Vegan This: The Girl Scout Tagalong Cookie

 The Tagalong cookie gets a whole new nutritional label.

I was recently in the midst of a true food challenge. I’m talking about the kind that covers kitchens in batter. If I were going to share the inner perils and pleasures of veganizing and gluten-freeing a cookie, I thought, why not start with the ultimate? The snack that touts the highest of all cookie claims: “To help girls do great things” – from, you guessed it, the Girl Scouts.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2008, more than one-third of children and adolescents were overweight or obese. And, this number is only increasing. Just read a Girl Scout Cookie’s nutrition facts, and the irony is, it’s chock full of heart-clogging ingredients, like partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, a trans fat. The kind that lead to less healthy children who are at early onset risk of chronic diseases like diabetes.

While the Girl Scouts have touted their cookies as being trans fat free – something they can get away with if a single serving has less than .5 grams of this artery stifling substance – the Chicago Tribune revealed that Girl Scout Tagalongs, Samoas and Thin Mints still contain trans fats. In the case of Tagalongs, eat one sleeve (five cookies) and you’ll most likely be taking in more than one gram of trans fat – a number directly linked to increased levels of harmful cholesterol (LDL) and a rise in risk for heart disease, stroke and type II diabetes. The even greater irony is that the Girl Scouts themselves have published a research review on childhood obesity titled “Weighing in: Helping Girls be Healthy Today, Healthy Tomorrow”.

The idea to transform this classic cookie into a vegan and gluten-free delight, but also to make it healthier was a task I was willing to accept.

To make this occasion less daunting, I started with an already vegan version of the Girl Scout Tagalongs, compliments of vegan bloggers and inspirers Annie and Dan Shannon and VegNews.

Here’s their mix:

For the Cookie Base
•    1 cup vegan margarine
•    1/2 cup sugar
•    2-1/4 cups flour
•    1/4 teaspoon ground flaxseed
•    1 teaspoon vanilla
•    1/2 teaspoon salt
•    1 tablespoon applesauce
•    2 tablespoons vanilla soymilk

For the Peanut Butter Filling
•    1 cup powdered sugar
•    1/2 cup chunky natural peanut butter
•    1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Chocolate Coating
•    1 10-ounce bag vegan chocolate chips

It’s already a whole lot healthier than the Girl Scout’s original. But never shying from a goal, I vowed to make these gluten, peanut and soy-free cookies packed with other heart healthy ingredients.

On par with it’s peanut counterpart, almond butter is known as a high source of protein, particularly for vegetarians, and as a good way to get healthy, unsaturated fats. In fact, almond butter has half the saturated fat content of peanut butter, with just one gram per ounce. It also also packs extra doses of vitamin E, a free radical fighter that keeps our cells youthful and healthy, while being rich in fiber.

Here’s the revamped recipe:

Makes approximately 24 cookies

For the Cookie Base
•    ¾ cup sorghum flour
•    ¾ cup brown rice flour
•    ½ cup almond flour
•    ¼ cup tapioca flour
•    1 cup vegan butter (I like Earth Balance Coconut Spread)
•    ½ unbleached, granulated cup sugar
•    ¼ teaspoon ground flax seeds
•    1 teaspoon vanilla (plus a little extra if you love vanilla)
•    ½ teaspoon salt
•    1 tablespoon applesauce
•    2 tablespoons almond milk

For the Almond Butter Filling
•    1 cup powdered sugar
•    ½ cup almond butter (I used a smooth blend, but you can use chunky if preferred)
•    1/8 teaspoon salt

For the Chocolate Coating
•    10 ounces of vegan dark chocolate (I used 64% Valrhona chocolate)

1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. In a stand mixer or a medium bowl with an electric handheld mixer, cream the vegan butter and sugar. Add the flour, flaxseed, vanilla, salt, applesauce, and almond milk, and blend until dough is smooth.

2. In a cookie press without a form or simply with your hands, roll the dough into a uniform tube. Slice into 1/4-inch wafers. On a cookie sheet covered in aluminum foil, bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Remove and place on a wire cooling rack.

3. In a large bowl, mix the powdered sugar, almond butter, and salt. With your hands, use roughly 1 tablespoon of mixture to form small balls and gently press on top of each cookie.  (You may need to add almond milk to the mix if it’s too dry. If so, slowly add teaspoon by teaspoon until the mixture is moist but firm enough to form into small balls.)

4. In a double broiler, melt the chocolate. Once the chocolate is fully melted, drop cookies into the chocolate-filled dish one at a time, using a spoon to pour chocolate over the top and coat evenly.

5. Place the chocolate-coated cookies on a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  When all are coated, chill cookies in refrigerator for 2 hours or until the chocolate is fully hardened around the cookie. Enjoy!

When I shared these with my boyfriend, the first words out of his cookie-crumbled mouth were “These are beautiful!”

A friend declared them as light and buttery, and another friend called them “decadently rich.”  All three exclamations were from the discerning taste buds of non-vegan and full-on wheat eaters. And because this treat is nutritionally denser than their original counterparts, you needn’t eat a whole stack of cookies to feel satisfied.  Eat one, and you just may feel full. Eat two, and you’ll still be able to button your pants.

We’ll call these tasty, and, in Tagalong terms, a nutritional success.  Hopefully, so will you.

Image: Veg News

Jennifer Barckley

Jennifer currently resides in New York City where she covers eco fashion and beauty for EcoSalon.