Hospitality is a strange word.
Strange, at least, for someone like me who has spent a good deal of her childhood in and out of hospitals. Back then, I always thought it seemed strange to associate such an admirable quality with a place that meant sharp needles, stark walls, and cold rooms with a distinct antiseptic smell. Hospitals usually shooed away visitors, sometimes discouraging them from staying too long by rationing the number of extra chairs in a room. Why then, wondered my eight-year-old brain, does “hospitality” mean the friendly and generous reception and entertainment of guests, visitors, or strangers?
English can be such a curious language sometimes. Or so thinks this non-native English speaker.
I’ve been sickly most of my life, but the past year and a half have been a rare period of vigor and health. I attribute part of this newfound heartiness to an altered diet. I’ve been trying to be more mindful of what I eat, and just as importantly, what I don’t eat. And the biggest component of that latter group is gluten, which I’ve confirmed—with great reluctance and sorrow (rending of garments and gnashing of teeth may have been involved)—to be the cause of many of my former “mysterious” ailments.
So what does that have to do with hospitality? See, I have this friend. Her name is Savannah. She’s a new friend who almost immediately felt like an old friend. And when Savannah learned I had a problem with gluten, she took it upon herself to make sure I would always have something to eat whenever there was a gathering at their house. She’d even ask her mom to modify the menu if she felt there weren’t enough gluten-free items in the spread.
And then she’d make these cookies.
When I first tried them, I immediately asked her what flour substitute she used. Most gluten-free cookies I’ve had were acceptable, but you could tell they were … different. These cookies? They’re chewy and dense, but not heavy in any way. In fact, they’re almost fluffy. And the crumb? Just like regular cookies made with flour. So I was intrigued, to say the least. What was her secret? What genius combination of gluten-free flours or grains did she use?
None, she said. No coconut flour, no almond flour, no oat flour, no something-flour. Not peanut butter, no almond butter. No whipped egg whites, either—the whole batch only calls for 2 whole eggs. Was it some kind of modernist ingredient that called for powders synthesized in a lab? Would I need a sous vide machine? Was liquid nitrogen somehow involved? (Admittedly, part of me hoped it was, so I’d have a reason to play with it.) Nope. Just regular, all-natural pantry ingredients: butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla, cocoa powder, baking soda, and chocolate chips.
Savannah did more than just share the recipe with me: she came over to my house and showed me how to make them. The ingredient list reveals the secret to these cookies: cocoa powder replaces ALL of the flour you would normally use in a cookie recipe. That’s not a typo in the recipe; you really use an entire cup of cocoa powder. Which explains the deep, rich chocolate flavor in every bite.
When we finally baked off the final batch of cookies, Savannah sighed and said, “Oh no. Now you won’t need me to make you gluten-free cookies anymore.” I smiled and assured her I will always want her to make cookies for me. After all, as amazing as they are, they’re just cookies. No matter how incredible and cocoa-packed they may be, their greatest value will still be in reminding me how grateful Tom and I should be to have such warm and hospitable friends who feed us well and readily welcome us into their family, their home, and their community.
Fudgy Flourless Cookies
Makes 24 cookies
In a bowl, whisk together cocoa powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and both sugars. Make sure sugar is completely dissolved and mixture is soft, not gritty. Add eggs and vanilla, and continue to beat until smooth, light and fluffy.
Slowly add cocoa mixture, adding in small increments to avoid creating a dust cloud of chocolate. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a cloud of chocolate.) Keep mixing, scraping down the sides of the bowl intermittently, until all dry ingredients have been added and cookie batter is smooth. Remember: there is no gluten in this recipe, so there’s no danger of overheating it and ending up with tough cookies.
Gently mix in chocolate chips or chunks and nuts, if using. Cover batter and refrigerate at least 30 minutes, or up to overnight.
When oven temperature reaches 350ºF, take cookie batter out of the refrigerator. Using a 1-tablespoon cookie scoop, portion out cookies, about 12 to a sheet, spacing them 2 inches apart. Return remaining batter to the refrigerator.
Bake cookies 10 minutes, then remove from oven. Leave cookies on the sheet for a minute before carefully transferring to a cooling rack. Cookies will be very soft, but will set as they cool. Continue baking remaining cookies.
Store in an airtight container. Cookies remain soft and chewy for days.