Let’s bake, shall we?
It’s December 2nd. Most of you have probably gathered your recipe cards around you to take notes and make substitutions, pulled out the butter to soften on the kitchen counter, and started planning on sending boxes full of crisp cookies and soft squares of gingerbread to friends and family across the world.
I am not sending baked goods as presents this year. In fact, Danny and I decided to be honest and not even attempt holiday cards. Our lives have been one fine frenzy lately and I have to admit that I’m pretty darned tired. I’d much rather keep things simple.
So here is the holiday card you might have received from us:
“Dear _____. Thank you for being in our lives this year. Thank you, particularly, for making us laugh. We adore you. Happy [insert particular holiday here]. Love, Danny, Shauna, and Lu.”
There. Holiday cards are sent.
We’re sending baked goods virtually as well. And we’re giving them to you.
Starting tomorrow, we’ll be doing the 12 days of holiday baked goods on this blog. Most will be cookies. There might a special fudge and something else involving cake. But let’s face it. This time of year, it’s all about the cookies.
We’ve been baking for weeks, trying out recipes, working out our best all-purpose mix for cookies, measuring and tasting, then sending these cookies out of the house. (I’ve been sending them to work with Danny. I’m not sure how many have made it there. He’s been pretty excited about these cookies.)
These are going to be 12 fabulous holiday treats, baked goods that just happen to be gluten-free.
So start your engines. Let’s talk about baking before we begin.
BAKING BY WEIGHT
As anyone who has been reading this site for awhile knows, we bake by weight in this house. It’s the only way to bake.
For years, I stayed away from scales and grams. Who needed them when cups were so sturdy, and so familiar? If you are gluten-free, you need scales and grams.
Each gluten-free flour has a different weight per cup. For example, 1 cup of millet flour weighs 120 grams. 1 cup of sorghum flour weighs 127 grams. 1 cup of teff flour weighs 158 grams. 1 cup of sweet rice flour weighs 204 grams. Try substituting potato starch (192 grams per 1 cup) for cornstarch (128 grams per 1 cup) and you will have a heavy baked good, dense and tasting terribly starchy.
(And by the way, these weights are according to this conversion chart of gluten-free flours. However, the lovely woman who created this chart may measure a cup of flour differently than you do. Do you spoon in the flour and level off? Or do you scoop a cup of flour directly from the bag? There’s a big difference in weight between those two methods.
One night last year, when I was just learning how to bake by weight, I asked on Twitter: “Can someone with a scale tell me how much 1 cup of regular all-purpose flour weighs?” Within moments, I received a flood of answers, ranging from 4.2 ounces to 5.5.
Do you see how inaccurate cups can be?
By the way, this isn’t just a gluten-free thing. This is a baking thing. I have friends who are pastry chefs in restaurants and bakeries. Not one of them measures in cups. In fact, any baking book that has recipes written in cups? The author probably developed the recipe in grams and tried to convert them to cups because the publisher demanded it. That’s why some recipes don’t work as well as they could sometimes.
And so, I’m on a mission. If you want Christmas cookies, you have to buy a scale.
They’re not expensive, I promise you. We use this Oxo scale, and it’s currently $34.99 on Amazon. Do you know how much weighing this puppy has seen in the last 18 months? It’s still going strong. This This ultra-thin scale is on sale for $25 at the moment. I think this Escali scale is elegant. We’ve seen kitchen scales at thrift stores, ones that worked well, for less than $10.
They are worth their weight in cookie dough, I promise you.
All you want in a good scale is the ability to measure in ounces and grams. You also need a TARE button, which allows you to weigh 100 grams of one flour, hit the tare button to zero it out again, and then weigh another flour in the same bowl. That’s it.
And that’s the beauty of this. It’s so easy. When I was resisting, I assumed that measuring in grams must be harder. (I think it’s the trauma of being forced to learn the metric system in the 5th grade. They taught me badly.) Turns out that all you do is tip the flour into a bowl and watch the grams rise on the scale. When you hit 140 grams, you stop.
It’s so much more precise. And do you know what that means? Recipes work.
Someone wrote to me a few months ago and said, “Can’t you just put your recipes in cups? I don’t need my recipes to be perfect like you do.” Let me make this clear — I’m not doing this to make my recipes perfect. (They’re not.) We give you recipes in grams because we want you to have cookies you love. Period.
So people. Get used to it. You’re going to have to start baking by weight.
OUR ALL-PURPOSE FLOUR MIX
We’ve done a lot of work so you don’t have to do it.
We have an all-purpose mix on this site already, and many of you have kindly written to us to say how much you love it. Thank you.
We’re constantly tinkering around here, as you might imagine, so we have a slightly modified version for these cookies (and in general).
Do you have a pen? Write this down.
