Sunday, December 21, 2008

Gluten-free Hermit Cookies

I always get excited when I come across something new - especially if it presents me with a baking or cooking challenge.

When Heidi of 101 cookbooks posted Sante's Hermit Cookies recently, I thought, "Hermit cookies? What are those?" In her post, they appeared to be small, spiced, soft cookies with fruit, nuts, and icing. Just the thing for a good holiday cookie.

I, of course, had to do some additional research - what are they traditionally like? Why the name? What variations have others created?

And, most importantly, I wondered how I should best go about making them gluten free. How do I replicate that whole-wheat pastry flour, softened with milk, texture?

As it turns out, it is a big mystery as to why these cookies are named "Hermit cookies," but they are traditionally made with lots of spice, nuts, and fruit. They are also traditionally square in shape and seem to be more popular (or well known) in the eastern part of the United States. I would be curious to know, however, from any non-US readers whether they have heard of such cookies (especially German or Dutch folks?).

Upon noticing they are usually brown in color (which is one theory as to their name - that their brown color resembles a hermit's brown sack-cloth clothing), I immediately thought of my little-used container of Teff flour waiting for me in the kitchen. It also seemed like a natural fit for a recipe that called for whole-wheat pastry flour.

Teff - that teeny, tiny grain that makes a dark colored, fine flour. It's full of fiber and other nutrients, lends a wonderful texture to baked goods, but I tend to over-look it because I don't want my gluten-free baked goods to look different than their gluteny counterparts. That's a hang-up, however, I should probably learn to get over, because Teff flour really takes (makes) the cake! :)

--sorry for the stupid pun, but I couldn't resist.

I also thought these would be great with some pumpkin flavor, and, to be totally honest, I had some leftover pumpkin puree from the pumpkin scones I baked earlier this week.

I think I found another favorite holiday cookie!

By the way - this new little blog was just listed at Massage Therapy Careers as one of ten gluten free blogs in their Top 100 Wellness Blogs list! I am both surprised and honored.

Gluten Free Hermit Cookies:

I chose to toast some unsweetened coconut with the walnuts because I am in love with the flavor of coconut right now, but certainly omit it if you don't have any on hand or don't like coconut. Also, I imagine some soft, ripe bananas (about 1 cup mashed) would substitute well for the pumpkin in this recipe. By the way, with the nutrients from the Teff and pumpkin alone (not to mention the coconut, raisins, and walnuts), these are pretty darned nutrient-packed little cookies -- definitely outweighs the butter and sugar ;) Make them dairy-free by using shortening or soft (not liquid) coconut oil.

1/2 cup Teff flour

1/2 cup Millet flour

1/2 cup Brown rice flour

1/2 cup Tapioca flour

1 teaspoon xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 cup pumpkin puree (or mashed banana)

2/3 cup butter, room temperature

2 eggs

1/2 cup honey or agave nectar

1/2 cup raisins

1/3 cup unsweetened coconut

1/2 cup chopped walnuts (I throw them in a sturdy plastic bag and mash with a heavy-bottomed coffee mug)

Heat oven to 350F.

Mix your dry ingredients in a large bowl until well-combined.

If you wish to toast your coconut and walnuts, throw them in a non-stick skillet over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring frequently. Set aside.

Blend the butter and honey until mixed well (will likely be lumpy, with small pieces of butter). Lightly whisk eggs and mix into butter/honey mixture. Mix in pumpkin puree.

Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix until mostly combined. Add raisins, coconut, and walnuts. Mix until evenly distributed. The mixture should be soft and slightly sticky - the kind of dough you can't really roll with your hands.

Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Using two spoons (one to scoop batter and the other to scrape the spoonful onto the baking sheet), drop rounded spoonfuls onto the baking sheet. I imagine a small ice-cream scoop would also work well for this.

Grab another spoon and put some water in a small cup. Dip the back of the spoon in the water and slightly flatten the balls so they are thick, flat disks. They will rise slightly while cooking, but not a ton.

Bake for about 15 minutes.

Allow to cool completely and ice with the following:

1 cup powdered sugar

1 tablespoon hazelnut milk (or your favorite)

1 teaspoon vanilla extract.

Mix above ingredients and add additional milk a small bit at a time, until desired consistency is achieved. I used only the tablespoon milk for a thicker icing.


Alisa said...

These sound great, and I have some banana waiting to be used up (per your substitute suggestion). I try to bake with oil rather than df margarine, so I might need to have some fun experimenting with your recipe. Thanks!

Lauren Denneson said...

Alisa - Sounds great - let me know how it works!

Steph said...

Mmm this sounds great! And congratulations!