Saturday, December 30, 2017

Allergy-Friendly Shortbreads

Why is this shortbread cookie smiling? He's both gluten free and vegan, and tastes divine!

Allergy-Free Shortbread

While I'm glad to see 2018 arrive, the end of December is always a bittersweet time for my sister and I. Every year, my mom donates exactly one month to shortbread cookie baking, and once January 1 rolls around we pack up the cookie cutters and sprinkles for another year. While we gripe and complain about the dearth of melt-in-your-mouth, buttery goodies the rest of the year, I can appreciate that the adage "absence makes the heart grow fonder" really holds true in this case.

Alas, not everyone on my gift list is able to appreciate such decadent cookies. I speak of course of my friends with Celiac and food allergies - namely dairy, nut, soy and egg. The original cookie contains a short list of ingredients - flour, butter, icing sugar, egg yolk and vanilla - so finding workarounds that didn't compromise the pure flavour of the originals was tricky. Most margarine contains either dairy or soy (or both), and while I do have a recipe for a vegan "egg yolk" substitute I needed something quick and easy. I eventually settled on my Homemade Egg Replacer powder, which worked well and kept the cookies' tender qualities due to it's starch component. For the "butter", I went with a new-to-me vegan spread that was also soy-free: MELT. Usually I would stay far, far away from "spreads" in cookies like this, but the result was far better than I supposed and the cookies didn't have any lingering taste of coconut (the main ingredient). 

The great thing about this dough is that it freezes well too, so I made a full batch and divided it into thirds (one for each recipient). I got about 10 cookies per mini-batch, which I either decorated with chocolate or painted with food colouring.

Do you have a special holiday-only cookie? Let me know in the comments!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Scottish Fans

Scottish Fan Cookies are a slightly puffy, crisp spiced brown sugar biscuit decorated to resemble a fan. A sprinkle of raw sugar adds a bit of crunch!

Scottish Fans

These cookies have been on my "bucket list" for the longest time - I think I had read the page in my mom's cookbook about 20 times since finding it in 2010(ish). For some reason, it never made it to the final cut, until this year. With a slightly "laxer" schedule due to less commuting and online school, I had the opportunity to make bits and pieces of my Christmas cookie list over a few weeks - a huge benefit because I could allow for proper butter softening, dough chilling and even decorating!

That said, these cookies are relatively low on the "complexity scale" when it comes to cookies - it's a fairly basic brown sugar and spice cookie with a touch of barley flour and a couple shots of whisky for good measure. However, the dough needs to chill twice - once to firm up the butter and allow the whole grain barley flour to hydrate properly, the second to make sure the cookies hold their shape (and markings) in the oven. Luckily, neither chill is a "hard and fast" rule - I actually made the dough and chilled it one day, rolled and cut it a few days later and froze all the finished, unbaked "fans" until right before I needed to make up the gift boxes. The cookies are not overly fragile, but their rounded edge makes boxing them somewhat complicated. I eventually went for a 6" round cookie tin and placed the baked goods inside in their original configuration. Just be sure to separate layers with parchment or wax paper if stacking in a warm, humid environment (like my well used kitchen), otherwise you'll have one big stack of cookies.

Not a bad thing, mind you, but sharing is more appropriate for the season!

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Norwegian Kakemenn

Norwegian Kakemenn are soft sugar cookies that aren't too sweet - perfect for decorating with icing! They use baker's ammonia instead of baking powder for leavening. Easy and simple tasting, they're a crowd pleaser!

Norwegian Kakemenn

I've always loved learning about other cultures and countries, especially when it came to celebrations and (of course) food. My mom has a boxed collection of cookbooks "from around the world", which I love to peruse even though there are no photos. This year I picked a few out of the "British Isles and Northern Europe" book to make for holiday gifts, including these delightfully Michelin man-like Norwegian sugar cookies caked kakemenn.

Norwegian Kakemenn

I'm sure you can figure out what the word translates into English as, and let me tell you they are true to their name (even when not shaped like "men"). However, unlike most typical "cakey" cookies that have a soft, somewhat sticky surface and are cakey all the way through, these have a very definite crisp "shell" to bite through before the airy middle is revealed.While I call these "sugar cookies" for lack of a better name, they are definitely not as sweet as traditional sugar cookies are here in North America. They are relatively mild tasting, which is great for people (especially kids) who don't like the typical spice-laden cookies of the season, and since they are intended to be frosted the lack of sweet in the cookie results in a perfect marriage once all is said and done.

