Saturday, September 25, 2010

Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese Frosting


Apparently, the difference between a good cookie and an AMAZING cookie is cream cheese frosting.

Want to know something interesting, Internet? When I first started to suspect I had celiac disease, I was without health insurance, and thus without access to the expensive tests used to clinically diagnose the disease (blood tests, endoscopies, and genetic tests). So after talking it over with my doctor, we decided that the best thing for me to do would be to start a gluten free diet, and see what happened. So I did. And it was like a miracle. It was like all the health issues that had been plaguing me for years were magically lifted. My chronic GI problems were cured, my chronic pain and fatigue dissipated, My insomnia disappeared, my canker sores and tooth decay ceased, and of course, after a few months I got pregnant! After only a few weeks on the gluten free diet, I was supposed to do a gluten "challenge" and eat something with gluten to see if it had any effect on me. I ate a biscuit, and I almost immediately boated up, flushed, and felt the familiar GI pain, fatigue, and inflammation. It was the last gluten I ever ate. My doctor and I agreed that I most probably had celiac disease, and that I should stay on the diet until I once again had health insurance, and we could run all those expensive tests.

That day is today. A few weeks ago, I met with a gastroenterologist (say that 10 times fast), who also agreed that I most likely have celiac disease. However, because I have been on the gluten-free diet for so long (three years folks!) he warned me that it will most likely be very difficult to get a clinical diagnosis. By this time, my guts have probably healed, leaving little evidence of the disease behind. Two weeks ago, we did an endoscopy, and I learned that I do indeed have very healthy looking intestines. Yay? Am I happy that my guts are so good looking these days, or am I sad that getting a diagnosis is going to be so hard? Since my guts looked so good, I figured I would probably be getting some negative biopsy results back, and I wasn't sure where to go from there. Imagine my surprise when, by some strange twist of fate, my biopsies from that procedure were lost. The doctor was very embarrassed to inform me of the fact, said nothing like that had ever happened at that hospital before, and that he was very sorry, and would not charge my insurance for the procedure. Would I mind doing the procedure again?

Gobsmacked, I was talking to a friend of mine, a nurse, who said I was actually pretty lucky that the biopsies were lost: my insurance is less likely to approve any subsequent biopsies with a negative one on my record, making it that much harder to get a positive diagnosis. So, to increase my chances of getting a positive diagnosis this time around, I am doing what is called a "gluten challenge." Essentially, I am going to eat a TON of gluten for the next 30 days before my next biopsy. My hope is that it will cause enough damage to my upper GI tract to get a positive diagnosis. And if it doesn't? Well, at least I gave it my best shot. 30 days is really the minimum for a gluten-challenge, with some recommendations going from 3 months to 5 years! I am just not willing to go that long (it's HARD y'all), but 30 days I can do.

And honestly? I am having one hell of a last hurrah! First I had a crunch roll at my local sushi restaurant, liberally dunked in soy sauce. Then I had a chocolate doughnut. And then I ordered some Papa John's pizza. Since then I have been gobbling down every gluteny things i haven't been able to make for the last three years: cheese danishes! apple strudel! naan bread! Israeli couscous! Whole wheat sourdough sandwiches! Soba noodles! On doctor's orders, I have been STUFFING myself with gluten. I would love to say it feels good, or that everything tastes as good as I remembered or imagined, but honestly? It doesn't. None of this stuff is as good as I remembered (or maybe, as good as I had built it up to be in my rose colored memory). And NONE of it is worth the side effects: the bloating, the fatique, the GI pain, the inflammation, etc. etc. (ok, well, maybe the doughnuts) I am only on day 3, and I feel SO sick.

A unexpected and rather happy consequence of this challenge is that it has put to bed the nagging worry in the back if my mind that gluten-free food (especially baked goods) can never taste as good as gluteny food. I have always worried just a little bit that gluten-free cookies and cakes only taste good to me and my gluten-deprived tastebuds, and that other people are only being nice when they say my stuff tastes good. Since I can't compare, I can only take their word for it. I am happy to say, after eating quite a lot of longed-for and forbidden treats over the last few days, that gluten-free stuff can taste just as good, if not better than, gluten-based baked goods. If anything, wheat is actually quite bland tasting, and has much less flavor than gluten-free flours and flour mixes (which may be why some people recoil from gluten-free treats: it's not that it's bad, but it's different than what they have come to expect).

So when I say that this is an extraordinary cookie, I say that with no reservations or apologies. This in not just a good "gluten-free" cookie: It's a damn good cookie, gluten-free or not!


Oatmeal Sandwich Cookies with Vanilla Bean Cream Cheese
Adapted from Everyday Food, September 2010

You can totally swap in the gluten-free flours for all purpose wheat flour, as that is what is in the original recipe, so I am sure it works. I love using oat flour - it has a familiar taste that everyone recognizes, and in this recipe it works really well with the rolled oats and the vanilla bean speckles.

1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup white rice flour
1/2 cup Bob's Red Mill all purpose flour
2 tablespoons corn starch
pinch salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon molasses
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1.5 cups rolled oats (not quick cooking)
1/2 cup golden raisons

8oz cream cheese
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
6 tablespoons powdered sugar

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with oven racks in the upper and lower thirds. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, corn starch, salt, baking powder, baking soda, and cinnamon.

2. In an electric mixer, beat butter, brown sugar, and white sugar until fluffy and pale, 5 minutes. Add in vanilla, molasses, and eggs, mixing until just combined. Slowly add flour mixture, and mix until just combined. With a rubber spatula, fold in oats and raisins.

3. Drop dough in 1 LARGE tablespoonfool mounds on two baking sheets. Bake until cookies are just set at the edges, and slightly soft in the middle, about 11 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through. Let cookies cool on sheets, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely.

4. In mixer bowl, beat cream cheese, vanilla bean paste, and powdered sugar until light. spread filling on flat side of cookie, then sandwich with second cookie. Repeat. Enjoy!