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30 October 2008

making cookies, spontaneously

cookie dough

"Sweetie, what day is it?" I whispered to the Chef in bed, as Little Bean fell asleep between us. She had been up for nearly an hour, kicking and smiling at the light fixture above us, cavorting at the sound of our voices.

"It's Thursday, I think," he said, scrunching up his face with the remembering.

"Oh fiddlesticks!" (I'm pretty sure I said something else, but I'll refrain here.)


"It's blog post day, and I don't have a recipe yet.


You see, we're cooking up a storm over here. We talk about food all day long, we shop for ingredients in the early afternoon, and then we're in the kitchen making at least four dishes a day. Right now, we're making up the recipes for the book that don't exist yet. The Chef salts food, and stirs sauces, and cuts into sheets of homemade pasta, and I write it all down. I ask a dozen questions and cook some of it myself to get the rhythm in my hands so I can translate it into words. And then we eat.

We have never felt so alive together. If someone said to me — "You've won the lottery. Now you can do whatever you want!" — do you know what I would do? I'd keep living exactly like this.

But when you make up four recipes a day, plus start jotting down notes for the next day's dishes that are already starting to appear in the mind, making up another recipe that will go on this website but not the book? Well, it slipped on by.

I thought of leaving a little placeholder here, send out an SOS and apologize. Stay tuned to next week.... But that didn't feel right. So, what to do?

A few days ago, the Chef and I were sitting on the couch, Little Bean between us, kicking and cooing. We started imagining what it will be like when she's older, and she has friends over. We both always wanted to have the house where everyone felt comfortable stopping by, spontaneously, without announcement. And so, the Chef started playing the part of Little Bean's friends, a few years from now.

"Mrs. Ahern, can I have a cookie?"

That did it. I needed to make cookies. I want to have an entire retinue of great gluten-free cookie recipes in my files, so I can make some for the little kids with grubby hands and big grins who wander through the door.

And so, these buttery jam cookies appeared. I tried the recipe this afternoon solely because we had all the ingredients on hand. Our refrigerator is stuffed with food, with plenty of flours and sugars on the shelves. After we came home from shopping at the Market (we ordered venison shanks! and bought caul fat for the sweetbreads!), I flew through the kitchen, putting together cookies.

I was trying to beat the light so I could take photographs.

In the middle of mixing and reaching for more ingredients, I started laughing. What an absurd situation. I have to make cookies now! And then it occurred to me -- this is the way I used to bake. Given a moment's notice, I could break out a batch of sugar cookies for a holiday party, or a baking sheet full of gingersnaps on a cold winter's night. It may have taken me three years, but gluten-free baking just feels like baking to me now.

For those of you who are new to this, persist. Believe me, it grows easier.

And these cookies, which I had never eaten, turned out to be a keeper. Fluffy as biscuits, faintly sweet with apricot jam, and pillowy with vanilla softness, these buttery jam cookies would be perfect with a late-afternoon cup of tea.

Or in the grubby hand of a grateful little kid.

buttery jam cookies II

I have learned so much about gluten-free baking since I began experimenting with recipes three years ago. In the past two weeks, as the Chef and I bake nearly every day, and he moves the dough around with his hands, I have learned even more about the body mechanics of baking.

One thing I know for sure: start with a great recipe.

Once I started to have a feeling for some of the flours, and I had worked out my favorite combinations for different situations, I went back to my baking books. Who do I trust, always? David Lebovitz is a genius. Julia Child always makes me smile. The folks at Cooks Illustrated have a new baking book I'm dying to buy, since almost every one of their recipes in the other books work like a charm. The Betty Crocker baking book still works. And there are countless other brilliant bakers who have a talent for not only making memorable baked goods but also expressing their technique in such a way that the rest of us can follow along.

(Who are your favorite baking gurus?)

Lately, however, my baking guru is Dorie Greenspan. (And actually, she was the author of that Julia Child baking book as well.) Her recipes work. Every time. She is meticulous and lovely. And I especially appreciate that she points out the sensory pleasures of a recipe, showing us what the dough should feel like underneath our hands and the cookies smell like when they are done.

