Winter Wonderland of Cookies: The Recipes!

Every year growing up, December became a very special time of year: cookie mania time. My mom would bake hundreds of dozens of cookies of a dozen varieties to pack up into tins to drop off at friends' doorsteps or mail to relatives afar. Literally every counter and surface would be covered with trays of fresh baked goodies: fancy linzer torte bars, intricate gingerbread men, tricolor napoleons, sandy Austrian walnut crescents, fudgy brownie squares, chocolate spice hearts, festively sprinkled shortbread, velvety chocolate sables, flakey rugelach, and often a new surprise each year.

Of course my brother and I had favorites and we were warned not to eat too many and leave some for grandma and aunties, but we couldn't resist living in a literal Hansel and Gretel world. So what's a girl to do about Christmas cookie traditions when she can no longer have gluten and dairy? Adapt her favorite recipes for new traditions!

Gluten and Dairy Free Gingerbread Cookies

Swedish Gingerbread Cookies
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies
Makes 100 cookies

These cookies can be made thick or thin, to become chewy gingerbread or crisp gingersnaps respectively. When we made these growing up, we rolled them fairly thin (resulting in lots of cookies), cut out pretty shapes and then my mom, the pro icer, would bust out the royal icing and go to town. She has had years of practice perfecting her cookie icing and apparently I could use a little help in that department. I suppose lopsided icing adds to the charm...

Delightfully, despite the lack of gluten, these cookies roll out really easily and are a perfect dough for cutting shapes.

2/3 cup dark or light molasses
2/3 cup granulated sugar (= 5oz)
1 tbsp ginger
1 tbsp cinnamon
3/4 tbsp baking soda
4 2/3 oz coconut oil (liquid/melted)
1 egg
5 cups sifted gluten free flour (20-24oz, Bob's Red Mill for me)
2 tsp xanthan gum

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and prepare baking sheets with parchment paper.

Prep the coconut oil by pouring into a large bowl. In a large sauce pan, stir together the molasses, sugar, ginger and cinnamon and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally.  Once boiling add in the baking soda and stir while the mixture foams up to the top of the pan. Transfer the molasses mixture into the bowl with the coconut oil. Stir the egg in lightly with a fork just to mix. Stir in the gluten free flour with a spatula.

Now it's time to knead the dough and roll it out. Turn out the dough onto a surface and knead with the heel of your hands until mixed and smooth.  Working with half the dough at a time, flour the work surface generously and roll out the dough to 1/8"-1/2" thick, depending on your preference. I like them on the thinner side and ginger-snappy. Cut out your shapes with cookie cutters and transfer carefully to the prepared sheets. Gather the dough scraps together, re-knead and roll out again to make even more cookies!

Bake for 13 minutes for very thin 1/8" cookies or 15 minutes for thicker 1/4" cookies or a bit longer for even thicker cookies (they will be slightly soft). Turn the cookie sheets and switch top to bottom halfway through to ensure even baking. Remove from oven, let cool for a couple minutes and then transfer the cookies with a metal spatula to a cooling rack. The cookies are now ready to decorate, the extra fun creative part!!!

Royal Icing
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies
Makes lots of icing!

1 lb confectioners sugar, sifted
1/3 cups egg whites (2-3 eggs), room temp
1/4 tsp cream of tartar

Beat the egg whites with about half the sugar with electric beaters on high for five minutes. Beat in the cream of tartar and then slowly add the rest of the sugar 1/2 a cup at a time, beating throughly after each addition, so that it reaches the needed consistency. You may not need to add all of the sugar. You want the icing to be stiff enough that it pipes out cleanly and doesn't flatten out when you decorate, but not so stiff it is hard to squeeze out.

Spoon the icing into a pastry bag prepared with a small tip. A small tip will allow you to pipe out delicate designs and letters (my mom made cookies with each family member's name piped out!).  Go crazy decorating your cookies! When the icing dries, store the cookies in an airtight container.

Gluten and Dairy Free Austrian Walnut Cookies

Austrian Walnut Crescents
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies
Makes 40 cookies

These are my absolute favorite cookies every Christmas. They are snowy and light, like biting into a fluffy crumby cloud. Unfortunately, this makes them hard to transport, especially without the gluten for added support. But believe me, the gluten and dairy free version I've whipped up here are just as good as the originals. Just enjoy them at home and you'll be golden.

5 oz walnuts
6 oz vegetable shortening
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
3.75 oz granulated sugar
8 oz gluten free flour (Bob's Red Mill)
1 tsp xanthan gum
confectioners sugar for dusting

Preheat the over to 325. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a food processor, grind the walnuts very fine. They may get pasty, but that is ok. In a large bowl cream together the shortening, nuts and vanilla using a large spatula (because it's shortening, you won't need the power of an electric mixer to do this). Next add in the granulated sugar. Sift the gluten free flour and xanthan gum into the bowl and mix with the spatula until well incorporated.