The cookie dough is relatively unique in my experience, for two reasons: first, the base of the cookie is milk, rather than butter. While butter is a part of the dough, it is melted and mixed with the milk and sugar before adding flour and leavening. The leavening is the second unique part of this cookie puzzle - like the Amoniaczki and Vintage Speculaas that I've made in the past, these cookies use baker's ammonia for leavening instead of baking powder. If baking with ammonia weirds you out - and trust me, when these are baking you'll think you're cleaning your oven - don't worry about ingesting poison. It might smell like bleach at first (and I don't recommend eating it raw!) but ammonium bicarbonate is a fantastic leavener for simple cookies since it doesn't leave any taste behind after it's done it's job! Apparently, you can try to substitute baking powder, but I know you won't get the same airy crispness of the original.

Norwegian Kakemenn

Do you like trying out new cookies every year for the holidays? What are some of your favourites?

Friday, December 22, 2017

Piña Colada Biscotti

If you like pina coladas, these biscotti are right up your alley! Made with coconut flour, pineapple juice and a shot of spiced rum, they're perfect with a fruity tea or on their own.

Pina Colada Biscotti

These cookies are another contribution to my holiday biscotti collection this year. While we haven't yet been hit with the icy blast of winter (knock wood), it is cold and snowy enough outside that many of us are longing for warmer climes. Pineapple always makes me think of the tropics, and there's nothing more celebratory of a Caribbean vacation than a piña colada, so I decided to "Christmas-fy" the flavour of the drink into a crunchy, fruity, dippable cookie.

While the cookie itself is flavoured with both pineapple juice and rum, I couldn't leave it at that when it came time to wrap them up for gifting. Instead, I whipped up a glaze with leftover pineapple juice and powdered sugar and double-glazed each cookie, giving them shine and an extra layer of tangy-sweet goodness. Unfortunately I didn't note the amounts of sugar and juice, but I did mix them together before bringing the glaze to a simmer for a few minutes just to activate the cornstarch in the sugar. Double-glazed, these took a good 8 hours to dry enough to wrap, but the ends we saved off to the side didn't have to wait - stickiness and all, they were devoured!

Pina Colada Biscotti

In lieu of nuts, I wound up using a crunchy granola-flake cereal for texture in these biscotti. If money were no issue, 100% it would be macadamias though! I love using granola for nuts in baking because I always have it on hand, and since I usually (but not always) make my own I can make sure it is nut free for when I teach at school.

Mele Kalikimaka everyone!

Pina Colada Biscotti

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Harvest Biscotti

A few vegan sweet potato biscotti go perfectly with afternoon tea. These are 75% whole grain and studded with pecans and dried cranberries

Harvest Bisccotti

So here we are, a few days before Christmas and a few days after Hanukkah, where cookies and other yummy things are rampant and elastic pants are valuable. While indulgent cookies and cakes are of course part of my holiday repertoire, I'm actually known more for my yearly assortment of biscotti than anything else. I already shared two of this year's treats with you - Rainbow Biscotti Bites and  Allergy Friendly Gingerbread Biscotti -  and I have three more including this one!

Why biscotti? Well, it's one of the most perfect "gifting" cookies out there. They're sturdy and long lasting, infinitely variable, and tuck neatly into almost any gift. These ones, for example, I designed to be vegan, using vegan mayonnaise and homemade egg replacer along with some leftover sweet potatoes frozen from Thanksgiving. Combined with other festive ingredients like pecans and craisins, I soon wound up with a flavourful, super-easy dough that cut beautifully for the second bake (always an issue!). My mom, who is not a fan of crunchy biscotti, ate the once-baked ends as "long cookies" while the biscotti-philes indulged in the full experience. Both versions were met with acclaim - and disappeared before I could get the maple glaze I had planned onto them!

Pretty in Pink Chocolate Chippers

These are the prettiest chocolate chip cookies I've ever seen, and they taste amazing thanks to a slight earthiness from shredded raw beets. Guess what - they're gluten free and vegan too!

Pretty in Pink Chocolate Chippers

I can't believe it took me so long to appreciate the sweet, earthy deliciousness of beets. As a kid, they were "old people food" - served cold, out of the can, in a sticky-sweet sauce I couldn't stand. When I started growing my own - mom loved the taste and I loved the variety - I realized how good they were either raw or slow-roasted. No sugar or butter required, just the smooth flavour of caramelized roots or the bright, sweet crunch of raw shreds.

Of course, baking with beets has been something I've done for ages, and since they are inherently sweet they play so well in the dessert arena. Of course, dark chocolate with it's bittersweet tones is a natural pairing for beets, but for the holidays I wanted something that really let the deep magenta colour of the roots shine through. Beantown Baker had a recipe for the cutest pink vegan chocolate chippers that I had stashed away for years, and with the last of this year's beet glut I finally got around to making them!

