During my recent excursion home I had the chance to spend a lot of time with my grandparents. My Grandma watched my sister and I a lot when we were little and, as a result, we ate a lot of her cooking. Some of it I still gag at, like cole slaw; but others I can’t get enough of and always gorge myself into a happy bliss on when I’m there, like her chili. One of my childhood favorites, as well as my Dad’s, was Grandma’s chocolate cookies. Widely being the most snuck cookie while Grandma wasn’t looking (though she seemed to always catch us anyway), I was determined to get her recipe and duplicate them for myself.
With recipe in hand, I went back home and started working on a multitude of cookies (as I had received some recipes from Ian’s mom as well). This weekend I got around to the chocolate cookies of yore. Following the recipes almost precisely (I always replace shortening with butter and adjust liquid quantities accordingly), I was sadden to discover that my cookie batter was not as dark as I remembered, nor did it taste as chocolaty as I remembered. Convincing myself that this was due to the fact that they had not been baked, I proceeded to pipe them out and bake. After 12 minutes at 375 degrees, I was still downtrodden at the results. The cookies were the right consistency; but what was wrong. It couldn’t have been the simple lack of the smell of Grandma’s house accompanied by the ever so elusive ingredient, nostalgia.
I looked over the recipe again and noted that it was not in Grandma’s writing. Ah ha! That must be the issue. Whoever wrote it down clearly messed up. I proceed to call Grandma to rectify this. “No, that’s right”, was the answer I received. I let out a huff and she continued, “but here is what I use to do differently.” The recipe calls for buttermilk, that not always being available, she would substitute 1 cup of milk plus 1 tbsp. of vinegar. The recipe also called for cocoa powder. While this is widely available today, it wasn’t always and for this reason Grandma usually replaced it with carob powder. Carob? What the heck is that? *Heads off to pour through her books*
Also known as St John’s Bread, carob is a native to the countries surrounding the Mediterranean Sea and the Middle East. While it has many uses, including as a medicine and adhesive, I was most interested in why it can be substituted for chocolate. Here is what I found.
Carob powder is used whenever a recipe calls for chocolate or cocoa. To replace carob for cocoa, simply use the same amount of carob. To replace chocolate with carob, use approximately three tablespoons of carob powder for each
square of chocolate that the recipe calls for. Carob can also be used as a sugar replacement. Carob powder is almost 50% natural sugar and can be used instead of sugar in virtually all bread and pastry products. Of course, using carob will result in chocolate-brown colored foods and will impart a vaguely chocolate-like flavor. Another reason to use carob is its unique flavor. It’s often referred to as a chocolate substitute, but carob does have its own unique flavor which lends itself well to shakes, malts, bread products, and even mixed into baked beans and barbecue sauces. Carob powder is somewhat reminiscent of chocolate; a fresh carob pod however, has a flavor more similar to dates.
Carob is so different nutritionally and chemically from chocolate that people allergic to chocolate can enjoy carob. Because it does not contain caffeine, theobromines, or other psychoactive substances, it is a hypoallergenic substitute. It is also an incredibly rich food source, and it perhaps the ideal “survival food” since it lasts a long time, requires no special storage conditions, and can be eaten with no preparations. It is rich in calcium, containing 352 mg. per 100 grams, contains small amounts of sodium and iron, is rich in vitamin A, the B vitamins, and many other minerals, and has no oxalic acid, as does chocolate, which tends to interfere with the body’s ability to assimilate calcium. Carob pods are about four percent protein and 76% carbohydrates. Although carob is very sweet, it contains 60% less calories than chocolate. Additionally, carob contains substantial phosphorus (81 mg. per 100
grams). *Information from Christopher Nyerges’ “Guide to Wild Foods”
Well now that I understand it a little better, let’s see if it makes the difference in Grandma’s chocolate cookies.