Gluten Free Gingerbread Cookies

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Any gluten free gingerbread cookies in here?

 

Miss Muffet had been gluten free for almost a full year before I ever really became sad that she had celiac disease. To that point, it had been one great relief – I finally understood what had been wrong with my daughter, and now she was healthy and thriving once gluten was eliminated from her diet.

Then Thanksgiving rolled around, which naturally brings about some challenges for those with gluten intolerance all on its own. But that wasn’t what was really getting me down. It was something much simpler…

Gingerbread cookies.

Over the previous winter holiday, before we knew that she was gluten intolerant, I initiated Miss Muffet in the long-standing family tradition of baking gingerbread cookies. She loved rolling out the dough, cutting out the little gingerbread men, and decorating them with tiny red hots and icing. She proudly passed her cookies around after our family’s Thanksgiving meal. We later made another batch for sharing with Santa and his reindeer.

Making gingerbread cookies with wheat flour, before Miss Muffet’s diagnosis.

 

The gingerbread cookie recipe we used is treasured in my family – it is one that my grandmother made with me. Maw-maw’s gingerbread cookies were unlike any that I have ever tried elsewhere. I’ve since learned that almost every European country has its own version of gingerbread – some crisp, some cake-like in consistency. Maw-maw’s cookies were soft and moist… a definite emphasis on the gingerBREAD in these cookies. They had a delightful balance of ginger, cinnamon, and brown sugar, with just a hint of molasses.

Although I love the taste and texture of these cookies, it is the memory of making gingerbread cookies with my siblings and Maw-maw that makes them a holiday staple. And thus my sadness at potentially losing the tradition, since my daughter can’t ingest or even handle wheat flours.

You’re probably thinking that there are plenty of gluten free gingerbread cookie recipes on the web, and you’re right. I’ve found lots of recipes over the past two years, but none came close to resembling my Maw-maw’s.  First, getting a soft gluten free cookie or bread is incredibly difficult. The recipes I tried produced cookies that were either crumbly and dry, or as dense and hard as a hockey-puck. Another downside was that Miss Muffet and Bo Peep couldn’t help me with the dough, as all of the recipes I found contained eggs. Maw-maw’s dough lacked eggs or other raw ingredients, making it safe for little helpers.

So this time, rather than trying to use someone else’s recipe, I decided to use the knowledge I’ve gained baking gluten free foods for my family for the past two years. I’ve successfully adapted my grandmother’s recipe to a gluten free version. I beamed when my little sister, the gingerbread cookie connoisseur, took a bite from a cookie this past Thanksgiving, smiled and pronounced, “You nailed it.”

These gluten free cookies are soft and moist (if all you’ve known are store-bought gluten free baked goods, that sentence probably sounds strange to you). Best of all, since there are no raw ingredients, my daughters can again join me in rolling and cutting out the dough without any worry. The unbaked dough is so good that even I can’t resist sampling it!

Don’t be intimidated by the stiff dough (top left). Extrude the dough between pieces of wax paper (top right). The girls love cutting and decorating (bottom panels).

 

There are two secrets to getting a soft gingerbread cookie. First, don’t over-bake the dough – the shortening and molasses are great binders in the dough, and there are no raw ingredients.  The real key to a soft, moist gluten free cookie, however, is a not-so secret ingredient to gluten free bakers: cake enhancer. I discovered this ingredient over the past year, using it to bake soft gluten free hamburger buns and sandwich breads. Adding cake enhancer had worked wonders for those recipes, and turns out it does for gingerbread cookies as well. These cookies stay moist, and seem to soften even more, in a covered container at room temperature for at least one week (perhaps they will even longer, but these cookies don’t stick around). If you know anything about gluten free baked goods, that kind of shelf longevity is AMAZING.

Delicious gluten free gingerbread cookies are fun to decorate!