Our copy of her book, Baking: From My Home to Yours, has multiple pages speckled with gluten-free flours and butter. I'm certainly not done baking from it yet.

We've changed this recipe of hers around a bit -- a little more flour, which seems necessary for gluten-free cookies -- and topping them with jam. But really, there's no need to experiment wildly when Dorie already invented these.

1/2 cup amaranth flour
2/3 cup potato starch
2/3 cup tapioca flour
1/2 cup sweet rice flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 stick unsalted butter, soft
2/3 cup sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2/3 cup apricot jam, plus more for topping the cookies

Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, or a Silpat, if you have one.

Combine all the flours in a bowl. Stir them up well to make them one flour. Add the baking powder, ginger, and salt. Sift them into another bowl with a fine-mesh sieve. Set aside.

If you have a stand mixer, put the butter in the bowl and use the paddle attachment. (If you don't own a stand mixer, you can do this all by hand with muscles and a wooden spoon.) Beat the butter for about 30 seconds, and then add the sugar. Beat for only one minute. (When you over-cream the butter and sugar in gluten-free cookies, they spread out in a disappointing fashion.) Add the egg and beat for one minute more. Next, pour in the milk and vanilla. At this point, the batter will look lumpy, even curdled. Don't worry. Keep going.

On the lowest setting, spin the stand mixer and add in the jam. When it is incorporated into the dough, add the dry ingredients, 1/4 cup at a time. You will know you are done when the dough is thick, almost to the point that it resists being poked.

These cookies work best as small cookies, so spoon them onto the baking sheet with a teaspoon. Leave space between the cookies.

Bake the cookies for 12 to 14 minutes, turning the baking sheet halfway through the baking process. The cookies are done when the tops are firmish. They will be pale -- if you keep baking them until they are browned, you will have horribly stiff cookies. You're just looking for browning around the edges.

Bring out the baking sheet from the oven. Make a small indentation in the top of each cookie with the back of a spoon. Carefully pat a dollop of apricot jam into the indentation. Allow the cookies to cool for a few moments before removing them from the rack.

Eat and enjoy.

Makes 18 cookies, depending on the size you make.


At 11:32 AM, Blogger Jennywenny said...

mmm, I have to say a couple of my favourite cookies are naturally gluten free if you get the right almond flour, amaretti, which are just sugar, egg whites and almond flour, and also sparkle cookies, which are just almond flour, sugar, eggs and chocolate. Mmm.

I'm also an enormous fan of dorie, its wonderful to be able to pick up her cookbook at any page and be completely confident it will be a winner recipe.

At 11:35 AM, Blogger Cathy Reaves said...

My favorite baker was my mother. She never baked gluten free, but she taught me the fundamental basics and those lessons have served me well. Some of my favorite childhood memories are baking, spontaneously with my mom. I continue that with my own kids and they love it too.

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are the one!!! Ok, let me explain please :) Someone sent me a fabulous (gluten free) bread recipe a while back and I didn't know where it came from. I shared it on my site to a few people who asked for it but didn't know who to credit. I will be sure to give you credit! I am new to the wheat allergy world and really missing my breads. I couldn't be happier to have found your site! I really hope you are right about being comfortable baking w/o wheat. I miss my 'normal' foods, but am determined to learn to learn how to make it all w/o wheat. Oh, did I mention I only eat whole/natural foods as well? HA! Wo-boy am I in for it!

Your happiness and contentment shines through your writing. I find your writing to be so comforting!! I can't wait to read more!

At 12:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is my first year as a celiac and while I've adapted pretty well, I've been starting to get sad about all the holiday baking traditions I grew up with and not being able to continue them easily with my kids. I was *just* thinking of writing and begging you to publish a Christmas cookie recipe and I come to your page to find... jam thumbprints (my mom always called them Angel thumbprints)! Thank you so much!

At 12:46 PM, Blogger Green Key said...

