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Giant Vegan Chocolate Chunk Cookies

by on February 14, 2012 · 25 comments

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.

Vegan Big Johns

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.

El Oro

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.

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Published on February 14, 2012

{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

Sue February 14, 2012 at 11:43 am

As a non vegan, I have to say these look intriguing even though they’re vegan. I like that while they have special ingredients, they don’t have weird ingredients.

Vegyogini February 14, 2012 at 12:00 pm

Thank you for posting a vegan cookie recipe! I know you do that every so often and I always appreciate it. Earth Balance is also sold as sticks (I bake with them) that you can find at Whole Foods.

Adam February 14, 2012 at 12:06 pm

As a lazy person who is a non vegan :), I think I will de-veganize these in a few areas. But since I don’t think I’ve used applesauce as an egg substitute in cookies before (definitely as a butter sub in quick breads) I’m quite interested to try it out :).

Anna February 14, 2012 at 1:14 pm

Well it looks like I’m going to have to make a special trip to Whole Foods for the Earth Balance sticks. The spread works well, but I’m wondering if the sticks would help give the cookies a denser, heavier, texture. The Big Johns also have kind of a red hue, so I’m wondering if they use a darker evaporated cane juice or even Sucanet. Not sure. And what’s up with the corn syrup? I don’t have a problem with corn syrup since the brand I buy is just plain corn syrup and doesn’t contain HFC, but that seems like something Whole Foods wouldn’t sell or use, unless there’s a special Whole Foods approved brand of corn syrup.

mrsblocko February 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm

I am going to remember that tip about baking with applesauce. I made some vegan cookies the other day that used applesauce, and I’m certain if I had gotten a bit of the excess water out they would have turned out better.

Lisa Ernst February 14, 2012 at 2:51 pm

I too appreciate the applesauce tip. I have had my share of rubbery baked goods when using pureed fruit as an egg sub. The chocolate, which I’m not familiar with, looks quite intriguing and I plan to look for it!

a@bigcitykitchen February 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm

I’m not vegan but often bake like one. My husband is lactose intolerant and some of the vegan recipes I’ve tried are a bit healthier and taste fantastic.

These cookies look great…

Darlene February 14, 2012 at 4:25 pm

I love how you placed the cookies on a sheet of notebook paper to show their size and the awesome tip about concentrating applesauce. Hope you and your family are having a great Valentine’s Day!

Kathy February 15, 2012 at 9:35 am

How crucial is the evaporated cane juice crystals? Could I just sub with brown sugar?

Anna February 15, 2012 at 9:53 am

Kathy, that is a great question. I think the best substitution would be regular granulated sugar. Evaporated cane juice is tan in color and has a little more flavor than regular, but it’s texture is granulated.

Louise February 15, 2012 at 4:56 pm

Sadly, we are without a Whole Foods so I’ve never tried this cookie, but I’m going to get my hands on the chocolate.

TG February 18, 2012 at 1:10 pm

excellent tip about draining the applesauce!

d February 22, 2012 at 10:01 am

I went to Whole Foods yesterday to try one of these and they don’t carry them. They said it must be a regional thing. I live in Salt Lake. Bummer.

Jennie March 20, 2012 at 10:00 pm

This is amazing! I’ve wondered a MILLION times how to make them. d, they only sell these delicious cookies at the Whole Foods in downtown Austin. I can’t imagine a day when they stop selling them (or we move) so I’m filing this recipe! It is absolutely the best dessert I’ve ever tasted. I discovered them while nursing my son when I had to cut out dairy…I might become vegan just because of this cookie…yum!

Anna March 21, 2012 at 7:44 am

Hi Jennie,

Let me know if you try them. I’ve made them several times now and the recipe usually works. The only time I had problems was when I used slightly more sugar and Lindt extra smooth chocolate. Sometimes the extra smooth or fast-melting chocolates cause cookies to spread. One thing I’d advise is to bake one round of dough first. If the dough bakes up nicely, bake the other. If it comes out flat, add a little more flour to the remaining dough.

d March 21, 2012 at 5:54 pm

Jennie- wow, the best dessert you’ve ever tasted! Hmmm, might have to spring for these vegan ingredients!

Sarah April 17, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Yeah! I emailed you a long time ago to see if you’d ever thought about trying to copycat this recipe. We buy these weekly as our splurge… can’t wait to try and make them ourselves! I talked to a lady in the WF bakery and she told me that they’re named Big John after WF’s founder, John Mackey. They only sell them at the Lamar store in Austin. :) Another thing she told me is that the cookie dough truffle at the Lamar WF is Big John dough dipped in chocolate. Yum.

Anna April 17, 2012 at 6:58 pm

Good luck, Sarah! Let me know how they turn out. You can find the special chocolate at Spec’s or just use plain chocolate chips. I hope they work out for you.

Lindsey June 22, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Hi!

So excited to have found this recipe! I plan on making these for a 4th of July party. I have a couple of questions: What brand of applesauce do you use? And also, about how many cookies will this recipe make? Also, if I do use corn syrup, about how much would you suggest?

Thanks!

Anna June 22, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Hi Lindsey,

Feel free to email me if you have any more questions, but I can tell you the yield was fairly small since I was making very large cookies. I think it was a around 8 to 10 cookies, but I can’t remember. For the applesauce, I just use a grocery store brand of unsweetened — nothing fancy.

Some things I found along the way were that the tub style Earth Balance, straight out of the tub and cold, worked best. Also, the cookies spread less when I used chocolate chips instead of the fancy chocolate. However, if you can find the special chocolate from Ecuador the flavor is worth it. And finally, cookies made with chilled dough were (as usual) thicker. Let me know how it goes. I was obsessed with these cookies and kept making variations, so I never nailed down the exact version I wanted to stick with.

Angela July 8, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Awesome! Thanks for posting this. I dream about these cookies… they really are that good. So nice to be able to make these at home. And in a few months, they’ll make great holiday cookies too :)

Ashley July 27, 2012 at 9:23 pm

These cookies are awesome but I’m scared to ask..how many calories?

Anna July 27, 2012 at 9:39 pm

Hi Ashley,
just add up the calories in all the ingredients and divide by the yield. For a lower calorie cookie, make them smaller. For a higher calorie cookie, make them larger. If you’re counting calories, try Mastercook software. You put the recipe in and it figures out the calories for you. Email me if you have any more questions :).

mary April 1, 2013 at 2:24 pm

SOOOOOO excited to find this. I walk from my office downtown (on congress) to whole foods JUST to get one of these cookies to eat on the walk back. I am not vegan (or vegetarian even) but the Big John cookie is wonderful…and possibly made w/ an unknown addictive substance. can’t wait to trythis at home!

Anna April 1, 2013 at 3:56 pm

I hope you like it, Mary! Good luck finding the special chocolate, because I think that’s the key.

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