Lesson 21: Gluten Free Cookies

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Cookies are the easiest sweets to bake and universally loved by all. Mix up all of the ingredients, shape them however you wish, bake for about 10 minutes, and enjoy! While it sounds simple, there are important facts to know, in general, about cooking baking as well as in gluten free cookie baking. You will learn how to develop and perfect existing recipes in this lesson.

Types of Cookies

While it would take an entire cookbook to teach you everything there is to know about all types of cookies, let’s go over a few well known versions.

Butter Cookies – contain high amounts of butter as in French Sablés

Shortbread – contain even higher amounts of butter and made in one layer or the dough is made with additional flour or less butter to make individual cookies as in Pecan Sandies

Drop Cookies – scoops of dough are dropped onto the cookie sheet like this Chocolate Chip Almond Cookie Recipe

Piped Cookies – the dough needs to be soft enough to pipe onto a cookie sheet as in Shortbread or Danish Piped Cookies

Cut Out Cookies – dough is rolled out as in Sugar Cookies, Gingerbread Cookies, Graham Crackers and sometimes rolled in your hand like Vanilla Wafers

Cookie Bars – made in a dish and sliced into pieces, often layered as in this Peanut Butter S’more Bars

Refrigerator Cookies (aka Ice Box Cookies) – dough is refrigerated to prevent too much spreading as in this recipe for Crispy Chocolate Wafers

Specialty or Cultural Cookies – made and baked quite differently than the above cookies as in as in Biscotti, Pizzelles, Mexican Wedding Cookies, French Macarons, Macaroons, and Thumbprint Cookies

Ingredients and Ratios

Cookies can be soft, chewy, crisp, or crunchy. The ingredients (butter, sugar, and flour), and their ratios, play the main roll in a cookies’ texture as does the temperature of the dough

Developing and/or Improving Existing Recipes

All-Purpose Gluten Free Flour Blend:

I can’t explain it yet, but usually when you’re using my all-purpose flour blend, in a cake, for instance, you would use 89% of the all-purpose wheat-based flour called for in the recipe: 2 cups of the gluten free blend versus 2-1/4 cups of the gluten flour. In cookie baking, almost every cookie recipe I make, I’ve had to use cup for cup of flour. Sometimes, they turn out the same as the gluten version, while other times, they turn out better. The best way to determine how much you need is by experience. If you’ve baked plenty of cookie recipes, you’ll know what the texture of dough should be. If you have to roll the dough into balls, can you? Or is it too soft? Did you add too much flour and now it’s dry? Add more softened butter.

Sugar & Butter:

Superfine Sugar (aka Baker’s Sugar) melts faster and spreads cookies very thin during the baking. I suggest avoiding the use of superfine sugar in cookie baking unless a recipe specifically calls for it.

Powdered sugar is much like adding sweet cornstarch. They both will lighten a cookie. Realize that powdered sugar contains starch like cornstarch, potato starch, etc.

Sugar adds moisture and turns to liquid, which helps cookies spread. Taste the raw dough. Does it need more sugar? If so, be careful with this one. If the dough contains eggs, adding more sugar after the dough is already mixed will create tough texture in the dough, therefore, tougher textured cookies. In addition, sugar needs liquid to break it down. Since the flour has already been added at this point, the liquid from the butter and extract(s) has already been absorbed. Instead of adding more sugar, try adding some simple syrup instead. If the dough is now too wet, add more flour. Taste it again. Does it now need more butter to balance out that additional flour?

You want a moist dough, and butter will help with that, too, as it contains water and fat. However, too much fat will create crispy cookies. Butter also helps cookies spread as the softened butter melts. This is why high butter content cookies are often refrigerated prior to baking. The cold temperature prevents the butter from melting right away and the cookie has a chance to bake. If the dough needs to be refrigerated, you’ll want soft dough. Then, once it’s refrigerated for an hour or two, it should firm enough to mold and hold it’s shape.