I developed a jam topped cookie made with ground pecans many years ago - before going gluten free. I was trying to make my own version of a Pepperidge Farm cookie that I adored. I would make the indent for the jam with the innie part of the top of a thermos bottle - it was just the right size, and made a nice round hole. For the jam, I mixed raspberry and apricot with a tiny bit of water to get a smooth consistency, so it filled the nice round holes in a very pretty way.
I'm looking forward to trying this recipe. It looks lovely! Thanks!

At 1:31 PM, Blogger Lauren Denneson said...

I too am amazed how GF baking is just baking now and I can't emphasize enough your advice to those starting out - to just keep at it until it becomes second nature. With you as her mother, I am sure your daughter will never feel there is something she cannot tackle!

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Delicious. I'll have to try some of these 'jam thumbprints' or whatever they're traditionally called.

I make them occasionally but it's been a good while. Maybe I'll have a 'mad tea party' with GF baked goods.



At 2:21 PM, Blogger oriordan said...

I think you omitted the baking powder from the list of ingredients. How much is needed?

At 2:38 PM, Blogger Ellen said...

I just made cookies like these (only not gluten free) for the first time last week! The ground ginger sounds like a good addition. I was thinking next time of using almond extract instead of vanilla (or maybe a mix) and cherry jam. Mmmm.

At 5:57 PM, Blogger Jess said...

These sound delicious ! how much baking powder do you use...and what kind ?


At 6:48 PM, Blogger aussiebaker said...

Maida Heatter's cookie, cake and dessert cookbooks are among the best ever. Her recipes are so descriptive and helpful you feel like she's standing next to you as you bake.

Also, I have been baking and selling g/f cookies for several years and do not find that creaming the butter and sugar together needs to be accomplished in one minute. I use a blend of maize starch, tapioca, and rice flour and get results that are almost identical to wheat flour. I sometimes add buckwheat flour to this flour blend with sensational results.

At 8:49 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just have to say how much I love your site and admire your writing, outlook and pure joy in living every day. What a breath of fresh air each time I read a new entry. Wishing you much continued happiness.
Suzanne in Austin

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My favorite cookbooks used to be The Joy of Cooking and Settlement Cookbook. If there were gluten-free versions of these or other GF cookbooks based on them, I would be first in line to buy them.

What I am really looking for in a GF cookbook are explanations of each flour. That is what I liked about Joy. I learned so much from reading their explanations.

When your daughter is older and has friends over, you will be surprised by how many children actually have food allergies. Yesterday, I brought in GF brownies for the class party. One of the girls in the class has celiac. (Actually, three people in her family have it.) Another mom brought in GF/egg-free rice crispy treats because her son has multiple food allergies. You know what! No one complained. They all liked the treats. Nothing was viewed as B-rated food.

Oh my goodness, I can just imagine you and your husband going in to your daughter's school on career day!

At 12:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

These cookies do look light, delicate, and sweet. I love the photo with the dollop of jam in the middle. I just received a jar of freshly made peach jam from my CSA. I might have to try this recipe with a jam twist. And you're so right about over-beating GF dough!

At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Love your vision for the future.Unfortunately, it's almost a given that LB's little friends won't call you "Mrs. Ahern". Nowadays kids call the parents of their friends by the first name. I know. I know. We didn't grow up that way. I hate it.-chris

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was *just* thinking about Christmas cookies today, wondering if a couple of our favorite cookies could be successfully made GF. And here was a gift waiting for me! (Last year, everything was chocolate, no flour because I was new and chicken!)

This thumbprint cookie, as we call them, was on my mind. Something with jam and a white sugary cookie. I was thinking of Linzer cookies, which is a sandwich cookie with the top layer having a tiny shape cut out of the middle so the jam sparkles through the "window" of the top cookie. But these will do well and much less fussy, still pretty. I was thinking they'd look great with sparkly sugar on them or dusted with powdered sugar before the jam went on.

Also, we make a cookie called either Russian Tea Cakes or Pecan Sandies, depending on the cookbook. It's a firm ball batter, rather dry, with ground nuts incorporated. When they are partially cool, roll them in powdered sugar. I'm thinking your recipe might work for the little gems. They always go the fastest in our house. Pop one in the mouth and let it melt!

Thank you for your inspiration!


