I may not celebrate Christmas, and Chanukah was a while back (Thanksgivukkah for those who were into that incredible confluence of holidays this year), but I’m still in the holiday spirit. And for me, holidays mean baking.
Wheat flour and sugar are 2 of my staple baking ingredients. I have never consciously eliminated either ingredient, but have a friend who cannot eat either one. This week, after realizing that she had to turn down one of my “normal” cookies, I decided to make her a gluten-free and sugar-free treat. These almond-studded cookies are cake-like and ideal for eating with tea or coffee, whether after a holiday meal or just enjoying the company of friends on a winter afternoon.
If I had any question about their taste, my testers (who normally eat gluten) assured me that they are worth the calories. In fact, after he ate one, my chief tester wanted to know if he could have the other 2 cookies sitting on the plate; I took that as a good sign.
My friend uses agave instead of sugar, so that added an extra wrinkle to what begin in my mind as a gluten-free adventure. She is also kosher, which means she does not eat milk and meat in the same meal. Therefore, I wanted to make a cookie that is also pareve (netural, i.e. containing no meat or dairy), so she could eat it after a meal containing meat. All-in-all, with no wheat flour, no sugar and no butter or cream, I was in a truly foreign land baking-wise.
Substituting high quality, blanched almond flour for wheat flour worked well. It is white, like wheat flour (because it has does not contain the almond skins) and its texture is only slightly different from all purpose flour. But I was a bit stumped by the agave, which is liquid and sweeter than honey. Agave also tends to burn at higher temperatures and can make foods stickier than they would be if they contained granulated white or brown sugar.
In order to accommodate to the characteristics of agave, I made 3 changes from what I would have done if I had been using granulated sugar:
- Used a slightly lower oven temperature;
- Used slightly less agave than sugar to compensate for the extra sweetness of the former and used slightly more dry ingredients (almond flour) to adjust for the liquid sweetener; and
- Used parchment paper instead of unlined cookie sheets or silicone/silpat mats because parchment is the easiest one in terms of releasing a soft cookie.
Gluten-free, Sugar-free Almond Cookies
Cost – $5-6 Yield – 24-28 cookies
- 1 cup almond flour, preferably blanched
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 egg + 1 egg yolk
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil (I used canola)
- 1½ teaspoons finely grated lemon rind
- ⅓ cup agave
- ¼ teaspoon almond extract
- ¼ cup coarsely chopped, slivered almonds for topping
- 1 small bowl
- 1 medium bowl
- Small container for egg white
- Large fork
- Measuring cups for solids and for liquids
- Measuring spoons
- Grater and plate
- Bowl and chopper for nuts
- Spatula for scraping bowl
- 2 teaspoons
- 2 cookie sheets (half-sheet size)
- Parchment paper
- Metal spatula
- Wire cooling rack
- Mix the dry ingredients (almond flour, salt and baking soda in a medium bowl), whisk them to combine and set aside.
- Grate the lemon rind.
- Mix the liquid ingredients (egg, egg yolk, oil, agave, and almond extract) together with the rind in the smaller bowl. If you want to have a bit of fun, try using this technique for separating the egg yolk. You can save the egg white, being careful to keep it free of yolk and shell, combine it with a couple more egg whites, and make meringues, which are also gluten-free.
- Chop the slivered almonds coarsely so they are like nuggets. No need to obsess over size.
- Add the liquid ingredients into the dry ones and mix them until combined.
- Drop the mixture by teaspoonfuls onto the parchment-lined cookie sheets. The best technique I’ve found for dropping the cookies onto the sheet is to dip one teaspoon into the batter and then push it off that spoon and onto the parchment with the other spoon.
- Add the chopped almonds to each cookie and press very lightly so the pieces of nuts stick on the cookie tops.
- Bake the cookies for about 15 minutes, one sheet on the top shelf and the other one on the lower shelf. Switch the cookie sheets’ position on the shelves about half-way through. If you use blanched flour, you can see when the cookies are done because they become golden brown. If you use unblanched almond flour, it may be more difficult to assess whether they are done because the flour is more golden-colored.
- When you take the cookies out of the oven, immediately and carefully move them with the metal spatula to a wire rack to cool.
PS – I’m going to try some more gluten-free baking with agave for my friend after the holidays. My inspiration is my vanilla-thon buddy Kelly of KellyBakes, who took a gluten-free baking class and dedicated a whole month to baking and blogging gluten-free in order to better empathize with those who must eliminate gluten from their diet.