Layout a large piece of wax paper on the counter and start to spoon out mounds of dough, about a tablespoon each. You will end up with about 40 cookies. Next is to form the cookies into crescents. This is more tricky than usual without gluten and the use of shortening instead of butter, as it gets very hot and blobby quickly. The best method is to roll the mound into a short fat log with the heel of your hand against the wax paper (to minimize heat). Then use your fingers to shape the cookie into a crescent shape, bending in the edges and tapering the ends a bit. Carefully transfer to the prepared baking sheet.  Place cookies about one inch apart as they will puff and spread. You can always form round mounds instead for cookies if you're feeling less fancy.

Bake in the oven for 18-20 minutes, turning halfway through, until the tips are lightly golden brown.  Remove from oven and let cool on the pan for 5 minutes. With a metal spatula, VERY carefully transfer to a cooling rack. When completely cool, dust with powdered sugar. Mmm.

Chocolate Spice Hearts

Chocolate Spice Hearts
Adapted from Maida Heatter's Book of Great Cookies
Makes about 3 dozen cookies

As a kid, these never seemed particularly special to me. Too grown up with all those fancy spices. But now, I find them an irresistible combination of chocolate, nut and spice. I like these on the thicker side so they are a bit softer and chewier. After a few days they will crisp up, but they're still fantastic. Thicker cookies also mean more ease in transferring the cut shapes, which is a delicate process sans gluten, so I would definitely recommend this. 

5 oz sifted gluten free flour (Bob's Red Mill)
1 tsp xanthan gum
Pinch of salt
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Scant 1/4 tsp ground cloves
4.5oz cup sugar (=1/2 cup)
2 oz unsweetened chocolate
2 oz semisweet chocolate
5 oz blanched almonds
5 oz vegetable shortening
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 egg yolks
1 egg white (for glaze)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. 

In a large bowl, sift together the gluten free flour, salt, cinnamon, cloves and sugar. Set aside.  Chop up the chocolate into smaller chunks and then grind in a food processor until powdered. Remove and set aside. In the same processor without cleaning, grind the blanched almonds to a powder.  Set side. Back in the large bowl, cut in the vegetable shortening with a fork or spatula until it forms a coarse meal.  Stir in the lemon zest, ground chocolate and ground almond. Then beat in the egg yolks.

The dough will be uneven at this point and will need to be mixed by hand to incorporate.  To do this, break off a piece of dough and push it away from you, smearing it against the work surface. Continue working the rest of the dough and gather back up into a ball. Now the dough should be completely incorporated. If not repeat the previous steps.

Roll out the dough, half at a time, between two pieces of wax paper to 3/8" thick.  Remove the top piece of wax paper. Use a cookie cutter to cut out heart shapes (or any non-complicated shape you'd like).  Carefully transfer the shapes with your hands to the prepared sheets. Don't use a spatula, it will just squish the shapes. Repeat with the other half of the dough. Gather the scraps and roll out to form more cookies.

Before putting the cookies into the oven, beat the egg white until foamy. Brush the top of each cookie with egg white using a pastry brush.  Bake the cookies for 15 minutes, switching sheets top to bottom and back to front halfway through.  Be careful not to over bake because these cookies burn easily. Remove from the oven and use a metal spatula to transfer to a rack to cool.

Peppermint Meringues

Peppermint meringues
Adapted from Bon Appetit
Makes 60 meringues

A new tradition of mine since last winter, meringues are already gluten and dairy free, but the addition of pretty peppermint swirls make these an extra fun little sweet. I like them alone or dropped on top of a mug of hot cocoa.

3 large egg whites, room temp
1/8 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/8 tsp peppermint extract
12 drops red food coloring

Preheat the oven to 250 and prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a large bowl, start beating the egg whites and the salt with electric beaters until foamy, about one minute. Next, add the granulated sugar in three intervals, beating for about 2 minutes between each addition.  Continue to beat after the last addition until the whites form stiff peaks. Add the peppermint extract and sifted powered sugar and beat until well incorporated. Now the fun part of making the red swirls: dot the top of the meringue with 12 drops of red food dye. Do NOT mix in. Carefully spoon the meringue into a prepared piping bag with large tip (I find plastic is better than canvas, otherwise you get a sticky seeping mess). Pipe out one inch rounds about one inch apart onto the prepared pans. As you pipe out the meringues, magical red and pink swirls will form. Don't make too big, unless you want to bake them forever.

Bake in the oven for 2 1/2 to 2 3/4 hours until dry. Turn off the oven and leave inside until the oven is completely cool. Transfer to an airtight container until really to devour.