A few weeks ago, I used friends and family as pilot testers for some cookies labeled Batch A and Batch B. If they wanted to try one of the chocolate chip cookies being offered, they had to try two, one from each plate...and then they had to give me their feedback. The things you have to go through when you come to my house!
I had played around with substituting oil for part of the butter in a few cookie recipes before Christmas, but I decided it was time to do some "scientific" testing of the experiments.
With eggs at their seasonal high prices right now (and for those of us who may run out of this "essential" baking ingredient at just the wrong time), I also started with a recipe that had no eggs at all. The oil version would end up as a vegan choice that I knew some of my friends would also appreciate, so I could kill two birds with one stone--though that is probably a poor choice of metaphor for a vegan recipe!
To make the oil v. butter testing work, I mixed the recipe up twice, once with oil for the fat, once with butter. There was no added salt in either recipe, even though I used "sweet cream butter" (which includes salt) in the butter batch. Based on some of the comments, a quarter teaspoon of salt (no more) might be a good addition to the oil-based cookies.
I had to work very hard to keep track of which batch was which, since, as you can see from the photos, there is very little difference in appearance in either the batter or the baked results. It did seem as though the oil cookies browned more quickly than those made with butter--and I baked the pans side by side in the oven so they got exactly the same amount of time. Amazingly, I ended up with 60 oil-containing cookies and 59 butter-containing cookies. (Since my drop cookies tend not to be as uniform as I would like, I surprised myself with the uniform outcome!)
As for the test results? These are definitely not the very buttery, very rich chocolate chip cookies that many of us may be accustomed to, but they are still homemade, with a nice crunch and overall great flavor. Both were well-received, with only one or two people noting any preference. The butter cookies were the winners when there was a choice, but it seemed as though the blandness of the lower salt content was probably the main factor.
One more thing: Cost. Six cups of oil are in a rather standard size bottle of oil, and I can get this right now at Aldi for a regular price well under $3, less than 50 cents a cup. Even when on sale, butter is going to be at least $1 a cup, so there is a significant cost difference between the two recipes just in the fat ingredient. Other savings I was able to realize on these included getting the chocolate chips and nuts when they were featured as pre-holiday baking specials and making my own applesauce from the orchard apples I buy as seconds in the fall. Obviously, prices change continuously, but the oil recipe cookies came out to about $2.75 for the entire batch, or 55 cents a dozen. If I had made them without nuts, they would have been only $2.00, or 40 cents a dozen--not bad for snacks these days.
Vegan (or Almost Vegan) Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 c butter OR canola oil
1 c sugar
1 c unsweetened applesauce
1/2 t vanilla
2 c flour
1/2 c wheat germ (optional)
1 t soda
1/2 t cinnamon (optional)
1 c (6 oz) semisweet chocolate chips
1/2 c chopped walnuts (optional)
1. Combine the softened butter or oil with the sugar, applesauce, and vanilla. Beat until smooth and fluffy.
2. Stir together the flour, wheat germ, soda, and cinnamon and fold into applesauce mixture. Mix just until well blended.
3. Fold in the chocolate chips and nuts.
4. Drop by tablespoons full on to an oiled baking sheet. Since the dough is quite thick, you may want to flatten each cookie slightly. Bake at 350 for about 7 to 9 minutes, until the center of a cookie springs back just slightly when touched.
This makes about 4 1/2 to 5 dozen cookies. Store them tightly covered.
Test Kitchen Results: