumbling and making them chewy and moist. Since BPI is water-insoluble like gluten, maybe I’d get a similar effect!
2) Starch in wheat flour also absorbs water and gelatinizes (think about the slimy layer of starch you get on your pots after boiling pasta). The gluten protein matrix helps hold in the gooey-textured starch. This helps keep baked goods nice and moist. Collagen proteins in meat also form gelatin in the presence of heat + water. Maybe BPI could help here as well?
I couldn’t test out my theory in fancy a lab, but I CAN bake cookies! So that’s what I did. I’ve had a lot of success using BPI in baked goods — it works great in any of Anna’s brownie recipes! And I finally got my @#%$ lemon squares. But today I’m going to share a cookie recipe:
1 cup hazelnuts (I bought two little bags of chopped hazelnuts in the baking section, each bag said it was a half cup)
1 tablespoons coconut oil
1 scoop unflavored beef protein isolate (or vanilla or banana)
2 tablespoons dutch processed cocoa powder such as Hershey’s Special Dark
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (can omit if you’re using vanilla protein powder)
Sweetener of choice – to taste (note: my protein powder was unsweetened so I used 2 tablespoons Truvia that I powdered in a coffee grinder).
Optional but highly recommended: 4 squares dark chocolate (about 1.5 oz), chopped or broken into chunks
1. Set the oven rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Powder the BPI in a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or blender (I’ve found that it doesn’t mix well and this is an essential step when cooking with BPI). Set aside.
3. Heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the hazelnuts and toast, stirring and shaking the pan often, until nuts are fragrant and start to brown. Do NOT burn!
4. While the nuts are still warm, transfer them to a food processor with the coconut oil. Process for a long time, stopping to scrape down the bowl as needed, until you have a creamy hazelnut butter. In the interim it will be a chunky mess and you will think, “This isn’t working, it’s never going to turn into hazelnut butter”. Trust me: just keep dutifully scraping and blending and press on.
5. Blend in the BPI, sweetener if using, egg, cocoa powder, vanilla, baking soda, and ½ tsp salt until thoroughly incorporated. Taste and add more sweetener if you’d like. Then carefully pulse in the chocolate chunks; pulse just enough to get them incorporated.
6. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (this is KEY, otherwise they will stick). Use a heaping tablespoon to divide the dough into 6 big lumps (you’ll have a little extra cookie dough for munching). Wet the tines of a fork or the bottom of a drinking glass with water and use it to press a dough ball flat. Repeat with each cookie, re-dipping in water each time.
7. Bake at 350 F for 6-8 minutes or until just solid. Do NOT overbake!
8. Sprinkle with coarse sea salt while still warm. Let cool and serve!
1. Use 8 oz pre-made hazelnut butter or any other nut butter instead of making your own. Almond butter would be tasty.
2. Make thick chewy peanut butter cookies! Use 8 oz creamy peanut butter, omit the cocoa, and use ½ cup chopped roasted peanuts instead of chocolate chunks.
3. Use 8 oz Justin’s chocolate hazelnut butter (about half a jar like this) and omit the hazelnuts, coconut oil, cocoa, and sweetener.
Macros per cookie (out of 6):
4g carbs (out of which 3g is fiber)