Holiday baking with Sneezy

Gluten-free Chocolate Krinkles

fudgy, chewy, and gluten free...

I am no stranger to allergies; I am a drippy-nosed, scratchy-throated, itchy-eyed dweller of a city with questionable air quality. Snow White called me the other day to ask if I’d fill in for Sneezy while he has some minor surgery. (Rim shot. Heigh Ho…)

My glamorous self-portrait aside, I was baking Christmas cookies the other day and realized that someone I admire very much cannot indulge because she is gluten intolerant. This is often referred to as an allergy, but it is actually the result of Celiac Disease which manifests itself by making the body unable to digest the gluten in bread, cake, and cookies. Clearly I have ignored these folks long enough; it’s time to invite them over to the cookie table, eh?

I completely understand. I don’t usually bake with real butter because it upsets my stomach. I use Earth Balance sticks, an excellent substitute, yet I recognize that some allowances need to be made to compensate for the various differences. As an example, I would never make a plain butter cookie with Earth Balance. No matter what they do to the stuff, it will never taste quite like real butter. Luckily—or perhaps because of this—I am drawn to treats with slightly more intense flavors. The latter, I think, is the key to baking without butter.

Call it gustatory sleight of hand if you like, but the fact is, if you draw attention to other flavors in a cookie, no one will notice or care about the lack of butter. (I should mention that I have no opinion about how healthy one type of fat is versus another. This is purely—and predictably—about my personal comfort.) I would only warn you to use caution with whatever product you use instead of butter; some do not match the fat-to-water ratio of butter and will compromise the texture of your baking. (Stay away from tub margarine and hedge your health bets by looking for something with non-hydrogenated oils and / or no trans-fats.)

Anyway, why reinvent the wheel? This sleight of hand philosophy can be applied to gluten-free baking as well. The trick is to find flour that will produce delicious cookies—not just good for gluten-free, but good AND gluten-free. This is not quite as straight forward as substituting Earth Balance for butter. Flour is a tricky item: even substituting different wheat flours can make a drastic difference in your baking. This can be caused by variations in the type of wheat, the grind, or even whether the flour was bleached—the latter is almost always the rule with cake flour.

Then there is gluten which is the product of the protein in wheat, barley, rye, and oats. Here’s the big problem: gluten is what makes bread, er, “bready”. It’s the magnificent “chew” in that baguette you just gnawed you way through while leaning over the sink so the calories wouldn’t count. (Yes, that’s how I think.) One of the reasons cake recipes often tell you to not over mix is so that you won’t over develop the gluten; in cakes and cookies you only want the protein for the structure it can lend the finished cake. Over mix that tender chocolate cake and you get rubber. That cupcake you just inhaled? Flour gave it its structure, sugar gave it its bulk.

Yeah, well, anyway, Merry Christmas, where are my cookies, you ask? Who are you: Santa with a couple million more chimneys to hit before the reindeers’ union mandated golden overtime kicks in?

Okay, I’ll cut to the chase. I found a flour called cup4cup which was created by Lena Kwak, of Thomas Keller’s famed The French Laundry restaurant. These folks seem to know what they are doing (!) so I decided this may be good flour for me to experiment with a bit of gluten-free baking. It is a mix of cornstarch, rice, milk powder, tapioca, and a few other healthy ingredients. The texture is powdery, similar to cake flour. Oh, by the way, it’s a little pricey; a three pound sack retails for $19.95.

I just needed a Christmas cookie with an intense flavor that would distract from any mischief the new flour may cause. A perfect candidate is Chocolate Krinkles, a dark, slightly chewy, chocolate cookie. The fudgy texture and flavor make this a cookie that is hard to ruin. (Put enough chocolate on a football and it would be delicious.)

My main concern, borne of many years using alternative ingredients for Passover baking was that the flour would smell funny (Passover flour often smells like wet paper when added to the wet ingredients.) I’m happy to report that other than a very powdery texture, cup4cup flour handles—at least in this recipe—just like all purpose flour. I’m even happier to report that a select group of associates did not notice anything amiss with the cookies and were genuinely surprised to learn that they were gluten free.

The folks who formulated the flour don’t recommend baking regular bread with the flour, but biscuits, brioche, quick breads, and anything that doesn’t have to rely on gluten for structure all seem like viable candidates. I’ll test a few out and let you know.

In the meantime my gluten-free friends can pack on some holiday pounds with the rest of us.

Ho ho ho…

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Here’s the recipe for the Gluten-free Chocolate Crinkles, along with information about where to purchase cup4cup flour. And don’t forget last week’s regular Gingerdoodles, both perfect for your holiday table.

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Here’s the link to the Butter Flour Eggs Holiday Cookie Baking Primer 101. It also includes a recipe for Chocolate Pepper Cookies and some technique and equipment suggestions. Don’t start your holiday baking without it!

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Write to me at the email address below with any questions or thoughts you may have. Thanks!

Let me email you when the blog has been updated! Opt in by clicking the biscotti at right or by sending your email address to michael@butterfloureggs.com

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Holiday Tweets are gluten-free too!

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