I met my first rum ball when I was five-years-old. If the excellently dressed Mrs. Henley had not rapped her white-gloved-manicured-hand upon our front door each holiday season, I might not have known about the existence of bedazzled and festive cookies that were created just for Christmas. I assumed she wore a couture apron over the Chanel and her stylish kitten heeled boots while creating these very home-made treats.
She began with a dozen rum balls in a tiny box and when she learned that my idiot brothers inhaled them before they ever reached the kitchen – hoping for a little boozy buzz – she started bringing a larger and more diverse tin of goodies.
There were little tiny treats dressed in white sugary snow, festively decorated sugar cookies and several well dressed ginger people undoubtedly attired in couture icing. In our house devoid of any Christmas cheer, primarily because we were Jewish, and slightly because my folks were a bit grinchy, the tin was my taste of Christmas-future.
During the holidays I am still a sucker for anything shiny, glittery and edible. Yet, until I was diagnosed as gluten intolerant, I pretended that none of those goodies made me sick. I just went with the fantasy that I’d merely overindulged and carried around a Costco sized supply of stomach ache remedies.
That terrible holiday the year I was diagnosed I did without, but over these past five years I’ve begun to master the art of turning out respectable gluten free goodies and never looked back. The holiday season is once again filled with shiny, glittery and edible stuff.
The goal of redoing recipes was simple: gluten free does not have to mean taste free. I like cookies with loads of butter, ultra fine sugar, and icing. I enjoy cupcakes sparkling with decorations made from fancy spun sugar and loads of chocolate. I really like homemade candy and every year we make a huge batch of caramel corn with sugared almonds and eat most of the stuff ourselves.
Baking gluten free is an exercise in patience. Consider that a recipe is just a guide. Gluten free flours, even the same one from the same mill might behave differently in your part of the world than mine. How you mix the batter or dough matters – whether you have a lighter or stronger hand – whether you pat down the dough differently. Oven temps vary, weather matters, the kind of butter matters – every single thing makes the outcome slightly different.
Trust yourself. Trust your nose – trust your eye and never truly trust measuring cups. Get a scale and if the recipe offers weights, use them. It is far more accurate given all the reasons above. It is even simpler to use a scale because you can use one bowl and add things by zeroing out the scale each time.
The holidays would not be complete without peppermint brownies, or piled high coconut cakes or drunken snowflake cupcakes, and sparkly cookies. Nothing smells like holiday more than a kitchen filled with ginger and cinnamon as you roll out those adorable gingerbread people.
How can you have a great gluten free holiday?
- Use your own (gluten free ) kitchen.
- Make your own cookies, cakes, pies and candy and gifts.
- Bring a gluten free treat with you when making the holiday circuit and you’ll always have something to eat.
- Bring a dish to dinner that you know is not cross contaminated and share with everyone (but take your helping first or set some aside to avoid cross contamination).
- Look online for newly hatched gluten free goodies from a variety of manufacturers.
- Subscribe to Gluten Free Girl & The Chef’s blog here.
- Experiment and recreate your favorite recipes gluten free; it isn’t hard to do at all.
You can substitute your favorite gluten free flour mix and a touch of xanthan gum to approximate all-purpose flour. You can experiment with a variety of gluten free flours until you find the taste you enjoy. Just remember – while it is a 1:1 substitute, a light hand with the gluten free flours is always advisable. Always make a test batch to see what needs fixing. Some flours absorb more liquid than others (talking to you coconut flour) and some are drier, others more moist and some can make a cookie spread and others make it crispy.
Xanthan gum is your friend because it mimics the stretch of gluten, but a little goes a long way; half a teaspoon per cup of flour is plenty. For a great all-purpose flour mix and way more information on gluten free flours, please read Gluten Free Girl & the Chef’s post on holiday baking. Shauna shares her formula here. My baking is better because of her inspiration and instruction.
This particular recipe is one of my favorites; it reminds me of those little snow covered delights in Mrs. Henley’s Christmas cookie tin. You can substitute ingredients, mess up the baking time, and generally change the recipe, but they will still taste sublime. The basic combination of ground nuts, powdered sugar and butter must remain, but other than that, play with it. Make it your own.
Just don’t forget the xanthan gum or you will have Mexican Wedding Cookie crumbs. Xanthan gum is to gluten free as Jon Stewart is to the news. Strange but necessary.
- ½ heaping cup powdered sugar, sifted plus more for dusting cookies later
- ¾ cup finely chopped pecans (or pick your favorite nut)
- 1 cup unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 egg
- 2 cups of all-purpose gluten free flour mix (see above)
- ¼ cup almond flour
- Pinch of xanthan gum (about a ½ teaspoon)
Mix the powdered sugar, butter and egg together until creamy. Add in the flour(s), xanthan gum and then add in the chopped nuts. Don’t over mix, but make sure everything is incorporated. If the dough is too gooey, add a tiny tiny bit more all-purpose gluten free flour. Don’t add too much or the cookie will just crumble. Err on the gooey side.
Scoop and roll into small balls. I’d go with an undersized teaspoon scoop. Place about an inch apart on a cookie sheet lined with parchment or a silpat. Bake at 350 for five minutes and rotate and bake about 5-6 minutes more until very lightly brown. Cool slightly until you can handle them and roll in the remaining powdered sugar. Let rest and roll again. Two coats cover them nicely.
Makes approximately 50 little cookies. Store in a tin – they last about 4 days. These one bite cookies should melt in your mouth.
Note: I used 1.5 cups of all-purpose gluten free flour using Gluten Free Girl’s mix and almond flour for the last 1/2 cup. This recipe does well with nut flours. For a Greek rendition called kourambiethes click here – these are not gluten free, but you could recreate them by using gluten free all-purpose flour.