At 9:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Like Alexandra, I'm a big fan of Maida Heatter's baking books; her recipes are great and her writing is wonderfully conversational. I love that she acknowledges that certain cakes will almost certainly crack as they cool... and that she advocates a thick layer of whipped cream for when they do.

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

First off, I was able to see you speak this morning in Bellingham- THANK YOU!!! My son had a meltdown in the car on the way home because he couldn't eat some of the GF snacks that were handed out because we are off dairy too, and I asked him to remember what you said about it taking time to find things he likes, and how in time it will be easier... I think it helped a little to know that other people feel a little lost at first too.
We (my son and I) are new to GF and while I used to bake up a storm, the only thing I've attempted besides Namaste mixes is your cornbread recipe- which was delicious, but made me sick because I'm dairy intolerant also and didn't substitute. *sigh* My grandmother taught me how to bake- I used to sneak raw dough from the bread, I made up my own spice cake recipe at her house, baked my first blueberry pie... I have been grieving needless to say, but I think I'm ready to start experimenting again. Cookies seem to be a good place to start!
Thanks Shauna for all your hard work :)

At 7:22 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love my Words Worth Eating cookbook- both before and after going GF. Every recipe is wonderful! I am curious though, how strong the amaranth flavor is in this recipe?


At 8:32 AM, Blogger alm said...

I've got Dorie's pecan shortbread in the oven right now, and I agree...why experiment when she's already got it going on?

At 10:03 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

fiddlesticks . . .heh.

The cookies look delish.

At 12:29 PM, Blogger Tay said...

I agree with many kids have food allergies, two of my nieces cannot have nuts, eggs or dairy. I eat GF completely now and have discovered a sensitivity to corn. It is easy to feel like there is no way to cook for everyone!

Kids (and big kids) need treats and the holiday season can be the most stressful.

I am keeping all refined sugar out of my diet for a while, so using agave and wonder if you have ideas for substituting a liquid sugar in your GF baking recipes?

A magical holiday baking book that has yummy recipes for all the allergies would be a boon for many moms and dads. My sister is really struggling with her kids and food allergies. I know you can't do everything, but LB (and her future friends) will certainly inspire you and The Chef, I bet!

Thanks for keeping up this blog, I love it ~ you are such and inspiration, Shauna.

At 4:45 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hello again,
these cookies are called apricot nests in my home and they came from my danish grandmothers house. I think thats where my celiac diagnosis also came. But I'll never know. However, thanks for the GF version!!

At 6:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My mum is definitely my favorite baker, she can cook the best cookie and cakes .

At 8:45 AM, Blogger Bear and Bones Mama said...

Oh yum! Jam cookies have always been my favorite, but last time I ate one was 3 years ago when I ate gluten. I will be baking these tonight or tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow, for the election party. Hopefully a celebratory Obama/Biden party!

At 10:12 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

Just so you know, as residents of the fantstic city of Seattle, there's precious little chance that LB's friends will ever call you Mrs. Ahern. We're a first name culture around here. Now, I do understand that at many/most Seattle public elementary schools, teachers are identified by an honorific and their last name. But at my wonderful alternative K-8, they're on a first name basis too.

At 1:58 PM, Blogger Rosiecat24 said...

Oh, I love thumbprint cookies! They are so much fun to make. Yours look wonderful, and I like the suggestion from glutenfreeforgood to use peach jam on top. Yum!

My favorite baking mentor is still my mom. I love that she was so willing to share her kitchen with me and to let me experiment as I became more interested in baking. She never, ever made me feel bad about how things turned out, and that gave me oodles of confidence to try whatever recipes caught my eye. I love her.

At 3:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I MUST make these today or tomorrow. I might mess with the flour combinations a little. Just because I think I use a different GF flour mix than you do, but I can make something similar enough.

I think I'm going to add almond flavoring to the dough and a fruit sweetened sour cherry jam as the filling. I like the cherry-almond combo. That's the great thing about this recipe--you can change it up.



At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reporting back:

I made thumbprints but I didn't have all of the flours (the combo I used was brown rice flour, potato starch and tapioca starch. I'll have to get some other flours soon)They turned out exquisitely well!

