Some Thoughts on Holiday Baking

I’ve been doing a bit of holiday baking, putting together some traditional holiday cookie recipes for your GF (or not!) cookie swap.  If you’ve been with me for any amount of time, you know that my standards are that what we eat must be exceptionally delicious—no second-tier status for us gluten-free folk! 

At this time of year, I tend to relax my hardcore nutrition agenda just a bit, as of course feeding your spirit is nutritious too.  However, just a gentle reminder that when you do bake, it’s always a good idea to opt for the best quality possible, be it great butter, organic sugar, free range eggs, or, of course, organic whole-grain flours! 

Another little nudge: when you up your protein and whole grain consumption, you slow the sugar-absorption process—you know, that sugar high that leaves you crashing and feeling kind of crappy afterward.  If this feeling is part of your holiday tradition, go for it!  But if you want to mitigate a little, eat a good lunch before your cookie-feeding extravaganza.

In general, I’ve found that you can make just about any traditional cookie or bar gluten-free simply by switching out the flour.  And, make no mistake, good flour is everything to GF baking, so of course I strongly recommend using the high quality and unique formulation of Cooqi flours.  Following are a few recommendations I have for adapting your own family heirlooms:

• First, assess if this is a typical cookie or bar, or if it’s something more on the delicate side.  If the former, I recommend using Cooqi Multi-Purpose Flour; if the latter, use Cooqi Cake + Pastry Flour.  Either will work generally in a cup for cup fashion.

• Drop cookies (e.g., chocolate chip, oatmeal, and the like—the kind you drop the batter by spoonfuls onto the cookie sheet and bake) tend to be easiest to convert to gluten-free.  You should not need to change anything besides the flour, other than remember to not cream your butter and sugar, just mix them (fluffed butter leads to flat cookies with no gluten to hold them up).

• Shortbread-based cookies can be a little temperamental—shortbread is meant to be crumbly, but with GF ingredients, can be downright unworkable.  I find that adding one egg yolk per cup of flour in the recipe tends to offset this issue without changing the texture of the cookie too much.

• If you are trying to keep your baking egg-free, I recommend the flax trick (1T ground flax to 3T lukewarm water = 1 egg; use about half this to sub for a yolk), which typically works nicely in cookies for holding them together without imparting an overpowering taste.  However, flax will add a flecked effect to the appearance of your cookies.  I personally find this attractive and yummy looking, but certainly some children out there would strongly disagree with me on this point (try using the lighter variety—golden flax—to allay this concern).

• GF cookie dough that you will be rolling out and cutting with cookie cutters generally requires more flour than a traditional recipe calls for.  For example, if the recipe calls for 2 cups, I will typically use 2 ½ cups.  More flour makes your dough less sticky, more amenable to being rolled and cut, and also keeps the shape of the cookie better when it bakes.  Be careful not to go too far with this, however, as too much flour yields a tough, dry cookie.  You might have to play around with this a little to see where the balance is for your particular recipe.  Also, remember that the fridge and freezer are your friends here—chill your dough after cutting and you’ll find you can pick up the cookie shapes with minimum breakage.  For my sugar and gingerbread cookie recipes, go here.

• Trying to keep your cookies dairy/casein-free?  No prob.  I recommend organic palm shortening as a substitute for butter (please! Stay away from hydrogenated margarines and shortenings…).  It works great and can be substituted in a 1-to-1 ratio.  You can also use unrefined coconut oil, which is a very healthy choice, but also imparts a coconut flavor—sometimes that’s great, sometimes not.

• And finally, some ideas for managing your kitchen if you are baking for multiple sensitivities, with a mix-and-match cookie assortment in production: 

1.  Make your most sensitive thing first—for example, if you have a nut allergy you’re working around but will be making a nut thing in your mix, do everything that has no nuts first.   Work up to your gluten-dairy-egg-whatever thing last, and wash your bowls and such between batches.

2.  Be sure to keep your utensils and ingredients separated, so you’re not tempted to scoop sugar with the same cup you just used in the almond meal.  Wash hands frequently.

3.  As you finish prepping and baking each thing, keep your cookies separated by type and what they don’t have.  I often will make different batches of the same thing—for example, dairy-ful and dairy-free versions of thumbprint cookies.  Don’t mess up your good intentions by putting these on the same plate, or even on plates next to each other, where you’ll forget which is which.  If space is limited, remember to favor gravity:  allergen-free goes above non-free.

• I guess that wasn’t the final thing; this is the final thing:  if you have kids in your life, bake with them!!  Holiday cookies are a great opportunity to include children in the process, with jobs like breaking eggs, measuring ingredients, scooping, rolling, or cutting dough, and of course decorating.  A kid thumb is the perfect size for making a divot for your thumbprint filling.  Make a mess and have fun!

I have posted a bunch of recipes for your baking pleasure.  Of course this is nowhere near a comprehensive list, but will do nicely as a starting point.  As always, let me know if you have any questions.

Russian Tea Cakes/Mexican Wedding Cakes
Lemon-Raspberry Thumbprint Cookies
Peanut Butter Fudgie Crinkles
• Gingerbread People
• Sugar Cookies

Also…for the Sufganiyot inclined (though these are neither fried nor jelly-filled):
Cooqi Donuts

Happy baking everyone, and I wish you a joyful, peaceful holiday season!