**BP Note: Today we have a guest post from Heidi Cullinan for her Sleigh Ride Blog Tour. She’s got a fantastic cookie recipe for special diets that she’s generously sharing. The cookies look delicious and I don’t know about you but crushed candy cane in anything is pretty much a win in my books! Heidi’s also got a great giveaway happening for the tour, with some fun gifts and an e-copy of the book so be sure to enter at the end of her post. We have a review for Sleigh Ride posted earlier today so check out our thoughts on book two of her Minnesota Christmas series. *Spoiler Alert* We loved it! Good luck on the giveaway everyone and with the cookies!
Christmas Cookies For Everyone: Baking For Special Diets
I love making Christmas cookies, and I have every year since my daughter was born. At this point if I stopped, my holidays would be full of groans and looks of stricken disappointment from my friends and family. I love the way cookies can be taken as a hostess gift to parties and turn into an instant “oops, forgot X” present. Over the years I’ve developed a stable of regulars, though I almost always add something new each year.
Over the past three years, though, I’ve had varying degrees of allergies, the worst being last year when I was tasked with making dairy, egg, and gluten free cookies. I managed it, though I confess I made half my usual varieties. As I’ve finally identified the issue causing all this auto-immune reactivity, this year I’m back in the game with everything but gluten (and that sensitivity seems to be abating slowly as well). What I learned during my adventures in allergen-aware baking, in addition to how damn expensive it can be, is that when you give cookies to someone who usually can’t have them because the ingredients make them sick or they’re ethically opposed, those people are very grateful. Very grateful. It’s a special present: the gift of feeling included when they expect not to be.
So I challenge you, if you’re a baker, to make a batch of allergy-friendly baked goods for your special diet friends and family. I’m going to give you a recipe below and some lists for further options. First, though, a word about kitchen precautions for allergies & vegans.
If you’re baking for a vegan you want to find out how strict they are. Some vegans don’t like to use sugar (it can be processed with charcoal made of animal bones) and some want no possible contamination. Most won’t want you to use honey. Sprinkles and some candies might not have labels but will be processed with shellac or gelatin. (You don’t want to know what shellac is. Really.) Your best bet is to follow a vegan recipe from a vegan blog to the letter. They’ll usually give you brand names to help you out. Alternatively, you can ask for help at your grocery store if they’re the kind who will know where the vegans stash the good stuff.
People with allergies need a different kind of attention. If they have a tree nut allergy, it’s best to avoid all nut products unless you can guarantee they weren’t processed on the same machinery as the nut they need to avoid. Nut allergies are usually anaphylactic, which isn’t something either of you want to mess with. For egg and dairy allergies, it will depend on the level of allergy. To be safe, use a product certified free or do intense web research on a questionable ingredient. Some products will say “May contain X” but just because a label doesn’t say that is no promise it isn’t contaminated. Your best bet is to use brands like Enjoy Life which avoids the top seven allergens.
Gluten is its own horrible beast. Some people are gluten sensitive—that’s me, which means I can tolerate a little, but it’s a very little, and after that I react as if I have the flu. People with celiac disease react much worse than people with gluten sensitivity plus every exposure can permanently damage their digestive tract. For celiac disease especially you must use certified ingredients. Mixes are your friend, and many will recommend specific brands for any additional items needed to complete the product. Most grocery stores now have a gluten free section. You need to be aware of every ingredient as gluten is more than simply wheat, and many non-glutenous grains can be contaminated if processed with or grown near glutenous grains.
Most vegans don’t require much prep at home, but when baking for someone with an allergy, your first job in the kitchen is to wash everything. Wipe down every counter, rewash your measuring equipment and possibly line your baking sheets with parchment paper. (Many gluten free recipes will tell you to do that anyway, for sticky dough.) Take extra care with your beaters and mixer, and don’t use a sifter or anything where flour can live in weird microscopic cracks. Use hot, soapy water and be ridiculously thorough. While you’re working, keep all wheat flour and any gluten products out of the area. If someone waves a peanut butter sandwich over your mixing bowl, you have very possibly introduced enough gluten to make the object of your gift sick.
Despite all my warnings, don’t be scared to bake for a special diet. You might have a few stops and starts, but embrace the adventure.
Here are some great vegan baking lists for Christmas:
Here are some gluten free options (some are also vegan):
Remember you can make cookies dairy free easily by using soy or almond milk and Earth Balance margarine. Eggs don’t always replace so easily, but you can use Ener-G Egg Replacer or flax eggs. If you’re making a gluten free and vegan recipe, be very careful and follow the directions until you get the hang of it. You’re removing gluten, a stretchy, sticky element, and eggs, which bind and expand. Baking is chemistry, and it takes some tricks to bake without both those elements.
I made a gluten free cookie already for Christmas this year: Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies. Mine had egg, but it could easily be made both gluten free and vegan. It could also be only gluten free, made with both egg and dairy. The beautiful part of this recipe is it’s based with a single, packaged gluten free flour blend. The recipe is based on the one on the back of the flour bag, but I tweak it a bit for some Christmas flair.
Heidi Cullinan’s Gluten Free Peppermint Chocolate Chip Cookies
2 ¼ cups Pamela’s Artisan Flour Blend*
¾ tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
14 TBSP Earth Balance margarine (or butter or regular margarine if you’re not skipping dairy. Some GF people are dairy free also, however.)
¾ cup white sugar
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tsp pure vanilla*
2 tsp peppermint flavor*
16 oz Enjoy Life Dark Chocolate Morsels, Mega Chunks, or Mini Chips
½ cup crushed candy canes*
5 TBSP winter/holiday-themed sprinkles*
*Check these ingredients to be sure they are in fact gluten free. Google the product name and gluten free and you’ll usually find out quickly. Alternatively, check at celiac.org or celiaccess.com. McCormick brand is safe for both peppermint and vanilla extracts. For sprinkles and candy canes, read labels and verify online. Bob’s Candy Canes are safe, Better Crocker sprinkles will be clearly labeled as either safe or not safe. Here’s Cake Mate’s list of safe ingredients, and Let’s Do…Sprinklez are GF.
**If you need to avoid eggs, use Ener-G egg replacer for this recipe. I do not recommend flax eggs in this instance.
Pre-heat your oven to 350F. Mix butter and sugars in mixing bowl (soften the butter if you haven’t let it get to room temperature.) Add vanilla, peppermint, and eggs/replacer. Mix dry ingredients together and add slowly. If you feel the mix is particularly wet, add a bit more flour, but this will not look like regular cookie dough. Add chocolate chips, candy cane and sprinkles and stir by hand, making sure to incorporate the candies evenly through the batter.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Spoon cookies onto sheet in 1.5-2 TBSP sized-lumps. If you’re using a cookie scoop, be sure you’ve boiled the scoop to get rid of all possible gluten in the ridges. If you’re baking without eggs, take some time to form balls and then depress them with your hand. They will bake exactly in the shape you’ve put them on the tray. If baking with eggs, leave room for expansion.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until cookies are slightly brown on the edges. Best if cooked 6-7 minutes on each rack in the oven. Cool on rack or more parchment paper. Store away from gluten, and serve with love.
Heidi Cullinan has always loved a good love story, provided it has a happy ending. She enjoys writing across many genres but loves above all to write happy, romantic endings for LGBT characters because there just aren’t enough of those stories out there. When Heidi isn’t writing, she enjoys cooking, reading, knitting, listening to music, and watching television with her husband and teenaged daughter. Heidi is a vocal advocate for LGBT rights and is proud to be from the first Midwestern state with full marriage equality. Find out more about Heidi, including her social networks, at www.heidicullinan.com.