I switched up the all-purpose flour with my Artisanal Gluten Free Flour blend (and found I needed a little more to get a "dough" consistency) but otherwise kept everything the same. During baking, the house was filled with the lovely sweet, earthy aroma of roasting beets just tinged with melted chocolate and vanilla, and the resulting cookies had a complex, not too sweet flavour that both kids and grownups enjoyed. None of my taste testers could tell it was gluten free, and those who followed that diet were glad to have a special holiday cookie in their gift baskets. Next year I might add in some chocolate chunks as well, because more chocolate is ALWAYS better!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Italian Ring Cookies #CreativeCookieExchange

Smooth, creamy cottage cheese is the base for these crisp-chewy, chocolatey ring cookies. A sprinkle of coarse sugar adds crunch.

Italian Ring Cookies

I have a stepfamily with deep roots in Italy. Half of the adults were born in a small town in the Apulia region, and their traditions and culture are dominant (occasionally even oppressively so) in their lives here. No time is this more apparent than the holidays, where almost a whole week is dedicated to celebrations. First, there is my stepdad's "first" birthday (he has two... long story about escaping military service in the old country), where he and my mom go out for the day. Then comes Christmas Eve, the day of the Feast of the Seven Fish which is spent cooking, serving and agonizing over hostessing. While it's supposed to be a holy-based event, like Lent and "fish on Fridays" it's really more in ceremony than in substance, but observed nonetheless. Obviously, Christmas follows in all it's commercial wrappings and further feasting, and finally just around New Years we have stepdad's birthday #2. For each of these events we're guaranteed a minimum of 20 guests at the house, most of whom are proudly Italian by birth or marriage, while my sister and I are content with Rudolph and the Grinch.

I know I sound rather cynical about the holiday, and in a sense I am - I'm not a good "people person", especially in groups, and like a lot of other foodies I have little in common with anyone else. I do take solace in the fact that neither my sister nor I eat the "holiday meal", nor do we fit the "expected" mould of "married with kids". The other reason the Christmas holidays are generally not exciting for me is that there is an embargo on my cooking or baking being served at family functions. As a result, I really have nothing to do with the holiday.

While I may not be allowed to serve my treats on the actual buffet, nobody will stop me from giving out my cookies, candy and preserves as gifts. I try to pick a few things that have cultural ties for the Italians' baskets, and along with biscotti this year I chose these cheese-based, chocolatey ring cookies. The original recipe utilized ricotta in the dough, but I had none on hand at the time. What I did have, though, was an even creamier, richer tasting product: Nordica Smooth Cottage Cheese. Almost identical to the "extra fine" ricotta that costs $7 a tub, it was far easier to cream into a smooth dough and added the perfect amount of cakeyness to the inside of the baked cookies while their exterior gained a crisp, burnished shell. The ring shape is easy to hold and dunk in coffee, or stack up on a skewer for a fun presentation.

Everyone loves cookies at the holidays--no matter what holidays you are celebrating. And there are so many wonderful traditional cookies all over the world that we have decided to revisit this theme. Check out December 2014 for other choices from our first time doing it. And get inspired to get into the kitchen!

You can also use us as a great resource for cookie recipes. Be sure to check out our Pinterest Board and our monthly posts (you can find all of them here at The Spiced Life). You will be able to find them the first Tuesday after the 15th of each month! If you are a blogger and want to join in the fun, contact Laura at thespicedlife AT gmail DOT com and she will get you added to our Facebook group, where we discuss our cookies and share links.

If you are looking for inspiration to get in the kitchen and start baking, check out what all of the hosting bloggers have made:

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Two Bite Spice Drops

Gently spiced, these soft cookies are butterless and perfect for a morning cuppa.

Two-Bite Spice Drops

Spice cookies are the thing at the holidays. Unlike chocolate chippers, which are pretty season-neutral, there is really no better time to indulge in the sweet-spicy goodness of gingerbread or cardamom-laced cookies than the period between November 1 and December 31. Spice cookies are awesome this time of year because their flavour is generally not conducive to overindulging... at least not the cookies I like, which are more about the spice than the saccharine. Besides, spices like cinnamon are supposed to help with blood sugar regulation, so there's no reason you should be craving a second...third...fourth...

