Wednesday, December 3, 2008

No bummer: Gluten-free sugar cookie cutouts

As I finished up my breakfast yesterday morning, I heaved a heavy sigh, placing my dirty dishes in the dishwasher. My heart felt heavy.

My heart hadn't felt that heavy since last year, when fires took over the country of Greece. I ached for the loss of lives, the loss of homes, and the loss of farms, vegetation, and animals. The face of Greece was changed for many decades to come due to the work of arsonists. It was the kind of heavy heart that could only come from tragic “world” events, about which I could do nothing.

Yesterday, my heavy heart came from a conglomeration of events... the attacks in Mumbi, the possibility of increasing tensions between Pakistan and India (both nuclear powers), the 600-point drop in the markets the day before, and the announcement that OHSU is on a hiring freeze. All of this was on the news Monday night, giving a feeling of impending doom for all of us.

I am usually a news-addict. After years of living alone, I got in the habit of watching the news in the morning while eating breakfast and getting ready as well as in the evening while eating dinner. I grew up in a household of five, in which we ate meals together. Eating alone was somehow made tolerable by watching the news – my news-anchor family was always there to talk at me. (Unfortunately for Ben, this means I have the news on a lot more than he is used to). However, Ben had last week off from work, so we spent a lot of time doing other things and didn't see much of the news.

When I finally got caught up this week, the world felt pretty brutal.

I immediately thought of the SNL skit aired during the election campaign – the one where “President Bush” holds the news conference in the evening because every time he talks during the day, the stock market “goes in the crapper.” In that skit, “President Bush” is also surprised to learn his low approval ratings, stating he was previously ignorant to his ratings and, in general, world events because he had declared the oval office, “a bummer-free zone.”

I want a bummer-free zone.
Don't you??

Last week, like I said, Ben had the week off of work, so we did a lot of nothing – like a good vacation should be. We ran errands together, I graded papers, he recorded music, I baked (a lot), he painted, and we made dinners together. We also went for a couple of walks together – one to see the big tree in downtown Portland (Portland's version of the big tree in New York City). We watched movies, some Christmas movies, put up our Christmas tree, and celebrated Thanksgiving. Other than that, we just sort of lazed the time away, sleeping in and enjoying coffee and breakfast longer than usual.

We will be going to visit Ben's family over Christmas. Since this is not only my first gluten free Christmas, but also my first family get-together with Ben's family, I am feeling a little nervous about the whole thing (to say the least). Like most families, Ben's family likes to bake cookies at Christmas, and, in particular, they typically make sugar cookie cutouts.

Knowing this, I have taken it upon myself to figure out a good flour combination to make sugar cookies that look and feel and taste just like the gluteny-version. I have to be honest and say I agonized over my first test batch for at least a day – looking online for other GF recipes, to see what they suggest. In the end, I discovered that most (in fact, I think all) recipes called for a disappointingly vague “Gluten free flour” or they called for “rice flour.” “Hmmm...,” I thought, “These will not do.”

So, I decided to simplify. Just as I did for my gluten free pizza crust, I took a look at my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook (yes, a regular, old cookbook) to see what the recipe for regular, gluteny sugar cookies listed. Then, I improvised, armed with my knowledge of gluten-free flour.

I chose coconut flour, brown rice flour, tapioca flour, and millet flour. I added a touch of xanthan gum. I followed the Better Homes and Gardens recipe. I did a dance of joy when I took them out of the oven.

They looked and smelled beautiful!

We never got around to decorating them with icing. At Thanksgiving, Ben and a friend of his ate what was left of the batch – two gluten-eaters.

Speaking of, I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, celebrated with friends or family (or both). I made my first home-made pumpkin pie - which also happened to be my first gluten-free pie!

And, may you have a bummer-free zone, at least while you are baking :)

Gluten-free sugar cookie cutouts:
These cookies turn out with the perfect texture! I like my sugar cookies crispy on the outside and soft and cake-like inside. If you like yours crispy throughout, I think rolling them a little thinner might just do the trick. The only detectable difference between these and the gluteny version is a slight bit of grainy texture at the very end of chewing and swallowing them. My guess is that using either white rice flour or a fine grain rice flour would eliminate this. Or, try Sorghum flour in place of the rice flour.  I haven't tried these with a butter substitute, but let me know if you are successful making these with coconut oil or shortening and leave a comment.  Diary-free readers would benefit from your experience!  Thanks!
¾ cup brown rice flour
¼ cup coconut flour
½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup millet flour
½ cup butter, room temperature
¾ cup turbinado sugar
1 egg
1 tsp vanilla
¾ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp salt
1 tsp baking powder
2 tablespoons any milk (I used hazelnut, but any will do)
In a small bowl, mix flours, baking powder, xanthan gum, and salt.

