“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.
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.