That said, it is the holidays and thus the season of overindulgence in everything, so with these cookies I employed cookie strategy #2: smaller cookie size. This way, you can have your two cookies and eat them too, without the guilt of polishing off a batch of shortbreads (wait, am I the only one who does that?). These cookies are also devoid of one of the season's greatest ingredients - butter. Instead, canola oil keeps them soft and moist while keeping it's flavour neutral, allowing the maple, cinnamon and allspice to shine through. The only adornment they need to take it from an "after school special" to "dessert platter worthy" is a dusting of sparkly sanding sugar - I actually used raw sugar for a more "natural" look, but for Christmas parties red and green might be nice too.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Rainbow Biscotti Bites #SundaySupper

Rainbow Biscotti Bites are kissed with hazelnut flavour, loaded with sprinkles and dunked in white chocolate for a festive finish.

Rainbow Biscotti Bites

I love making biscotti for the holidays because it is a combination of three things I look for in a cookie: its easy, it's variable, and it can be made well ahead of time without losing quality. Usually I go for the long, slim fingers of twice baked cookie, but when I found these rainbow cubes of crunchy biscotti dunked in luscious white chocolate on the Food Network site (courtesy of Izy Hossack) I knew they would be a hit in the Christmas gift baskets.

The original recipe calls for Amaretto and almond extract. I am personally not a fan of almond flavour (although I do like raw almonds on their own), but the notion of adding nuttiness to the cookies in some way appealed. I had a bottle of Frangelico and some hazelnut extract standing by, as well as naturally nutty tasting spelt flour, and the combination worked admirably! The only thing I will say about these cookies is that they do bake up quite hard and crunchy due to just egg whites in the dough, so they are best dunked - say into a cup of cocoa.

Rainbow Biscotti Bites

This week the #SundaySupper team is organizing a cookie exchange! Since I've been up to my eyeballs in holiday bakes these past few weeks, I couldn't wait to participate! See all the other treats below:

Traditional and Tasty Cookies to Share


Fun and Festive Cookie Alternatives

The Sunday Supper Movement is committed to bringing our readers delicious recipes that encourage them to gather and eat together around the family table. Search for your favorite ingredients on our Sunday Supper website. Also check out the Sunday Supper Pinterest boards for plenty more ideas and inspiration.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

"A Bit Better For You" Oatmeal Cookies

These oatmeal cookies are "a bit better for you" - low fat and full of fruity flavour from homemade fruit butter!

"A Bit Better For You" Oatmeal Cookies

While the break rooms in offices everywhere are teeming with sugary goodies this time of year (ours sure is), sometimes it's nice to just have a bit of a break from it all. I'm not talking giving up treats cold-turkey, mind you - it is the season of sugar and spice after all, but why not opt for a sweet, chewy, moreish cookie that doesn't weigh you down even while you're enjoying the indulgence?

I'll be the first to admit, these cookies are not lookers. Think of them as the hobbits of the cookie world - a little lumpy, brown and rustic. I promise you though, if you can get past the rather imperfect appearance and have a bite, you'll be rewarded with all the best parts of Christmas baking in a mouthful. Cinnamon and nutmeg are the punchy spices in the batter, while hints of sweetness from the fruit butter and raisins as well as butterscotchy Muscovado sugar and crunchy pumpkin seeds prevent things from getting too hot. Egg free mayonnaise replaces the eggs to keep things vegan, and everything is bound together with oats and half-whole grain flour. It sounds a little strange - and I agree, the description doesn't do the cookie justice. But since the original recipe came from esteemed baker Daphna Rabinovitch, I'm not going to question. I'd rather taste, anyways.

One thing I will emphasize about this, and any other oatmeal-containing cookie you may happen to make: resting the batter, even for an hour at room temperature, will make a better, more even textured cookie. It softens the oats just enough so they don't turn into glasslike shards with the heat of the oven, and the cookie stays together better because the starches and proteins in oats have a chance to mingle and bind. Many bakers will say chilling overnight is best, but I've learned through years of teaching Home Ec that 60 minutes works pretty darn well when you have a high-hydration batter like this.

Don't worry though - I haven't bailed on the Christmas cookie train completely. Stay tuned - I'm going to try and post as many of the recipes I baked this year as I can before Christmas!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

(Almost) Ovenly's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

(Almost) Ovenly's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies are a vegan classic turned up to 11. Chips and chunks of chocolate bring the goods, while kosher salt in the dough and on top push the sweet-savoury limit.

(Almost) Ovenly's Salted Chocolate Chip Cookies

Most people would say they can't think of anyone who would turn down a chocolate chip cookie. It's true - the basic formula of butter, brown sugar an a heft dose of chocolate is enough to whet the appetite, even more so when the batter is ever so slightly on the salty side. I, on the other hand, seem to be surrounded by anti-chocolate chippers these days, and what's more surprising to me is that a portion of them are kids!