 

Maw-maw’s Gingerbread Cookies Made Gluten Free
 
Author:
Recipe type: Dessert
Serves: Make 26 large gingerbread cookies

Ingredients
  • ½ cup shortening
  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ½ cup molasses (Brer Rabbit brand is gluten free)
  • ½ cup buttermilk
  • ½ tsp vinegar
  • 4 cups GF multipurpose flour (King Arthur Flour recommended)
  • 1¼ tsp xanthan gum
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 4-7 Tbsp GF Cake Enhancer (King Arthur Flour recommended)
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1¼ tsp ginger
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Instructions
  1. Using a stand mixer, cream shortening.
  2. Add sugar gradually and cream thoroughly.
  3. Blend in molasses.
  4. Sift 1½ cups flour with xanthan gum, baking soda, cake enhancer, salt, and spices, then mix into molasses mixture.
  5. Add vinegar and gradually mix in 2 cups of flour, alternating with buttermilk.
  6. Remove mixer bowl from stand. Add ½ cup of flour to the dough and fully mix by hand to create a stiff dough. (The dough may appear very dry at this point).
  7. Chill dough in the refrigerator at least 4 hours (24 hours preferred). The rest in the refrigerator is done to fully moisten the flour, so longer is better.
  8. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  9. Work dough with your hands to soften it. Roll half of the dough ¼ inch thick between sheets of wax paper (reserve other half of dough in the refrigerator). Remove top sheet of wax paper, and cut dough with cookie cutters (preferably gingerbread man shapes); place on an ungreased baking sheet or baking stone.
  10. Recombine scrap pieces of dough, continuing to roll and cut (if the dough becomes difficult to work with, return to refrigerator and use the other chilled portion).
  11. Decorate with currants, raisins, or cinnamon imperials. Bake 10 minutes for larger cookies (3-5 inches), or 7-8 minutes for smaller cookies. If baking larger pieces for gingerbread houses, bake ~15 minutes. Remove and immediately cool on wire racks.
  12. Option: Decorate with icing (see recipe in notes)

Notes
For a more crisp cookie that is suitable for building gingerbread houses, omit the cake enhancer entirely or use the smaller amount called for in the recipe. You will likely need to adjust the amount of flour if using anything other than King Arthur Flour’s Gluten Free Multipurpose Flour. Icing Recipe: Melt ½ tsp butter and add to 2 tsp hot milk and ½ tsp vanilla extract. Mix well with the sugar, adding more warm milk if necessary to reach desired icing consistency.

6 Comments

  1. Ma's Lil sis

    December 5, 2012 at 10:38 pm

    You nailed it! 🙂 I am so proud of you in your pursuit to share this legacy with your little ones. I just wish we had the legandary cook around who could still make them. I’m sure she would tell you that you nailed it as well!! I can tell you she sure would be proud of your garden and how you take care of your family for those two young’ns! Keep it up sis! I know I’m proud of you. Wish I had a the back to be able to do it too but ahhhh ce la vie!

  2. Pingback: How to Build a Gluten Free Gingerbread House

  3. Jocelyn

    September 23, 2013 at 12:45 pm

    Hi, thank you for posting a gluten-free and egg-free gingerbread cookie recipe! A few of my son’s classmates have gluten and egg allergies, and I wanted to make a gingerbread recipe that could serve everyone and not exclude anyone. I noticed that this recipe calls for buttermilk. Is there a way I can alter the recipe to make it dairy-free as well? Can I substitute coconut milk or soy milk without compromising flavor or texture? Thanks!!

    • Ma Hubbard

      September 26, 2013 at 5:20 pm

      I also use almond milk as my husband is sensitive to dairy. Soy or coconut milk would likely be fine, though the latter might impart too much coconut flavor. It’s worth a try!

  4. Claire

    November 28, 2013 at 10:51 am

    Hi there,

    This looks like a lovely recipe which I would love to try for my niece who is egg, gluten and dairy intolerant. I’m based in Ireland and I don’t think King Arthur brand is stocked here so I was planning on using a GF self raising flour instead but have no idea what to replace the cake enhancer with. Any suggestions? Would it be a disaster to leave it out? Thanks so much in advance.

    PS – I want to try and recreate this advent calendar which looks lovely
    http://www.bbcgoodfood.com/recipes/chocolate-gingerbread

    • Ma Hubbard

      November 30, 2013 at 10:01 pm

      Hi, Claire. Sorry for the delay in my reply, but we have been celebrating Thanksgiving here in the U.S., which lasts far longer than the official day on the calendar for many of us. The advent calendar in your link looks lovely! You can certainly make the cookies without the cake enhancer, which only serves to make them softer and keeps them tasting fresh-baked a bit longer. Have fun with your calendar — I would love to hear how it turns out!