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15 December 2006

on loving a man and his mother's cookies

(We're thrilled that this recipe is being featured at's roundup of holiday recipes for 2009. For more of our featured posts, visit today.)

When you choose to love someone, you accept more than one person in your life. Truly loving someone means inheriting an entire world.

The moment between two people is dear, more powerful and tender than any people outside those two will ever understand. This shared life is ineffably beautiful, a little universe of two. But if it’s true love, that universe starts expanding, pretty quickly.

The holidays are approaching. Family time. Your parents beam with happiness when they find out that he does not have to work on Christmas Eve, and thus everyone can have two full days together for games and food. His father sends out the Christmas letter to the four brothers and sisters, and the two of you, and he officially welcomes you into the family by including you in the gift exchange. The two of you trade tears at the way you have been accepted.

And then he tells you that his mother makes him cookies, every year. She has been making the same cookies for forty years, or so. No one has ever made them for her. So the two of you conspire, and you make two different batches, with different gluten-free flours, until they look fantastic. Late at night, he takes a bite of the last batch, and tears form in his eyes. “These are my mom’s cookies,” he says, and hugs you close.

No baking has ever felt this good.

The next day, you put together a package, and send a tin of the cookies to Arizona, overnight. All day, the two of you giggle, wondering when they will receive it. The next afternoon, as you are driving to the restaurant, the cell phone rings. He answers it ands smiles wide. After a few moments, he passes the phone to you.

His mother exhales, “I just can’t believe you did this!” She says of the photograph of the two of you that you tucked into the box, “We are going to put this out for everyone to see. I’m sure that we’ll look at it on Christmas Eve and cry.” You feel more grateful than you can say, but you also love how familiar her voice is now, enough that you know she is holding back tears as she talks.

His father comes on the line, and thanks you, profusely. He asks how your book is coming, and you assure him that you’ll make the deadline. Of course you will. And then he says, of the cookies: “These are gluten-free? Well, then I don’t need any damned gluten! These are great.” And you grin, because here is a man nearly eighty years old, and he is still open enough to allow himself to change. You hear the man you love in his father’s voice, and more than anything, you just hope that you have the chance to love that man until he is eighty.

It is the first holiday season the two of you share, and his parents approve of your gluten-free cookies. This universe you share together — it feels enormous and beneficent.

And then you share it with everyone reading on the internet.


1 cup unsalted butter, softened
½ cup powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white rice flour
½ cup tapioca flour
1/4 cup almond meal
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup each roasted hazelnuts, almonds, and pecans, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 300°.

Cream the butter and powdered sugar in a stand mixer, or by hand. Cream them until they are just combined, and then one beat more. Over-creaming butter and sugar in gluten-free cookies makes them spread, horribly. Add the vanilla extract and mix it in.

Combine the rice flour, tapioca flour, and almond meal in a large bowl. Sift the mixed flours for a soft texture. Add the sifted flour to the butter, sugar, and vanilla mix. Mix until just beaten in.

Add the three kinds of nuts to the dough and mix until they are well integrated into the dough. Refrigerate for at least one hour before forming into cookies.

Form small blobs of dough, as large as the width of the palm of your hand. Gingerly, tenderly, roll them out to small logs. If the logs of dough form little tails, more narrow than the rest, snip those off and start again. Place them down carefully on the silpat on a baking sheet. You should be able to fit about fifteen logs of dough on the sheet.

Put into the oven and bake for eighteen to twenty minutes. The cookies will be firm to the touch, with a bit of give, when they are done. Sieve powdered sugar over the tops of the cookies, and then put a bit more on. Set the baking sheet aside for ten minutes. Do not attempt to live the cookies yet. However, the cookies might have spread, just a bit. Gently, using a metal spatula or your fingers, pat the edges of the cookies back into place. Let them cool on the baking sheet. After ten minutes, gently lift the cookies onto a cooling rack. Let them sit for at least an hour before eating. (I know — good luck.) These hold together and taste best when you let them sit overnight.

Makes about fifteen cookies.


At 11:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Merry Merry! What a wonderful tale!Here's to love expanding our universe.

At 12:54 AM, Blogger Tea said...

This is so very beautiful.

Any chance you could make me a dairy-free, sugar-free version?

At 1:04 AM, Blogger Calli said...

<3 God, that's a good feeling.

- Calli

At 4:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The killer of most marriages...the MOTHER IN LAW...looks like you are off to a GREAT START...and the cookies look amazing!

At 5:35 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good for you, Shauna. Happy holidays to you and your entire family.

At 7:28 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness! Oh my goodness!!!

My brother got married 15 years ago, and his new bride made these cookies. My other brother and I stopped by while she was baking, and we ate nearly all of them as she was baking; we had never tasted them before.

Since I have been gluten free for only two moths, I kind of forgot about these gems (but will be seeing them tomorrow at our family Christmas bash).and now knowing I can make them gluten free, I won't be sad about it.

Thank you SO much for sharing!! I will be so ready to bake cookies next year! All gluten free. Hooray!!!


At 8:33 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just send the husband on a misson to collect nuts. He is not happy with me LOL

I can't wait to try these!

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a beautiful post. and a reminder of what the holidays are truly all about.

merry christmas, shauna!

At 6:57 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looks like a flattened version of a type of cookie we grew up eating that I heard referred to as "russian teacakes", nut-balls, butter-balls, and a few others. Nice butter and nutty flavors come together for a perfect holiday cookie. Mmmmmmm.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


My roomate has ciliac and I've been wanting to bake for her for a long time. But the whole gluten free baking has been very intimidating to me. These cookies look great and the recipe doesn't seem difficult at all. I think she might be getting cookies for Christmas. Thanks for posting it!

At 12:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing with us! Wonderful post. Happy holidays!


At 2:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in a fairly new relationship (2 1/2 years) and you sum up my thoughts perfectly.

At 11:18 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You post made me quite teary eyed. Thanks for sharing!

At 8:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wowee what a love story! I am really warming up to the Chef, you two are adorable! I love it!

My mom made corn spaghetti last night (gluten-free). I can't remember what it was called, but have you ever had anything like it? Tastes delish!

Alrighty, have a wonderful day full of cookies and love *sigh*

- esha =)

At 9:18 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I could hardly wait to try these, and they were as good as I hoped. Short of the powdered sugar they fit my wheat, corn, soy, egg, and yeast free lifestyle. I just substituted xtra fine sugar for the powdered sugar - yumm!

At 5:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Those cookies look and sound exactly like the Russian tea cakes I have been making since childhood but haven't been able to eat in years. They wouldn't last ten minutes in this house but I am going to make them anyway for our Christmas dinner.Bless you for experimenting and saving all of us that effort! Your story about these cookies made me tear up too--I can't wait to make these. Thanks!

At 3:20 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For the non US audience: 1 cup of butter is equivalent to 226 grams (1 ml of butter = 0.904 g).

At 6:30 AM, Blogger Larissa said...

we love these, and this is our first gluten free christmas (son and I were dx this last spring). so this post made me cry.

thank you. i'll be making these tonight.


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