It’s that cold, blustery time of year again! I want to wish everyone a Happy Holiday Season. I hope you have an opportunity to celebrate the fullness of life by sharing great food, traditions, and activities with those who are nearest and dearest to you. This year I’m sending all of you something I created, just for this special occasion. To me, it’s one of those truly great memories and traditions from my childhood.
I remember the smells wafting from the kitchen when my mother was baking for the holiday season. She made so many great kinds of cookies: red currant jelly filled rings, Christmas logs, rum balls, and snowballs. My favourite was always the shortbread cookies. When we left a plate of cookies and a glass of milk for Santa, there were always shortbreads for the jolly old soul. They were the cookies saved for company or truly special meals. Shortbread cookies had a regal status and it’s no wonder with all that buttery goodness in every bite!
When I first started eating gluten free several years ago, I tried a variety of commercially prepared gluten free shortbread cookies. I was always disappointed because the companies relied on rice flour. In my opinion, rice flour gives the cookies a gritty, sandy texture that’s unpleasant. Several types of shortbreads also included legume flours, which I find very hard to digest. Then last year, I gave up eating grains and legumes, so all the shortbread cookies went out the window. This year, having excluded sugar from my diet, I was faced with yet another holiday season devoid of shortbread cookies. That would never do!
With every ounce of holiday cheer I could muster, I began doing research into all types of shortbread recipes. I never knew there were so many out there! Finally, I got a good idea of the basic ratios of flour to butter and began experimenting. It took a bit of patience, time, tweaking and lots of energy, but I finally devised a truly exceptional recipe that’s just perfect for me. It is gluten, grain, egg, legume and sugar free. What’s left you ask? Ground seeds, nuts and root vegetables with honey and vanilla.
The first batch had good flavour and texture, but was soft and chewy. I decided to add a little more flour and bake the cookies two minutes longer. I also decided they needed a bit more vanilla. The first batch was a kind of drop cookie: not by design. I put the dough in the refrigerator to chill and then realized I couldn’t roll them, so I resorted to spoonfuls of dough. After a lot of thought, I came up with a plan that would allow me to roll the cookie dough and cut out shapes, just like my mother and I had done with my little sister all those years ago. It worked like a charm! When they were cool, I decorated some of them with melted Belgian chocolate and a bit of special, decorative, purple sugar. ( Why purple, and not red or green, you ask? It was all I had! Besides which, it’s my favourite colour. I promise not to eat the ones with the sugar on them. You can see from the pictures: some are plain. )
So here is your holiday gift from me: a very special shortbread cookie recipe!
Liana’s Shortbread Cookies
3 cups of flour made up of:
1 cup quinoa flour
1 cup almond meal ( if you’re allergic to nuts, try millet flour )
1 cup tapioca starch
1 tsp. xanthan gum
1 cup soft butter
½ cup honey
3 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 tsp baking soda
Pinch of salt
In a bowl, combine the quinoa flour, almond meal, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, baking soda and salt. Mix well. Set aside.
In a second bowl, cream the butter. Add the honey and vanilla. Beat until the mixture is light and fluffy. Gradually add the dry ingredients, mixing constantly as they incorporate. When dough is completely mixed, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, the dough will be firm enough to handle briefly. Now you have several choices. You can chill the dough for an additional hour and drop the dough onto the cookie sheet with a spoon or you can roll the dough into a log in waxed paper and chill it for another hour then slice it into cookies.
My favourite option is to make the dough into a sheet that can be used later to cut out shapes. Take two large sheets of waxed paper. Dust the bottom one with a bit of quinoa flour. Place the dough in a line along the length of the waxed paper. Pat it flat and cover it with a second sheet of waxed paper. Using a rolling pin, gently roll it into a large rectangle that’s about ¼ inch thick. The rectangle will be quite large, so have a good hard flat surface to put it on when you are finished. Place the dough, waxed paper and all, onto a large tray and refrigerate for an hour. When the dough has been chilled, use your favourite metal cookie cutters to make festive cookie shapes. All the little bits that are left between the shapes can be rolled into balls and flattened with a fork. I put a Belgian chocolate chip in the centre of each one, just for fun.
Bake the cookies at 350F for 12 minutes. Put the left over dough back into the refrigerator while a batch is baking so it remains easy to cut more shapes.
Gently, remove the baked cookies from the cookie sheet to a cooling rack and allow to cool completely before handling. Although they are fragile when still hot, they become firm as they cool. Eat them plain or have fun decorating them!
I hope you’ll enjoy this treat with your loved ones over the holidays.
Best Wishes and holiday hugs … Liana