Sunday, May 16, 2010

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

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(If you've linked over from Works for Me Wednesday or Gluten Free Wednesdays, welcome. I'm glad you stopped by. )

When I first went gluten free, one of the things I thought I'd never have again was really good cookies. My parents and I used to spend days making Christmas cookies of all kinds. Everything from sugar cookies to pecan balls to Scandinavian cookies like krum kakor and fattigman. It was the only thing I really was sad about leaving behind.

Once I found the gluten free flour mix I use for baking, I was really happy. I made all of those cookies that I grew up with. I was in heaven. Those flavors that I never thought I'd taste again were back. It was wonderful.

The only cookie recipe that didn't translate well was the roll out sugar cookies. I mean they were okay, but the dough was really tempermental. It cracked easily and had to be babied. You had to refrigerate the dough, then roll it out, then it would warm up and want to break. So then you had to put the rolled out dough back in the refrigerator, then cut the cookies, refrigerate it again, then transfer the cookies to the baking sheet. WAY too much trouble for just an okay cookie. Over the years I've tried other recipes and they all were just okay or the dough drove me up the wall.

This past holiday season, I started to look at cookie decorating blogs and was inspired to try it. I tried the recipe that Bridget at Bake at 350 uses and just modified it. You can find her recipe HERE. It ended up being fantastic. It doesn't have to be babied at all and it tastes wonderful. All you need to do is substitute my flour mix, make sure your baking powder and your extracts are GF and that's it. I use Clabber Girl baking powder and McCormick Pure Vanilla and Pure Almond extracts.

You don't have to refrigerate this dough or baby it at all. I usually let the dough sit for maybe 15 minutes in the bowl to rest and make sure the flour and the wet ingredients have melded together. I also use a bit less flour. Maybe 2-3/4 cups rather than the full 3 cups. What you're looking for is a workable dough just like regular sugar cookie dough. Here's my version of the recipe -

Gluten Free Sugar Cookies

2 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
2 sticks softened butter
1 egg
1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
1/2 tsp pure almond extract

Important Note: If you're a gluten eater who is making these for a gluten free friend or loved one (or if you're new to gluten free), you will need the following additional newly purchased equipment - rolling pin, rolling surface, baking sheet, and a whisk if you use one (or use a fork instead). Gluten is sticky and tends to stick to the grooves, grain and scratches in these items and commonly comes off in the food in amounts that are more than enough to cause your loved one a reaction. Your baking powder and sugar also needs to be new. If you are using a stand mixer, wipe down the machine and make sure there aren't any bits of dried gluten-containing batters that you might touch and potentially transfer to the cookies. Use the paddle attachment on your mixer rather than the whisk and clean it thoroughly before using it to make sure there is no gluten stuck to it. For more information on cooking gluten free, see my series Gluten Free Cooking Tutorial for Gluten Eaters. It tells you everything you need to know to make these safely for your loved one.

Preheat oven to 325F. (I like my cookies to bake a little slower.) Combine flour and baking powder in a small bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together. Add the egg, sugar and extracts to the butter and sugar and mix. Gradually add the flour until it's combined into a workable dough. Add more flour if you need to or water if it's too dry. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes before working with it.

Use the same GF baking mix to roll out the dough. Cut it into cookies and bake until done. I'm really bad about keeping an eye on the time regarding how long to bake these. I tend to hover instead. Bridget's recipe says about 10-12 minutes, so I'd go by that. :)

Now for the royal icing. This is probably the most complicated part. Brace yourselves.

Ta Da!!!! I know.. It's so difficult. I think I may faint from the effort.


This is just like royal icing. It sets up and hardens so that you can stack the cookies. The bag says that the icing begins to set after about four minutes and you can stack the cookies after about four hours.

I used this white icing as my base. I bought several bags to make sure I had enough. I used food coloring (I used Wilton) to make the colors I wanted. I made three shades (light, medium and deep) of pink, purple and yellow, and I kept some white.

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Use white to pipe the butterfly's body and then pipe around edge with your chosen color.

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Fill in.

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Spread the icing around with a toothpick.

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All smooth. Ish. Hmm... Okay it's not really smooth, but it's smooth enough for me. Later on, I mixed in a little bit of water for my flood icing and it worked much better. This is the result with working with the icing right out of the tube. It all tastes the same anyway right?

Now for the fancy part. To make the pretty design, I used this technique that I saw on Sweetopia. The trick is that you have to do it while the icing is still wet, so you have to work fast.

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Pipe the lines.

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Drag the toothpick down the ends of the lines for a curved look.

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Drag the toothpick down the middle of the lines.

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Et voila!

I made these for my daughter's second grade class for her birthday. She said that everyone loved them. And there's nothing more honest than a second grader. One boy even asked if he could have another one. Score! Some of my non-GF friends also tasted them and they said that if I hadn't told them they were gluten free, you would never think they weren't regular cookies.

I love to hear things like that.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Gluten Free Favorites - BiAglut Pasta

(Note: This pasta is made with lupine flour, which is closely related to peanuts. If you are allergic to peanuts, you won't be able to eat this product.)

When you first go gluten free, you tend to get stuck on all of the things you can't have. You go to the local grocery store and find the two gluten free products they have and it's just awful. Nothing tastes right. Nothing has the same texture. When I first went gluten free, pasta was a disappointing experience at best.

