A number of my friends have bitten the bullet and given up gluten. The reasons behind their ban run from intolerance, to full blown celiac disease, to channeling their inner hunter-gatherer with the Paleo diet.
This has been a little bit difficult for me, because I like to feed people and I bake.
Cooking for vegetarians? Not too difficult for me. I was vegan for two years. I know how it works and have experience balancing meals devoid of meat, dairy, eggs, and other animal products. I even learned how to fandango my way through vegan baking. Hello substitutions!
Cooking for a nut allergy? I can do that too thanks to Mr and his allergies. Baking without nuts is pretty easy because it mostly is omission of nuts as an add in, substitution of a different ingredient that will serve the same purpose, or not choosing recipes where nuts are essential. Easy as pie.
But cooking gluten free? It’s harder than I expected it to be. It seems that most things I really like to eat are full of that pesky protein. And gluten free baking? It’s pretty much alien to me. The basic pillars of baking are sugar, flour, and butter; taking one of them away leads into uncharted territory. Yes, it is just like baking nut free, or baking for a vegan: substitutions are your friends. Wheat flour is not the only flour out there, it’s just the flour that I’ve worked with all of these years.
Flour is a really basic building block, though, and gluten free flour substitutions behave so differently from wheat flour. Gluten in a dough serves a purpose, it gives a dough elasticity, chew, and structure in the baking process. Doing all of those things gluten free is a dance that I don’t really know the steps to.
But I bake and cook for people I love. And some of the people I love aren’t eating this stuff anymore. So here’s the first attempt:
(a gluten free recipe adapted from Bon Appetit)
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 Cups rice flour
1/4 tsp salt
3/4 Cup icing sugar
1/2 Cup butter
1 tsp rosewater
1 Tbsp poppy seeds, for sprinkling
- In a mixing bowl, whisk together the cardamom, rice flour and salt.
- Using a second bowl, beat together the icing sugar and butter until smooth, and then blend in the egg and rosewater.
- Combine the dry ingredients into the wet to form a stiff dough. Form into a ball, cover and refrigerate overnight. (This is important for texture, don’t rush it!)
- Working expediently, so that the dough does not become too sticky, roll out cookies to 1/4″ thickness, and cut out shapes with cookie cutters.
- Arrange the cookies on cookie sheets and sprinkle them with the poppy seeds before baking them in a 300° F oven until barely golden (~30 minutes).
- Transfer to wire racks and let cool before serving.
I cut my cookies into a number of shapes, but thought that the poppy shaped cookies with the seeds sprinkled just in the middle were to cutest!
If you are considering adventuring into gluten free baking, shortbread is not a bad place to start. Even when working with wheat flour, shortbread is designed to not activate the gluten. The crumbly, sandy texture comes from the high fat, low moisture content of the dough, which prevents long strands of gluten from forming. When the original does require activated gluten for structure in the dough, you don’t have to spend too much time combining flours and trying to get the dough to behave as though there is gluten. This is such an easy place to start.
That is not to say that these shortbread cookies are exactly the same as their wheat-y counterpart. Bon Appetit says that the “rice flour gives these cookies a very fine texture”, which I somewhat disagree with. Shortbread is heavenly in the way that a bite of cookie crumbles on the tongue, dissolving away from sandy to dissolving into nothingness. The very fine texture BA advertises leaves a little something to be desired, the sandiness doesn’t give way to dissolution, there is a grit that stays in your mouth. It isn’t unpleasant, just different from the results you get with the wheat version. Maybe wheat flour is finer than rice flower?
The no longer eating gluten friend that I fed these to liked them, and noted that the grittiness is kind of something you face with gluten free baked goods. The rose water and the cardamom are so gorgeous together! So overall, these cookies were good, definitely not a failure, but I’d like to see if I can improve upon the texture.
This time last year: Thai Peanut Sauce
And the year before: Stacked Summery Salad
And the year before that: Pomegranate Lemonade Slush