Textures

Chewy: Use plenty of sugar and butter (moisture); brown sugar contains molasses which is also chewy and provides more structure. Using brown sugar helps prevent as much spread during baking compared to the use of white sugar. Corn syrup and honey will help create a similar, chewy texture. If you want crispy on the bottom and chewy inside, use half brown sugar and half white. Otherwise for plenty of chewiness, use all brown sugar. The acid in the molasses activates the baking soda more and helps rise the cookie. Using 100% brown sugar will make moister cookies too. In addition, use enough gum like xanthan gum which also creates chewiness.

Dense: For dense cookies, use the chewy cookie tips plus mix by hand. When you whip sugar and butter together, they create a fluffy mixture. You want a dense mixture for dense cookies. Just be sure to mix it by hand long enough to break down the sugar. Otherwise, if you wish to use a mixer, melt the butter so that you’re not beating air into the room temperature butter.

Crisp: Use oil instead of butter. Use less or zero added starches like tapioca flour and cornstarch, and more flours like rice and/or sorghum. Baking soda, never baking powder. Baking soda creates crispness. Use confectioners’ sugar. Think Crispy Chocolate Wafers/Thin Mints and Graham Crackers. The graham cracker recipe calls for butter (moisture) as well as honey (softens dough), but they are needed to ensure that the cracker will soften in milk. Otherwise, use sugar for a harder, firmer cracker and oil for an extra crispness. And be sure to adjust baking times as needed. The use of egg whites also helps make gluten free cookies crisp. When using lots of egg whites, be sure to bake them on a lower temperature for longer periods. Also, make the cookies thin so they bake up nice and crisp. Thin cookies are also perfect to make sandwich cookies. Baking at a lower temperature for longer periods help create a crisp cookie as well. Think about how meringue cookies and Macarons are made. Lower temperatures take longer but do not brown at all or not much. In addition, the use of confectioners’/powdered sugar also makes lighter, crisper cookies.

Soft Baked/Cake-Like: Add liquid such as milk, buttermilk, or water and reduce sugar and butter as in Whoppie Pies. You want to make the cookies thick so that the inside does not become crisp or crunchy. Baking powder also softens cookies versus the use of baking soda. Perhaps use both. This way, the baking powder will create a cookie-like structure and the baking powder will create an almost cake-like texture. Adding an egg or two, much like making a cake, will also make your cookies cake-like/soft baked.

Bake One Cookie At a Time:

When testing cookie dough, bake one cookie at a time. When you have the dough and baking temperature and time perfected as well as decided whether the dough will need refrigeration or not, then bake an entire batch. Just realize once you have many cookie on a baking sheet, they may take a minute or two longer to bake than just one.

Storing Cookies

Freezing is the best way to store most gluten free cookies. Since homemade cookies do not contain any preservatives, they will stale faster and soften faster than store-bought cookies. However, some cookies should not be frozen or refrigerated. You want to keep cookies like meringues away from moisture (refrigeration or freezing). Allow them to stay at room temperature. This keeps them dry, crisp, and prevents the sugar from melting. You want to keep them away from moisture in the air as well. If you live in a humid environment, store them in an air-tight container in a cool place.

Assignment:

  1. Bake one of the above cookies or your favorite cookie recipe and note the effects each ingredient has on that cookie. If you know a cookie recipe well enough, skip this step and go to the next step, number 2.
  2. Then, change one thing about that recipe and see how it changes the cookie. Add 2 tablespoons more butter. Add one tablespoon more butter and sugar. Add a tablespoon of honey or molasses to a crispy cookie. Switch white sugar for brown. Add an egg to a cookie recipe that does not contain any. In a cookie recipe that calls for only baking soda, switch half the baking soda for baking powder. Report back what you notice.

Discover over 120 Gluten Free Cookie Recipes.

Note: The cookies in the above photo is from the Gluten Free Brown Butter Cookies with Toffee Pieces.

You can access all lessons via the links on the Syllabus page.