200 grams superfine brown rice flour
150 grams sorghum flour
50 grams potato flour
250 grams sweet rice flour
150 grams potato starch
100 grams arrowroot powder
100 grams cornstarch
That’s it. Weigh each one out and then put it in a giant container. (We like cambros, which you can find online and at restaurant supply stores.) Stir up all the flours together. Put on the lid and shake the heck of that thing until all the flours have mixed and combined into one flour. That’s it.
You now have flour for baking.
I know it seems like a lot of flours. It’s true. Each one has properties that lends itself well to gluten-free baking. Buy a bag of each of these flours, however, and mix them all up, and you’ll have enough flour to bake all the cookies on this site for the next four weeks.
That’s the plan. Every single baked good we will be sharing this month will be using this all-purpose flour. No need to buy other flours. Make yourself a batch and start baking.
Let us tell you why we chose these.
First of all, as I have written before, we have found that the best gluten-free baking mix is 40% whole grain flours and 60% starches. Why? We love whole grains, not only because they are nutritious, but also because flours like brown rice or quinoa have nutritious qualities that a white rice can simply never offer. Also, don’t forget that gluten is a protein, so you need to replace that somehow in your baked goods. Using flours that have proteins does that.
Too much of whole grain flours, however? The cookies and baked goods start tasting too nutritious. They have a grainier feeling. They look different than we are used to seeing. I applaud those of you who are doing baking with more whole grain flours. We’ve done some too. However, we know that during the holidays? People want a familiar taste, a texture on the tongue that reminds us of childhood. Too much whole grain tastes like obligation.
So, in this mix, the whole grain flours are the superfine brown rice, the sorghum flour, and the potato flour. (Yes, I know that potatoes are not a grain. However, the flour is the whole vegetable ground down, rather than a white starch stripped of its nutrition.)
Here’s another reason we want you to bake by weight. If you cannot eat one of those flours (you are allergic to rice or potatoes; you don’t like the taste of sorghum), you can substitute. Try almond flour, quinoa flour, teff flour, or millet flour. Simply substitute your flour with the SAME WEIGHT of the original flour and you are set.
The same is true of the starches. We like sweet rice flour, potato starch, arrowroot, and cornstarch in combination. However, if you cannot eat corn, use more potato starch or tapioca instead. If you can’t find arrowroot powder, use tapioca instead. We used to do that. Again, substitute your starch with the SAME WEIGHT of the original starch and you are done.
(A few years ago, we wrote an informal guide to the properties of the different gluten-free flours. That might help, if you are unfamiliar with some of these choices.)
Yes, of course, there will be small differences between our flour and yours if you use different flours. They all have different tastes. But that’s one of the reasons we use so many flours. Switching out one won’t make that big a difference. I have to say, however, that we really don’t like the bean flours. Their taste comes through, no matter how many flours you use. And I still don’t want my cookies to taste like beans.
We added a touch of potato flour to this AP mix because we have found that a bit of potato flour helps create soft baked goods (and this is true of bread, too). Too much more than 50 grams, however, and you start tasting the potato. We also traded out the tapioca flour from our original mix. Tapioca flour, to me, has started to taste a bit metallic. It’s also a bit slimy in the final texture. Who wants a slimy cookie? So it’s just a bit of refinement.
You can order Bob’s Red Mill arrowroot online. In this case, 80 ounces of it is $21. DO NOT buy arrowroot powder in the spice section of the grocery store. It is completely overpriced. While you’re online, you can order any of these flours we’ve shown you here, usually at drastically reduced prices from a grocery store.
Oh, and since I seem to get three emails about this a day? Sweet rice flour may not be in the baking section of your grocery store. It’s usually in the Asian foods section. It’s a hugely important part of gluten-free baking and it’s also one of the cheapest flours. Almost all big grocery stores carry it now, in the Asian foods section.
You’ll need some xanthan gum and guar gum, as well. We have found, over and over, that using a bit of the two together makes for a better texture in gluten-free baked goods. These hydrocolloids are shaped differently when you look at them under a microscope, which means they bind together well and more accurately mimic the effects of gluten.
I don’t put the gums into the AP mix because you’ll need such a small amount that they could get lost in there. Also, if you wanted to use this AP mix for a bread recipe, for example, you’ll need far more xanthan and guar gum than you would in a cake. We will adjust for each recipe accordingly.
Have I bored you silly yet? I hope not. This is all pretty important stuff. I’m thrilled to be able to distill some of the huge lessons I have learned in the past two years. I am completely a geek, yes. But you get cookies out of it.
But, speaking of cookies, let’s show you some you could make right now. These are some of the best holiday cookies already available on this site.
And hey! Those of you who are stubbornly addicted to baking by cups are in luck. Most of these were created before we made the switch.
No one needs to feel deprived during the holidays with these treats:
Cookies That Are Not Necessarily Holiday Cookies But Could Be
And finally, these.
These I will give you the recipe for tomorrow.
Let the holiday baking begin!