Well, I can't change the minds and palates of those who refuse to embrace the chewy, moist perfection that is a perfect chocolate chip cookie, but I can make a batch that tastes and feels just as good as the melted butter / egg yolk version I love while being completely vegan and low in saturated fat. While kids don't necessarily care about the sugar, flour and fat in a cookie (and really, it's a cookie), adults can have a more refined palate for things like that. Using Ovenly's recipe as a jumping-off point, I used spelt flour and bittersweet chocolate along with crunchy salt flakes, each layer adding to the sophistication of the cookies. You'll notice a few chilling times in the method too - these are not the wham-bam-thank you ma'am cookies from the back of the chocolate chips bag, but (to quote Alton Brown) your patience will be rewarded. Not only does the rest time allow the whole grain flour to hydrate, but the more solid dough prevents chocolate sinkage when it comes to bake time and the brown sugar lends a deep caramel note to the whole batch. The brief freeze immediately pre-baking is also paramount for the cookie's final shape - baking the dough from room temperature would cause way too much spread on the tray, since even cold they flatten a good bit.

Now as for the taste, it is definitely a connoiseur's cookie. Does it taste like the butter and egg laden ones, or the giant bakery creations, or even the classic Toll House recipe? Well, no. But they are delicious nonetheless, chewy and with that bittersweet / salty contrast that makes chocolate chip cookies just so addictive. Everyone who likes a chocolate chip cookie will like these, but those with a penchant for dark chocolate will love them. As a bonus, without the eggs and dairy to contend with it's relatively safe to put them out on a holiday dessert table, even if you left the label at home. You can even taste test the batter... you know, for quality control.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Allergy Friendly Gingerbread Biscotti

Time for a break? These gluten free, vegan gingerbread biscotti are crunchy, spicy and perfect with a cuppa.

Gluten Free Vegan Gingerbread Biscotti

It's officially biscotti season once again! Granted, I've never restricted my biscotti baking to the winter holidays, but it seems more socially acceptable now. Biscotti is one of the easiest (to me) recipes to customize, since there's no risk of the cookie being too dry if you bake it a bit longer, and in general a stiff dough holds together and doesn't spread as much as a batter cookie if you take away something like gluten or eggs. For gift giving, I regularly make eggless and nut-free biscotti because a) they go to mixed company who may have allergies I don't know and b) I never buy eggs.

For one recipient, I had to not only veganize but de-gluten and un-soy a biscotti recipe. I had pegged Susan's recipe a long time ago and since it was already vegan, it seemed like a good candidate. She had noted some issues with making the recipe gluten, fat and animal free, but when I saw she had used Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free baking mix as her flour I was willing to give it a go with my own flour blend instead. As much as I adore Bob's Red Mill, and I do, that product in particular is just not good. However, with my Artisanal Gluten Free Flour (adapted from Kelli and Pete Bronski), I had zero issues at all. For flavour and tenderness (and to neutralize any possible grittiness) I added pineapple juice and allowed the dough to rest 15 minutes before shaping. The first bake looked perfect - golden, with a hint of crunchy sugar on top, and when I went to slice it it went cleanly (unlike some of my more "traditional" biscotti). A second bake and cool down later and I had crisp, spicy cookies that held together in a cup of coffee but didn't break your teeth. This will definitely be a repeat performer!

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Date-Nut Pinwheel Cookies

Date-Nut Pinwheel Cookies are infused head to toe with white wine and the decadent flavours of Baklava.

Date-Nut Pinwheel Cookies

There is something about pinwheel cookies that just screams "holiday". When else but the months leading up to Christmas can you find such a dedicated array of swirled treats? From simple two-tone sugar cookies to delicacies filled with caramel and almondsweet cinnamon or even peanuts and Nutella, there is something for everyone. Of course, being a lover of date squares, fig newtons and baklava myself, I didn't even think of hesitating when I came across a recipe in the LCBO magazine that had a rich, wine soaked date puree mixed with walnuts, honey and rosewater as a filling. The cookie itself is a relatively basic brown sugar dough, made with half butter half shortening in order to allow a little more plasticity during rolling.

Like most pinwheels, these swirls are perfectly at home in the freezer, especially when stored in paper towel rolls (which maintain the round shape). I made a batch a few months ago, froze it, and now am at liberty to bake just what I need for a cookie tray. In fact, while the recipe doesn't explicitly say it, if you have time freeze the filled roll for at least 30 minutes before slicing it so that it stays mostly round. If you cant wait... well, dental floss works better than a knife at that point.

BTW - You will have leftover filling. It's a fact of life. But a very tasty, very versatile fact of life. Smear it on hearty crispbread with some sharp cheese or even top a schmear on a bagel... you'll be glad you did.