Happy Valentine’s Day! As a gift to you, I’m sharing a recipe for a cookie inspired by one from Whole Foods. If you’ve ever heard of their “Vegan Big Johns”, then you know what I’m talking about. They are chewy, 5 1/2 inch round, chocolate chunk oatmeal cookies sold in the bakery. While they happen to be very reasonably priced, I don’t make it downtown to Whole Foods as much as I’d like and wanted to try making a copy cat version at home. While the texture is not exactly the same, this version is really close and has some of the same key flavors. The fact that it’s vegan is just a bonus! Oh, and the real VGB is the one on the left.
The cookies are super easy to make, but you do have to track down some special ingredients.
First, you need the right chocolate. Vegan Big Johns are stuffed with Oro Chocolate Ribbons. Apparently “ribbons” are just the shape of the chunks sold by Guittard, and “El Oro” is a single origin chocolate named after a region in Ecuador known for its mines. While I wasn’t patient enough to mail order the ribbons, I did find a big block of actual El Oro chocolate at Spec’s. It has a very distinctive flowery/fruit/tobacco flavor, and it may be one of the reasons Big Johns are so popular.
Another ingredient is soy margarine, and this one has me somewhat perplexed. The only “soy margarine” I have been able to find is Willow Run, which is good for baking but has trans fats. I can’t imagine Whole Foods would use an ingredient with trans fats, so the only alternative was Earth Balance Buttery Spread used cold, right out of the tub. It did add a distinctive flavor to the cookies that matched Big Johns, plus I liked that I could use it right out of the tub without having to soften it.
The sugars used are dark brown sugar and evaporated cane juice crystals, the latter of which can be found in either the bulk section or the sugar section. It’s a less processed sugar, so it’s tan. As for the dark brown sugar, I used Domino for this batch, but I’m also experimenting with organic brown sugar which is moister and highly flavored. The ones with Domino are actually turning out a little better.
Corn syrup. Big Johns call for corn syrup — not much, because it’s one of the last ingredients and comes right before salt. I left it out since I’ve been making small batches. It may be part of the key in getting the bendy, chewy, texture of actual Big Johns, but when I tried adding a tiny amount to one of my small batches, it didn’t seem to do anything for the texture. So right now I’m leaving it out.
Applesauce is also on the ingredient list as well. Whenever I use applesauce as an egg substitute, I drained it first to remove the water. Removing the water from applesauce leaves you with more actual fruit and less steam producing, rubbery-baked-goods-making, water.
For the flour I used King Arthur brand all-purpose. I mention the brand because KA is known to have a little more protein and gives cookies a nice structure (in some cases). Without the eggs, these need all the help they can get, right? Ha.
And finally, the oats. I used old fashioned in some and quick in others and kind of preferred the old fashioned.
So here’s the recipe! If you try it, let me know how it goes. If you’re a fan of Big Johns, even better, because you know how they’re supposed to taste.
I’ve only been making these using weights. As I measured, I checked the volume and wrote it next to the grams, but volume is sketchy when measuring cold tub margarine, flour and brown sugar. So use a scale if you’ve got one. If you don’t have a scale, stop by tomorrow because I’m going to host a giveaway from a scale company.
Here we go. Note: I’ve updated it a tiny bit since I first posted it. I subtracted a few grams of sugar and added 6 grams of flour.
Giant Vegan Chocolate Chip Cookies – Copycat Big John’s Vegan
56 grams (1/4 cup) drained applesauce (directions below)
120 grams Earth Balance buttery spread, right out of the tub (1/2 cup) or 1 (4 oz stick)**
56grams evaporated cane juice crystals (1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons)
56 grams dark brown sugar (1/4 cup plus 2 teaspoons)
1 teaspoon vanilla
126 grams all-purpose flour (1 cup)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 scant teaspoon salt
40 grams oatmeal (little less than 1/2 cup)
114 grams (4 ounces) of Oro Chocolate Ribbon or El Oro Chocolate (67%) cut into chunks
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F convection or 350 F. normal oven.
Line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
Drain the applesauce if you haven’t already. See instructions below.
With the whisk attachment of a stand mixer, beat the buttery spread and both sugars together until mixed. Batter will be a little lumpy, but that’s okay. Beat in the vanilla and drained applesauce. When well-mixed, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt and stir gently into the batter. Stir in the oats, followed by the chocolate chunks (or ribbons, if you can get them).
Shape the dough into 4 equal large balls. You should probably bake 1 first to nail down the bake time, then bake the others once you’ve determined the time. So put one ball on the baking sheet, press it down slightly just enough to flatten the top a little, then bake for 15 minutes or until edges are brown and center appears set (though it will be much lighter than the edges). If using a regular oven, the time will probably be close to 18 minutes, but it’s hard to say. Let cool completely on the baking sheet, then carefully remove. Chill to set the chocolate. Bring back to room temperature and serve. You can skip all of the chilling if you want, but I think the cookies taste best after they’ve sat around for a while.
*Drain the applesauce first. You’re only going to use 1/4 cup, but you’ll need to start with about ½ cup. Dump the applesauce on a stack of paper towels and using the back of a spoon, rub it into a 6 inch circle. Let it sit for about 10 minutes. Gently press as much water out of it as you can. When ready to use, scoop up 4 tablespoons or 1/4 cup.