In another bowl, or the bowl of your stand mixer, cream butter and sugar using your mixer or hand-beaters.

Add egg, vanilla, and a tablespoon of milk and mix well. Add the flour mixture a bit at a time until incorporated (you may need to take your hands to it if your mixer can’t take the dough).

Add another tablespoon or so of milk if mixture appears too dry. The dough should be moist, but not sticky at all.

Place dough on a sheet of cling wrap and flatten slightly. Wrap up the dough with the cling wrap and refrigerate for at least an hour (can go overnight as well).

Use white rice flour to roll out the dough to about ⅛ to ¼ inch thick. Cut dough into shapes using cookie cutters.

Place cookies on a baking sheet and bake at 375F for about 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of your cookies. When done, the edges will be firm and the cookies will be slightly golden on the bottom.

*If you are baking these for a gluten-free loved one, in a gluten-containing kitchen, be sure mixers and beaters are cleaned of any previous baking residue and place a sheet of parchment paper between your rolling pin and the dough when you are rolling it out.


Carly said...

If I can't get cocnut flour, is there a sub that can be used?

Lauren Denneson said...

Hi Carly,
I would go for sorghum flour or maybe garfava (garbanzo bean and fava bean) flour as a substitute. Coconut flour contributes to the good texture of the cookies and I think these two other flours might provide similar results. However, some find the bean flours difficult to digest and others have complained of a beany flavor when baking with them. I've found I don't mind or notice any beany-ness if used in small amounts (such as 1/4 cup). If you can't find coconut flour in the stores, you can order it online from places like Amazon.
I would also encourage you to experiment! Let me know how it turns out!

Steph said...

Hi Lauren,
I just found your blog, thanks to the "Go Ahead Honey" post :)
Your recipes look fabulous! I am excited to try this recipe! I've been GF for a couple years now, and have struggled to find a great sugar cookie recipe. I'm even happier that it is successfully dairy free also!
I saw on your other blog that you're up in Portland. Beautiful photos! I was born and raised in Beaverton, and really miss the area :)
Glad I stopped by! Can't wait to read through all your recipes!

Lauren Denneson said...

Hi Steph,
I'm glad you stopped by too! And, I'm glad that you found some of my blabbering helpful :) Let me know if you have any questions and, as someone who has been at this a while longer than me, I welcome any advice or suggestions.

Steph said...

Wow! I love your blog! Some excellent recipes I'm excited to try! And I really enjoy your commentary, your stories and your thoughts. Very positive and inspiring. I think you're doing wonderfully on the diet!
If you ever have any questions for me, feel free to ask!
As a former Oregonian, I thought I'd mention my favorite restaurant for you to take a trip to sometime. McCormick and Schmick's! I didn't see it on your list of restaurants. This place rocks! It's on 235 SW First Ave, downtown Portland, and I ate the best meal of my life there!
I see we also share a guilty pleasure:

Jen said...

I was really excited to try these gluten free, dairy free sugar cookie cutouts until i took a detailed look at the ingredients and one of them is butter. so they're not really dairy free, is there a substitute that can be used for the butter?

Lauren Denneson said...

yikes - sorry about that Jen and thanks for noticing my mistake. I missed that one. I would use coconut oil at room temperature, so that it is the consistency of butter. I have seen others use spectrum shortening. I haven't tried either of these in this particular recipe, so you might have to do a bit of experimenting. Hope it turns out well and happy holidays!

Laura said...

Hi Lauren,

Great recipe! You are the queen of flour mixing. :) Thanks for doing the hardest part! I just made these cookies but in vegan gingerbread form. I used Spectrum shortening for the butter. I used date sugar for the sugar (I'm allergic to cane), and I used 1 Tbsp flaxseed meal with 3 Tbsp water to replace the egg. I used hazelnut milk, too, like you, because it's my favorite and very mild.

I added 1/2 tsp nutmeg, 1/2 tsp ground cloves, and 1 tsp. ground ginger. I think they turned out really well! I was afraid they might crumble, but I was pleasantly surprised that they rolled out well. They have the perfect chewiness factor.

Next time, I will double the spice quantities, and I think I'll try sorghum flour instead of brown rice flour. I'm not sure if sorghum will hold up as well. I'll let you know. I'll post pics of how mine turned out today on my blog.

Thanks again for a terrific recipe! I have been wanting to make gingerbread cookies forever.

~ Laura

Lauren Denneson said...

Hi Laura,
Thanks for the compliment! and I much appreciate the vegan-stylings for this recipe - as you can see, I get some questions on how to do some of my recipes vegan or dairy-free and it's nice to know how others have succeeded :) keep up the good work!