I added equal parts vanilla and almond extract to the dough (yum!) and used all organic brown sugar.

The tart sour cherry jam was a perfectly compliment to the vanilla-almond flavor in the cookie. They're the best I've had. Thanks so much for the technique and the idea. I have a renewed appreciation of jam thumbprint cookies!

Another thing I did (which I think helps prevent spreading in GF cookies, especially) is I chilled the dough for an hour plus before baking. It's easy to handle and holds its shape remarkably well.

Did you read that article about 'the perfect chocolate chip cookie' or a perfect cookie in general? It talked extensively about an experiment where dough rested anywhere from a day to several days in the refrigerator and the flavor just improved markedly.

Here's the link to anyone who's interested:


At 9:01 PM, Blogger Alli said...

I'm glad you make this blog. I discovered my bodies dislike of gluten just a few weeks ago. The adjustment is hard. Really hard. And I'm barely 21, living on my own, with almost no money. It's nice to see the things I can make. :)

At 9:33 PM, Blogger GFree_Miel said...

Those are yummy looking! I'm in serious need for some good gluten free cookies. It's been so long since I've really tasted a good cookie...Definitely trying this the next time I go home from school.

Best wishes!

At 11:46 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

these cookies are delicious! these are perfect for the holiday season. Thanks for sharing.

At 1:39 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

YUM! These remind me of the "Thumbprint Cookies" my Mom makes each year for Christmas! Love the apricot preserves.

At 2:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

For an Aussie girl- what is does a stick of butter weigh and what are the ingredients in sweet rice flour?

At 5:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I just discovered this site a few days ago, as I was googling gluten-free cooking. We just discovered I have Celiac's a few months ago, and I'm very much still in the "getting it under control" process. At least we know what it is though, after many painful and sickly years.

My nana and two of her daughters all have Celiac's also, so my doctors didn't even do any further testing. A few experimental days with diet change confirmed everything we need to know, haha.

Now there's the hard stuff; excluding such a deliciously potent ingredient from my diet, but I'm sooo glad I found this website. I like how you combine your love of writing with your love of good food; two of the lovliest things this world has to offer.

It seems like everyday I take a nibble of something and then discover what's secretly in it, and then oh crap, i'm paying for it. I'll get it in hand though, with time. Thank you so much for all your writing and personal tips, I think it's really going to be my savior.

At 7:58 AM, Blogger Kari said...

I was wondering WHAT you're doing with all that food and what happens if you test something and it's not right? Do you make it all again to have MORE leftovers? Sooooo curious.

At 5:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Shauna,

Here's a link to my blog where I made GF/LF thumbprint cookies with my almost-3-year-old, which you'll no doubt be doing before you know it!



At 9:24 AM, Blogger Kstreel said...

I love your site, but now that I have moved to Costa Rica, I cannot find many of the baking ingredients. Interestingly, they have banana, plantain, sweet potato, and yucca flower, but not amaranth, tapioca, sorghum, guar gum, or almond. Is there a resource that might help me make substitutions? BTW, the company here wants to start exporting to the US.
I love the banana flour because you don't need much sugar. Anyway, thanks for the help! Karen

At 6:20 PM, Anonymous LInda B said...

Wondering if you ever tried the cookies my daughter and I brought you from Texas in July that year. I know there were snickerdoodles, probably some peanut butter cookies, I think we ate all the oatmeal ones using oats from Bob's Red Mill because even gluten-free oats give some celiacs problems. We baked all night before the trip, brought half along to sustain us in case there was no GF food in Seattle (yeah, like that might happen), and the other half for you. Visiting your husband the chef at his restaurant was part of the fun of delivering the goodies.

At 3:11 PM, Anonymous Filaree said...

I'm dying to make thumbprints (there's some homemade apricot jam practically screaming at me), but I had a question if you have time. Do you still recommend making these this way or would you sub your all-purpose mix you recently posted into a recipe you used to use? p.s. I just made a zucchini pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting using your AP GF Mix that was to die for!

At 3:12 PM, Anonymous Filaree said...

I forgot to ask also if Millet flour would be a good sub for amaranth flour. Thanks!


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