Don't get me wrong. Most widely available gluten free pasta is okay. Many in a better than nothing kind of way unfortunately. I was fine with it. But my husband? He wasn't. He can't deal with weird textures. So when gluten free pasta fell apart or got mushy, he just couldn't eat it.

A few times I made two seperate pastas. Two pots of water. Two strainers. Two bowls. Too much work. Too much trouble. Too many chances for cross contact. It just wasn't worth it to me to have to go through that much work just have to pasta that was only so-so.

So for a while there, we just didn't have pasta. My husband doesn't have to eat gluten free, so if he really wanted pasta he'd just have it at lunch.

It wasn't long after that that I saw some people raving about Bi-Aglut Pasta. It's made in Italy with corn and lupine flours.

I found a place online that sells it and placed an order. I wasn't expecting much. I was just hoping for something that had a texture that my husband could tolerate a little better.

When we got it, I think Patrick made goulash. We had switched over to rice as the base rather than pasta. We figured if it was really awful we'd just make some rice. Like I said, we weren't expecting anything special. I had ordered fusilli, which is the spiral pasta.

Once the Bi-Aglut was cooked we were both really surprised at how well it held together. Then amazed at how much it tasted like regular pasta. Then just flabbergasted at the texture. It was perfect. I think we both said wow a dozen times while we were eating. It was holding its shape. It was when we went back for more and saw that the pasta in the strainer hadn't hardened up or disintigrated into tiny pieces that we were really sold. It looked and acted just as it had when we poured it into the strainer.

The best thing about this pasta is that you can serve it to non-GF people and they don't notice the difference. One year we hosted Christmas Eve and Patrick made his goulash with the Bi-Aglut Fusili. In the middle of the dinner, my mother-in-law asked me what I was eating with the goulash. It took me a minute to realize what she was asking. She thought that she and the rest of the family were eating regular pasta and I was eating something different. Now that's a testament to how good Bi-Aglut is.

You can find Bi-Aglut by doing a websearch. I usually order mine from Gluten Free Trading Company. None of my local gluten free stores carry it, so we order it by the case.

If you try Bi-Aglut pasta, let me know what you think, and what your non-GF friends and family think.

What are your gluten-free favorites?


Sunday, May 2, 2010

Finding Gluten Free Products

When you're looking for gluten free products, the best place to start is with the food you already eat. Many mainstream food manufacturers have at least a few gluten free products. Most have either a phone number or website listed on their product labels. The phone numbers are great when you're in a store. All you have to do is call and ask. The drawback is that the phone number is usually only staffed during limited hours.

Personally, I prefer to visit the website. Some manufacturers have a gluten free product list in their FAQ or customer service section. If not, you can send an email asking if they have a gluten free product list, or if they don't, what their gluten labeling policy is. Some manufacturers only disclose wheat, while others go the extra mile and disclose any gluten-containing ingredient in any amount.

Another important thing to ask about is whether the product is made on gluten free equipment and/or in a gluten free facility. If you tend to be more sensitive than most, like me, this information can be very helpful. When a product I'm really interested in falls into this category, I ask the company if they can give me more information.

For example, when a product is made in a facility that also produces products containing gluten, all it ends up being is that there's gluten-containing soy sauce in a product three lines over in the same building. Which is no problem whatsoever. It's not like soy sauce is going to splash 50 feet from that line into my barbeque sauce.

On the other hand, if products containing wheat flour are made in the same building, I'd be very leery about trying it. With the large amounts of flour and large pieces of equipment that food manufacturers deal with, the flour usually gets dumped into the equipment. That creates a puff of flour that goes up into the air. They actually say that flour can be airborne for many hours and it will drift and settle on everything.

As far as products that are produced on the same equipment as gluten-containing foods, I've been surprised at the effort that some manufacturers go to to keep gluten out of food that is produced on the same equipment. Some manufacturers completely disassemble and steam clean the whole line before making gluten free foods. Others clean the line as best as they can and then throw away the first run of gluten free food so they can make sure that any gluten that might still be on the line comes off the equipment.

If you're unsure of a product, the manufacturer's response doesn't reassure you, you can't find any alternative product, and you REALLY want to try it, what I suggest you do first is to run a EZ Gluten Test on it.

You could just try it and see what happens, but I'd be very careful about that. Especially if you're new to the gluten free diet. Until you're really good at recognizing your symptoms, you can end up glutening yourself for weeks without realizing that that product is why you're not sleeping well or you're yelling at your kids about everything. I don't risk it very often because I'd rather miss out on a food than have my symptoms. In the four years I've been gluten free, I think I've done this two or three times. Once I did it while we were tent camping and it was really bad. One of the worst glutenings I've ever had.

Another thing you can do is do a web search and see if you can find anyone who is gluten free mention the product and their experience with it, or an alternative product they have found to replace it. Gluten free people tend to be an inventive bunch.

Once you find a gluten free product list or find out a manufacturers labeling policy, check back with them every once in a while. Products are taken off gluten free lists and other products are added from time to time.

Check with your local grocery stores as well. Safeway actually has a full list of all of their store brand products that are gluten free. All you have to do is email them and they'll send you the current list.

So don't be afraid to verify new things and branch out. The more products you are able to verify, the more food options you will have.